For the last seven weeks, I have been sitting in on and occasionally assisting with a sixth-grade science class at a public middle school here in Madison. The class is based on the FOSS Weather and Water Course, and during my time teaching we covered an introduction and the first two units. For the entirety of the course, all students read the same textbook, found here. It is an easy-to-use and well-organized textbook, and appropriate for the age and level of understanding that it targets. However, it is the only book available to the students throughout the entire course. In his essay, “Effective Teachers, Effective Instruction” in the book Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice, Richard L. Allington writes that in order to maximize student engagement with academic work, multiple texts should be available for the students to use. According to Allington, this will 1) increase the opportunity for students to find books that they can read accurately, fluently, and with comprehension, and 2) increase motivation and engagement by giving students a choice in their reading selection. So instead of just the one textbook in the classroom, it would have been ideal for the teacher to also provide a variety of magazines covering the topics of weather and water, as well as an additional textbook, and maybe even a thrilling picture book!
That said, something I did like very much was the way in which the teacher helped students make personal connections with the texts, even before a single word was read. Before reading the chapter, the teacher addressed the opening page— a large, brilliantly detailed picture of the Earth:
He then had students raise their hands and tell him what they saw. What did this photo mean to them? What was happening in the world in when this photo was taken? What did they think a “thin blue veil” was in reference to? This initial, casual discussion allowed students to identify with the text and make predictions about its contents before they had even read a word. Allington praises the use of making connections with the text, as it allows for stronger engagement by the students, and more effective teaching by the instructor. After seeing this introduction to weather and water, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree.