PS/IS 686 | Brooklyn, NY

4th Grade Humanities Inquiry

Dear 4th Grade Families,

I came upon this article over the weekend, published in the Atlantic.

The New Preschool is Crushing Kids.

It was an interesting read because I have seen the first hand results of pushing down academics earlier and earlier.  Time and time again kids who come into Kindergarten decoding words have a harder time comprehending in upper grades.

How does this apply to fourth grade, you might ask?

Funny you ask.  This week I took the wonderings or questions that they had about the Revolutionary War and asked them to go on an independent inquiry.  I asked them what they wondered about the Revolutionary War.

Questions fell into predictable categories.  Those that were asking big philosophical questions.  “What if we lost the war?”  Some into interpersonal, “How did King George feel about going to war with his people in the colonies?”  Some were scientific, “What kind of technology did they use?  What was medicine like?”  And some were statistical, “How many people died?”  Some were concerned with cause and effect, “What was the cause of the first battle?”  And finally some were interested in the battles and logical strategy, “What did the spies do?  What battle strategies did they use to win a particular battle?”

Our class began our research in teams.  It was noisy with lots of discussion about their findings.  They argued with one another.  Showed each other their findings.

“The real focus in the preschool years should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information. They learn how things work. They solve puzzles that trouble them. Sometimes, to be fair, what children take away from a conversation is wrong. They might conclude, as my young son did, that pigs produce ham, just as chickens produce eggs and cows produce milk. But these understandings are worked over, refined, and adapted—as when a brutal older sibling explains a ham sandwich’s grisly origins.”

I agree that the  “The basis for the beginnings of literacy is that children have heard and listened … They have spoken and been spoken to, people have discussed [things] with them … They have asked questions and received answers.”

But shouldn’t this opportunity to also be for our upper elementary students, too?  Not just pre-school?

So, lets have the fourth grade come up with big questions on their own and mess around with learning it all on their own, through inquiry into content that they think is interesting!