Fourth grade marks a student’s entrance into the upper cluster, categorized as grades four through six. Moving into the upper cluster means students have an increased level of ownership and personal responsibility for their learning.
Responsibility and organization are central themes throughout the fourth-grade year. To teach and nurture these skills, specific structures are put in place across the curriculum. Challenging and complex projects are scaffolded into manageable parts, allowing each student to be successful at each step, increasing confidence and independence along the way. Some students are inherently organized, while others need to be taught specific strategies to improve their organizational skills. Examples of these include using a daily student planner, categorizing papers into three-ring binders, establishing systematized procedures for research projects, and setting up expectations for maintaining personal supplies and materials.
Students in grade four also begin earning grades on certain tests and projects with heightened levels of expectation. These expectations are clearly outlined in project rubrics and checklists, raising levels of academic excellence across the curriculum. Bi-weekly centers allow students to work in small groups for a variety of activities to promote differentiation of academic instruction and opportunities for small-group sharing and discussion.
To foster social responsibility, fourth-graders serve as mentors to kindergarten buddies; each fourth-grader is paired with one kindergartner for the year. The buddy relationships form over the year, often blossoming into long-term friendships, giving a sense of empowerment and leadership responsibility to the fourth-graders.
The language arts program in fourth grade emphasizes reading and writing for real purposes. Students read several novels and short stories that complement the fourth-grade thematic studies, along with a variety of nonfiction materials as part of the research process. Genre studies include realistic fiction, fantasy, fairytales, myths, and mystery. There is a balance of whole-group, small-group, and independent reading throughout the year. Author studies are woven into literature time; fourth-grade favorites include Roald Dahl, Andrew Clements, Sharon Creech, Carl Hiaasen, and Chris Van Allsburg. Read-aloud book are chosen to augment thematic studies and the social-emotional learning curriculum.
The writing process is practiced throughout the school year. Each student publishes a nonfiction endangered-species book, a multimedia report on a facet of ancient Egyptian culture, a forensic science dictionary, and several pieces of creative writing. Daily journal responses, weekly debates, and monthly book reviews provide students with a variety of writing opportunities.
Writing mechanics and cursive handwriting are taught through whole-class direct instruction lessons, mini lessons, and to individuals as needed. Can Do Cursive is used for both handwriting and grammar lessons. The Vocabulary from Classical Roots curriculum begins in fourth grade and forms the basis of vocabulary instruction in grades four through six. Content vocabulary is also emphasized during literature circles and in connection to thematic studies.
The overarching goal is to help fourth-graders become fluent, avid, and critical readers and writers.
Everyday Mathematics: The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project forms the basis of math instruction in fourth grade. The series is designed to present real-life application of math concepts and enhance critical thinking skills. It emphasizes various ways to arrive at a solution, as well as increase basic concepts and skills. There is a mixture of whole-class instruction, small-group centers, partner work, and independent practice. The class banking system allows for real life-exposure to budgeting, keeping a checkbook, and basic economics. IPad apps and websites including Math Blaster, Rocket Math, mathisfun.com, Manga High, and Khan Academy support basic skills.
Thematic Studies (Social Studies and Science)
Science and social studies are taught through an integrated thematic approach in close collaboration with the science educator. Major topics include ecosystems, environmental issues, ancient Egyptian culture, technology, and modern forensic science. Research projects are included in each area, and students investigate a mock crime scene as part of their forensic science study.
Technology in the Classroom
A one-to-one iPad program is introduced in fourth grade, allowing students daily opportunities to use technology in their learning. Inspiration® apps are used to organize and create concept maps and outlines; major research and writing projects are composed in Apple Pages; and students create multiple slideshows throughout the year using Apple Keynote. Various apps and websites are used for skill practice; students also use iPads to create videos, posters, and other multimedia projects across the curriculum. Emphasis on keyboarding skills is a major focus, with each student learning proper finger placement using Type to Learn® software in the computer lab.
Developing self-awareness, self-advocacy, a sense of community, and an understanding of different opinions and perspectives are at the heart of the fourth-grade social-emotional curriculum. Lessons to develop these concepts are woven into literature and thematic studies. We also use weekly Scholastic News debate questions to see issues from different points of view. The school-wide use of Responsive Classroom practices and the Mind-Up program are the formal curricula for social emotional learning.
A highlight of fourth grade is our annual service-learning project benefitting the Espanola Valley Humane Society. We visit the shelter as a whole group in September. Small groups (4-6 students) sign up to volunteer at the shelter the second Saturday of each month with the fourth grade lead educator. In school, the students develop a dog biscuit and cat toy business, baking biscuits every other Wednesday and sewing cat toys. These are packaged and sold twice a year to raise money for the Espanola Valley Humane Society. In the 2015-16 school year, the fourth grade raised a record $3026. The students learn basic economics involved in running a business while helping to raise awareness of the dog and cat overpopulation crisis in New Mexico.