Challenging ELA for Gifted 4th Graders

Challenging Common Core Language Arts Lessons: Activities and Extensions for Gifted and Advanced Learners in Grade 4
By Lindsay Kasten
(Prufrock Press, 2016 – Learn more)

Linda-Biondi-120Reviewed by Linda Biondi

There has been a demand for increased rigor in our classrooms and learning environments. As a classroom teacher, I am always looking for more challenging work for my students – work that will inspire and motivate them.

I want my students to be able to synthesize what they are learning, but also apply this knowledge to real life experiences. I want to be able to provide activities and resources that will enrich the reading, speaking and writing standards for fourth grade kids.

challenging-cc-la-gr-4-biondiLuckily, I found Challenging Common Core Language Arts Lessons: Activities and Extensions for Gifted and Advanced Learners in Grade 4 on MiddleWeb’s “books for review” list.

Lindsay Kasten’s book centers on academically “gifted and advanced learners.” Kasten is a teacher of gifted students in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as a mentor and leader in the area of gifted education.

Kasten was recognized by her professor while attending Louisiana State University as a perfect match for teaching gifted students. After doing fieldwork in the area of gifted education, Kasten recognized her passion was teaching gifted students. The rest is …history.

Published by Prufrock Press, a leading publisher supporting the education of gifted and advanced learners, this book is an excellent resource for GATE teachers, but with a little bit of work and creativity can also be adapted to provide thorough, provoking, research-based activities for all students.

Four PBL challenges

I like this literacy based workbook because each of the four mini units model Project Based Learning in which students explore real-world problems and challenges and are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they are studying.

As students become immersed in the units, they have a chance to interact with four themes: The Impact of Inventions on Our Lives; Remnants of a Past Life (the unintended effects of western expansion on Native Americans); Nature Versus the Human Spirit (the different effects nature has on people, positive or negative); and Overcoming Struggles (people who have overcome hardships and have become inspirational to others).

“Walk a mile in my shoes” is what echoed in my mind as I reviewed each unit. Through higher order reading and questions, courageous conversations, and kid-created projects/products, students will be given a chance to learn more about how others faced, grappled with, and overcame adversity in order to succeed – and about how such struggles pertain to their own growth and development.

Engaging and user-friendly lessons

It is challenging to keep students academically engaged while “covering the curriculum” and meeting the standards. Kasten’s book encourages students to work with the “big ideas,” and although her book is based on language arts lessons, all content areas (e.g., language arts, social studies, math, science, visual and performing arts) are included.

The lessons are user friendly and easy to understand and apply in the classroom. The reading is rigorous for average fourth grade students. Each unit follows a predictable, easy to apply structure:

  • CCSS are listed by number.
  • Many readings are from the Appendix B of the CCSS: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks of the CCSS ELA.
  • Links to current online resources and text sets are present.
  • Objectives highlight what students will learn or accomplish.
  • An overview of lesson content provides a quick guide of activities.
  • There’s a description of prior knowledge needed as a prerequisite to understand and apply the activities in the lesson.
  • Each unit’s extension activities can be done individually, in groups, at school or at home.
  • Text exemplars meet criteria from the Center for Gifted Education (2011).
  • A literacy based, culminating essay assesses student’s synthesis and understanding of each unit.

Collaboration, stamina and research skills

Using an interdisciplinary approach, the book invites collaboration, stamina, and development of research skills, and establishes the building blocks of learning that are required for success in future academic years, careers, and civic life.

I can just picture students immersed in these projects while using online and printed texts. Throughout the units there are opportunities to assess and evaluate students while ideas are exchanged, lively discussions emerge, and many “Aha moments” are shared.

The book is complete with many excellent resources such as the listing of suggested material, both print and online, and workbook pages that can be used as is or modified to meet the teacher’s needs. A detailed instructional sequence walks the educator through the lesson, step by step with project suggestions and descriptions, grading rubrics, and suggested answer keys.

The biggest drawback to this book is that some books may not be readily found free online such as the recommended and centerpiece text in one of the units, 1999’s Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis ($7 at Amazon). Students and teachers would need to locate a copy of the book and be familiar with the theme and text. However, using a little bit of ingenuity and legwork by checking local libraries or adding the suggested materials to the library or classroom budget, these exemplar texts can be put in the hands of the students.

I would recommend this book specifically to teachers of gifted students, from third to fifth grade, depending on the levels and needs of the students. The book and units meet the requirements of gifted education by providing units that are rigorous, challenging so students can learn beyond grade-level concepts and skills, and provide an opportunity for students to produce “high-end” work that is meaningful and meets the Standards. You will be pleased with the results.

Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, NJ, and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project, and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel. Linda participates in ECET2 Celebrate Teaching which has posted an interview with her.

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