This month, we asked educators across the country to reflect on how they engage families and caregivers in Wit & Wisdom® curriculum. Ami Smith, a content developer for Great Minds®, reflects on her experiences as both a Wit & Wisdom teacher and parent of children experiencing the curriculum.
We know that the relationship between schools and families is centered on shared goals. Both parties want students to succeed and achieve the greatness that we know they are capable of, and must work together to reach this goal. As a Wit & Wisdom teacher and a parent, I have witnessed the power of this relationship from both sides. This dual experience has also reinforced that communication is key. As a teacher, I always want families to feel welcome and know about what is happening in the classroom. As a parent, I want to know what is going on in my children’s classrooms and how I can extend their learning at home.
One way for teachers to foster a meaningful partnership with families is to celebrate the successes and learning of our students in ways that allow family members to celebrate with us. Although these celebrations look different from grade to grade and have changed in the past couple of years, we should continue to find ways to celebrate knowledge building in the accomplishments of all students.
Below are a few Wit & Wisdom learning celebrations that I have witnessed during my years as a teacher.
- Poetry café. Students wrote poetry during Grade 8 Module 1: The Poetics and Power of Storytelling and celebrated with a poetry café at the end of the module. Students and community guests shared original poems in a fun coffeehouse-style setting in the school auditorium.
- Podcasts. Students used tablets to record and share interesting facts about farm animals with other students during Kindergarten Module 2: Once Upon a Farm. The Kindergarten students were such experts that they even included trivia questions for the other students to answer! The podcasts were posted on the class website and shared with parents.
- Space website. Students used a web platform to share their essays about the most important things they learned about space during Grade 3 Module 2: Outer Space. The teacher shared the essays with friends and family through the class website.
- Living wax museum. Students dressed as figures from the American Revolution at the conclusion of Grade 4 Module 3: The Redcoats Are Coming! They shared information about the person they represented along with their understanding of how that person felt about the actions of the colonists as they sought independence. This fun event took place during the school day, and each student’s presentation was recorded and shared so families who were unable to attend were also able to enjoy the presentation.
- Word play. Small groups of students developed short plays using various forms of plays on words during Grade 5 Module 2: Word Play. These plays were performed for younger students during the school day and later for parents during a school-wide open house.
Celebrating students’ successes can, and should, take place regularly throughout the year. But not every celebration needs to be a big event. It could be a special guest visiting during class; an in-class celebration; or sharing a story about a class project or other learning in a newsletter, school newspaper, or blog. Teachers and families can use countless ways to encourage and recognize our students as they build knowledge.
Scheduling celebrations can be tricky as the idea is to encourage family members to participate. With virtual platforms, celebrations can take place online, if needed. The use of online meeting platforms along with often free publishing, recording, and editing software adds flexibility to accommodate various needs. Flexibility in scheduling helps as well. Celebrating during the school day might be convenient, but including evening celebrations during the year supports family involvement as well.
How do I know the challenging work of a knowledge-building curriculum is worthwhile?
In addition to the success stories I could share from my classroom, I’ve seen the impact of the Wit & Wisdom curriculum on my own children. My awareness as a teacher of all the knowledge they’ve acquired has helped me celebrate with them as a parent.
This past summer my family and I spent a few days exploring Washington, DC. The trip was a flurry of activity with time-stamped entries at various museums across the city and one bus tour with stops at different monuments and historic sites. What stands out as I reflect on that trip was how engaged my children were the entire time. I remember visiting museums as a child. I would wander, kind of aimlessly, from one exhibit to the next, not thinking too much about what was going on or what I was learning or seeing. Some things were cool. Others were…well, less cool. In contrast, my children, on this trip, were interested in everything and were excited to tell others what they knew. I can point to each Wit & Wisdom module that supported these connections.
During our first night in the city, we sat near the tour bus driver, and as we approached the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, the driver talked about the Civil Rights Movement and mentioned Rosa Parks. My oldest, now a high school student, asked the driver if he knew that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to refuse to give up her seat on a bus to protest segregation and proceeded to tell him about Claudette Colvin, whom my son learned about during the Grade 8 Module 4: Teens as Change Agents. Because of his knowledge about the actions of a teenager over 60 years ago, my teenager was able to engage in a great conversation with someone who was incredibly knowledgeable about a wide swath of history. How exciting to think that the driver may go on to share some of the information my son shared with him with future visitors to Washington, DC!
My daughter, now in Grade 7, would tell you that she loved Grade 5 Module 1: Cultures in Conflict. Thus, she was thrilled to see a quote from Chief Joseph on the wall in the David M. Rubinstein Gallery in the National Archives building. On the same day, we visited the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. While there, she spent a lot of time in an exhibit exploring art related to differing perspectives about the concept of manifest destiny. She was able to discuss the different points of view represented and enjoyed talking to a museum employee. As she continues to learn, she continues to ask questions leading to even deeper learning!
My youngest, now a Grade 4 student, is like many students his age in his fascination with space. His favorite Wit & Wisdom module (so far) is Grade 3 Module 2: Outer Space. He was very disappointed that the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum was still closed during our visit, so he’s now planning our next trip back to Washington, DC. He was excited and surprised, though, to see Galileo (and his spyglass!) in the Museum of the Bible. He recognized Galileo right away, before the rest of us had even seen the statue. As he led us to the exhibit, he told us all about Galileo’s curiosity and courage. He explained how and why Galileo made his spyglass and shared some of the discoveries Galileo made about the moon and the moons of Jupiter. He even talked about how much trouble Galileo faced for sharing his findings. That connection and chance to talk about something that he remembered so well was a fun moment to witness.
In sharing these stories about my children with an educator friend, she responded with, “It’s so exciting to know stuff!” She’s right. It is exciting to know stuff! Teachers get to see this excitement as students learn in the classroom. Caregivers get to see it as well when children are encouraged to share their learning at home. Partnering to celebrate learning helps our children and students realize just how important and exciting “knowing stuff” is! Knowledge is so worth celebrating: it builds connections, fosters literacy, leads to creative solutions, and supports every child in achieving greatness!
Ami Smith is a content developer for Great Minds. Prior to joining Great Minds full time, Ami was a seasonal professional development associate as well as the grade 6 Great Minds Teacher for In Sync. Ami’s 20-year teaching career included teaching ELA and other subjects in grades 2-8. She supported her school and teachers during their K-8 implementation of Wit & Wisdom while teaching grades 5, 6, 7, and 8.
Topics: Family Engagement