Thanksgiving

Overview and Rationale

This Thanksgiving Mini-unit has been designed to fit an average third grade classroom. I undoubtedly feel, however, that with some minor omissions and additions (maybe in a few instances major), these lessons could become suitable for all grades: kindergarten through fifth.

My rationale for choosing Thanksgiving as my C & I Mini-Unit topic really started out as someone else's preference, and it was only after a little time and hard work that I began to truly appreciate and become engaged in the lessons and activities I was preparing. When I asked my cooperating teacher if there was any theme or topic that she would like me to teach to her class as a mini-unit, she requested Thanksgiving. She said she has never really had a nicely organized unit or folder for this holiday, and since we encounter it every year, it would be a nice thing to have. My first reactions were, "Oh no! This is such a controversial and traditionally taught topic in education! All my Curriculum and Instruction courses go completely against the teaching of these stereotypes to children! What am I going to do?!" But I decided to try to tackle it and see what I could do.

So, my journey began. My first step was to look through Jodi's folders and see the kinds of things that she had. I was already able to find some neat activity ideas. I proceeded to do a little research on children's literature at the library and discovered some truly light-hearted and touching yet very eye-opening and moving material that the students could really enjoy. Discussing Thanksgiving with others helped to clarify my views about what I wanted to teach to the children and how to go about it. With each step, I was learning a little more, becoming more satisfied, and my level of determination continued to rise. The minute I surfed the internet about Thanksgiving, I was fully engaged. The Fourth World Indigenous Studies staff produced a web page discussing their feelings and attitudes as they grappled with the teachings of Thanksgiving. They provided their own rationale and arguments and presented some ideas that they deem gently appropriate in exposing the children to the truth behind the First Thanksgiving. It was after reading this that I decided I would try to avoid the typical stereotypes associated with Thanksgiving and would teach the truth when confronted with this holiday every year.

I have presented five lesson plans in this mini-unit. The first is a preassessment of the students' prior knowledge of Thanksgiving. What information should I focus my unit around? What are some of the biases these students have already been exposed to? How can I gently change some of their probable misconceptions? These are just some of the examples of questions a teacher should ask in order to continue successfully with the unit. Revisions and adaptations will always need to be made.

The second lesson focuses on a general theme about Thanksgiving. The Native Americans provided the Pilgrims with so much assistance after their arrival to their land. The feast that was held for the two groups of people was provided mostly by the Native Americans, as they were extremely giving to the European white people. Giving, sharing, and being thankful for one's good fortune has always been a central theme or thread of Thanksgiving, and I feel it is important to emphasize this in the beginning of the unit. This is one aspect of Thanksgiving that really cannot have any biases; it is simply just asking the students to reflect upon and reevaluate what they are truly thankful for in their lives. It also gives the students a little insight about Native Americans and what they are thankful for using a children's book.

The third lesson in my mini-unit focuses on the Native Americans/Indians. The way I view this is that there would be no such thing as the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate today if it weren't for these people. They truly created, defined and whole heartedly contributed to the first Thanksgiving. The Native American culture is so beautiful anyway. How was their way of life before the arrival of the strangers? What was their culture like? How did they dress? What did they eat? What were their views about nature, the universe, and the spirit of life? Realistically, the topic in itself could be a unit. Therefore, one should keep in mind when reading this mini-unit that this is just a sample lesson that PROVIDES INSIGHT to the culture of the Native American people and how they lived their lives before any encounters with the Europeans.

After introducing the Native Americans, I thought it would be a good idea to next discuss the Pilgrims. What are pilgrims? What was their journey over to America like? How did they set up their new colony of Plymouth? How many were there? I found all of these questions in the "Want To Know" section of the KWL. Although I do not cover all of these questions in the next lesson, again, it is just a sample of one of the many lessons that could be taught.

Finally, the last lesson in this mini-unit is actually the one that I am most sensitive about. I really feel that it is important that we begin to instruct our students about the truth and not tell them lies just because that is the way things have always been. The more I think about it, the stronger I feel. This lesson uses a story that I found on the World Wide Web called The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story by Chuck Larsen. It provides a kind and gentle balance of historic truth and positive inspiration that I feel is essential in the instruction of Thanksgiving.

These five lessons are very much just intervals of the entire Thanksgiving unit. A wealth of information and activities could be added in between and to each lesson. I am really trying to stress this.

Overall, the BROAD goals of this mini-unit are as follows:

In "VIII. Other Activity Ideas", I feel a few more goals could be obtained and a few are as follows:

One final thing I would like to note is that keeping a Thanksgiving journal/scrapbook throughout the mini-unit is a wonderful idea for the students. This way they can keep all that they have learned and experienced about Thanksgiving together, for themselves or to show others. The teacher can either hold all their papers until the end and give them to the students on the Monday after Thanksgiving as a closure activity, or he or she can have them keep the journal as they move along through the unit.


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