Many moons ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Kelly Gallagher, the author of countless books on teaching reading and writing like Write Like Us (Stenhouse, 2011) and Readicide (Stenhouse, 2009). He is a mentor to me and all of his books are filled with teaching ideas that help build students’ reading and writing skills. Penny Kittle is another trustworthy teacher author with strategies for student success teaching. Together, these two publishing dynamos have written 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann, 2018).
As the school year winds down, many teachers – including myself – are reflecting and reimagining what next school year will look like: What might we do differently? What should stay the same? Where do the students need to dive more deeply in order to help build on their literacy and critical thinking skills? Gallagher and Kittle’s book effectively takes readers on a journey into their classrooms and experience the planning and execution of a school year in a way that helps match students with the right books while at the same time, “creating a classroom conducive to raising engaged readers writers, listeners, speakers, and thinkers” (pg. xvii). Throughout the book they expose the process that goes into planning and doing, as well as what they wish they got to but ran out of time.
Teaching in different schools across the country provides parallels as well as distentions that arose throughout the year based on the personal needs of their particular students and school community. The focus was always on their students with the intention of “crafting engaging and relevant learning experiences” because instruction should be designed around people – not the standards or state requirements. Additionally, Kittle and Gallagher’s objectives include “developing reading and writing habits needed for success outside of school: in college, work, and in their personal lives.” Whether students are going to attend post secondary schooling or not, If students are considering college, this infographic in the beginning of the introduction is telling.
Gallagher and Kittle are upfront about their own teaching values and how these values shape their planning and teaching:
Each academic year is a unique, living mosaic. Curriculum is rewritten yearly based on the changing students and changing world. As they state, “we teach students, not curriculum.”
There is beauty in our content. Reading and writing is essential and the authors state, “we personalize reading and writing, seeking the deep connections that happen when you trust students to choose what they read and write and then teaching into their developing understanding.”
Models. The teacher is a model and as models we must be active readers and writers, modeling for our students the same expectations we have for them.
Choice drives engagement. “Students should have choice in what they read 75% of the time.” And writing is not different. Students should have choices what to write throughout the school year.
Reading Identity Matters. Time for reading is dedicated in every class so that “students can increase the volume of their reading, the complexity of their reading, and students will develop allegiances to authors and genres.”
Writing Identity Matters. “Writing is for life, not just for school.” – I love this quote because it centers around our students thinking and lives. Teachers need to honor students as writers in order to discover and seek answers to bigger questions (than those posed in a 5 paragraph essay).
Talk deepens thinking and learning. Verbal, as well as written communication is essential for learning. Listening and speaking are just as important as reading and writing. This includes small group, large class, conferences with peers as well as the teacher. Talk allows students to connect with one another and articulate thinking and understanding.
Be fearless. If we expect students to take risks, we must also take risks as teachers and writers. By taking risks, we are talking about willingness to try things that are new and challenging,
Grade Less and Assess More. Not everything that students complete needs to be graded. Assessment is on-going and should drive feedback and coaching – not one and done.
Collaboration is Essential for Professional Growth. Teaching shouldn’t be an island and when we work with others, we grow professionally in order to teach and respond to students effectively.
The book maps out the year with the different units of study that both Kittle and Gallagher teach. The tone of their classroom is set the first day and students are reading and writing daily. Each day also begins with a book talk to help generate interest in reading and help students make plans for reading. Prompts for conferences and mini lessons are throughout the book with additional considerations to help teachers map out their own year of reading and writing. Both have a balance of free choice/independent reading along with two core texts and three book clubs units. Students maintain Thought Logs or Writing Notebooks. Writing is a balance between tasks, assignments, and free writing. There are ten writing units that include traditional writing assignments/essays to digital storytelling and portfolios. Students read a variety of texts from To Kill a Mockingbird to infographics, and Ted Talks.
This book is filled with engaging teaching ideas and lessons, thoughtful reflections and considerations necessary to personalize learning ALL students. Together, our mission is to help students succeed as readers and writers inside and outside of school. Gallagher and Kittle show their readers a balanced a approach.
Today was a fantastic day in Milwaukee, WI for Summer Spark presented by University School of Milwaukee. Summer Spark is a two day professional development conference with a host of keynotes and workshops for teachers and facilitated by teachers.
Google Innovator, Jeff Heil said, “We are all here because we want to do what’s best for our students and to be better teachers for the students we serve.” This is the underlining mission of Summer Spark, to support teachers with engaging, relevant and fun professional development. Today I had the opportunity to learn from amazing educators that helped to refocus my teaching purpose and passion.
The keynote was presented by Tom Murray(@thomascmurray), co-author of Learning Transformed. He introduced eight key ideas about teaching today to help students succeed in the future. The main point is that stand and deliver method of instruction doesn’t work today and that we need to make learning personal. Questions are more important than answers and we need to support students and allow them to figure things out, flip and twist in order to engage and create – not regurgitate answers. He used the analogy of a Rubik’s Cube . . .
The rest of the day I was on a gamification kick and attended three workshops on games and game building.
Melissa Pilakowski (@mpilakow) shared the Top Ten Games for any classroom. From Jenga writing and Scattegories to Gimkit and March Madness Brackets, Melissa had a game and gaming ideas to inspire students and make learning fun. Some digital games are helpful for basic vocabulary concepts and formative assessments like Peardeck’s Flashcard Factory and Vocabulary Dominoes, where others were great for argumentative and or creative writing like the card game Fun Employed and Storiumedu.
And the games didn’t stop there, Stephanie Crawford (@MrsCford_tweets) presented a session on Engaging and Empowering Mini Games that ignite the classroom by providing hands on assessment and critical thinking. Take out the play doh, legos, and dice and let’s have some fun. We had different challenges and in a short amount of time were given four types of challenge that promoted collaboration, creativity, and fun.
Michael Matera’s (@mrmatera) session on getting started with gamification was a reminder of the elements needed to sustain playfulness with challenge and purpose. In gamifying you classroom you need to choose a theme, create epic learning experiences, and set up the game mechanics. Matera’s Master Chef challenge is one I would like to replicate in my own classroom. Twenty students were selected to compete in this challenge and working on teams of four or five, students had to answer questions from a mystery box correctly. Strips of paper with the assessment questions on them were put into a box and students had to select a question and write our their answers on a team answer sheet to the questions. The teamwork and random selection made this game exciting for the students and fun.
The last workshop of the day was lead by Shelley Burgess (@burgess_Shelley), co-author of Lead Like a Pirate. We began by sharing our top three movies and then discussed what these movies say about us as educators. She reminded us that our job is to “raise human potential, and that raising test scores is not the end all, be all.” Education today is a people business and about relationships.” She asked us what type of germs are we spreading throughout the school and spoke about inspiring and supporting adults and students in our schools.
Of course the day was not over after a keynote and three workshops, there was more fun and collaboration to be had. Throughout the conference we were put into teams and played Goosechase, a digital scavenger hunt taking pictures, videos and sharing ideas to compete against each others. Before the end of the day we met in our teams to create a teacher superhero modeled from the super hero teams we are on. Lastly, trivia night was the most challenging trivia I have ever played. Despite the crazy questions and questions that stumped my team it has been an inspiring day and I have many ideas for the wild and wonderful first day of school come September.
In Sonnet 98 Shakespeare wrote,
Here is how I assigned the project to my students:
A. Take your favorite song and transform it into a sonnet. You do not have to write it in Shakespearean English. You do have to use Iambic Pentameter. However, if you use Shakespearean phrases correctly, you will get 10 extra credit points!
How to Start —
The outcome from my students were awesome.
Check out this one a student wrote based on Dua Lipa’s IDGAF:
Thou hath approached me in cordial temper
Regarding me in fond sincerity
I hath turned deaf to thine lies so tender
I harbor no more time nor love for thee
Find thine lady who shall hear thy ramblings
Too many a tear I hath shed for thou
Thy ong reign over my heart is ending
You come bearing apologies and vows
In mine heart for you I hold no regard
Thee hath lied and lain with other women
Shun thy pleading words my heart I hath barred
Thou hath plagued me but I am not broken
You hath nary been kind nor true nor fair
Thine time is over and I no longer care
Warning: Spoiler Alert!!!
Season Two of 13 Reasons Why is back on Netflix and whereas school districts are sending mass emails of the graphic nature of the show, most teens and adults are binging the entire season in shock and awe, drawing connections, and possibly building empathy for the people in their school and community. Based on the young adult novel by the same name, Season 2 goes beyond the book and looks at the characters more closely as a trial unfolds against the school district for their responsibility in Hannah Baker’s suicide.
Watching Season 2, the role of the teachers, parents, and adults stood out for their lack of presence and negative impact or role in the show. It is not until Episode 8 or 9 that there is a shift in Jessica and Clay’s families where parenting becomes the forefront of the series in honest and imperfect ways. At the same time, I found myself critical of the lack of presence of teachers and school support staff throughout the school scenes that seemed inauthentic and the failures among parents aloof to these teenagers in crisis and need. Here are thirteen critical failures from the adults in the show:
There are a few scenes where the parents are supportive and helpful for their children. Specifically, Clay’s father and Jessica’s parents. After Clay testifies, he and his father share Starbucks coffee and talk. Clay’s father mostly listens. Jessica’s father is truly supportive of his daughter and the scene where he tucks her into bed is memorable. Her father struggles between overprotecting his daughter and letting her grow. He has the most scenes throughout Season 2 finding a balance between trusting his daughter and being present in a positive and supportive way.
Austin’s parents are upsetting to watch because of how aloof they are to their son’s bullying, anger, and isolation. His fascination in guns from the beginning of the series clearly maps out the extent of violence we will see by the last episode. Once he pulls out his arsenal of weapons he hides in the basement with his parents clearly unaware, I was reminded of Sue Klebold, mother of 1999 Columbine High School Shooter, Eric Klebold’s book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (2016) and TED Talk (see below). This is a fascinating read for any teacher or parent and sheds light on the teenage brain, depression, and school violence.
Before you quickly dismiss Thirteen Reasons Why, it is an imperative series for all educators and parents to see with teens. The show raises important topics of bullying, addiction, suicide, rape, violence, and empathy. At the very least, it helps initiate conversations about the stress, loneliness, and choices young people might be facing.
Poetry is powerful. Poetry tells stories. Poetry is testimonials. Poetry persuades, informs, and inspires. In an article for the Atlantic, Andrew Simmons wrote, “poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.”
In my own classroom I have utilized poetry throughout the school year for close reading, text to text connections, textual analysis exercises. Students are not only readers and listeners of poetry but also poetry writers themselves. Creating poetry for our multi genre projects and point of view exercises, responding to and writing as characters in the books they read. Below is a collection of powerful poems to share with secondary students for close reading, critical analysis, and mentor texts.
Two of the most popular movies these past six months have been the reboot of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle(2017) and Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One(2018). Both movies are about gaming and teachers interested in gamification can borrow some elements from these movies to boost their game-infused classroom. In this post I am not going to review or critique these movies, both have merits and criticism. Rather, I want to identify the gaming elements that can be models and mentors for our own gamified classroom whether you are an expert player or noob.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Game Conventions:
3 Lives – Each of the main characters in the movie has three lives. Some characters risk these lives in order to level up, challenge, or help one another. What if students had “three lives” or three tries to complete a task to quest? How would this impact their effort and abilities to succeed in the classroom game?
“NPC” or a “cut scene” – Once the four main characters arrive in Jumanji, they meet Nigel, an NPC (Non-Player Character), and as such is only programed with certain responses for certain questions. The characters even audibly freak out when a “cut-scene” comes onscreen, before Spencer (Johnson’s character) explains that many games have them to explain backstory. What is the backstory to your game? The more backstory your students know or learn, they are more invested in the game.
How to Win the Game – The only way to escape the game and survive is to complete the task, so the four students try to survive the jungle of Jumanji with various threats bearing down on them. The key here is that the players had to work together in order to finish their quest and win the game to get back home. Team work is essential and similarly, team work can be the key to success with quest based learning.
Reading Player One Game Conventions:
Similar to Jumanji, Team Work is essential in Ready Player One. The protagonist, Wade Watts actually wins the Oasis with the help of his friends. If students are given missions and tasks where they have to work together, are able to crack codes, uncover the treasure, and battle the bosses by putting their heads together.
Easter Eggs – An Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message or image, or secret feature. Some websites state that there are more than 120 Easter eggs in Spielberg’s Ready Player One adaptation. Most of the Easter eggs in Ready Player One happen to be allusions to retro video games and movies from the 1980s like RoboCop, The Flash, Freddy Kreuger, The Iron Giant, to name a few. For a complete list check out this blog post from ScreenRant. The idea with Easter eggs is to provide another layer of challenge or hidden message to the game. In fact, before the movie was released, there were Easter eggs dropped all over Twitter to promote the movie (See below). What if you were to plant a few Easter eggs in your homework assignments, Google Classroom, or dare I say worksheet. Imagine the fun students might have cracking the secret message or to uncover a new side quest or mission.
Borrowing elements from 80s video games. Each level that Wade must reach references an 80s video games. We can look to games of over times for elements to use with our students from Dance Battles to scavenger hunts.
Whether you use all of these elements or just a few, adding a few gaming touches helps to draw in your players and students into the game of school or the game narratives you have created for your classroom.
When Jason Reynolds gave me an advanced copy of his book, All American Boys (Scholastic, 2015) four years ago, I knew I held in my hands a powerful book that initiated authentic discussion about racism today. At the same time, it helped my students draw connections across texts and see the relevancy of reading To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 1960) in our classroom today. Racism still exists and police brutality has hit record heights.
Since Reynolds and Kiely’s groundbreaking YA Novel, a number of new young adult titles have continued to address racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement in poignet ways. Here are five new ones:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is now being made into a major motion picture and what I love about Thomas’ book is that the protagonist, Starr, is honest, heartfelt, and conflicted at times. As one of the few African American students at a prep school, Starr is torn between the assumptions made by her peers at school and the neighborhood she grew up with. The protagonist’s voice throughout this novel is reflective and authentic.
Similarly, Dear Martin (Crown, 2017) by Nic Stone tells the story of Justyce McAllister, a sixteen year old African American student at a predominately white private school. When Justyce is driving with his best friend, Manny, with the music blaring from their luxury SUV, a verbal altercation at a red light with a white off-duty police officer leads to shots fired by the police officer and Manny dead. The event shakes Justyce. He writes to Martin Luther King, Jr. after studying King’s legacy in school in order to reflect and understand the appropriate actions he should take in response to the media, his friends, and classmates and America’s treatment of African American males.
Whereas Dear Martin calls attention to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writings and teaching, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little Brown, 2018) brings Emmett Till to the forefront. After twelve year old Jerome is shot because the police mistake his toy gun for a real gun, Jerome is a ghost observing his family, friends, the police officer and his family. Guided by Emmett Till, Jerome learns Till’s story and how racism and the murder of innocent African American boys has been happening for over a century. Able to communicate with the police officer’s daughter, Sarah, who is struggling to come to terms with her father’s actions, both realized that we can make the world better. Jerome is not the only ghost boy but there are hundreds of ghost boys who roam the world reminding readers of the many lives lost in the hands of police officers who are suppose to “serve and protect.”
Jay Coles’ Tyler Johnson Was Here (Little Brown, 2018) is the newest YA Novel to add to this growing list. First, I have to talk about the cover of the book which looks so much like one of Kehinde Wiley’s portraits. Los Angeles native and New York based visual artist, Wiley’s “larger than life figures disturb and interrupt tropes of portrait painting, often blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation and the critical portrayal of masculinity and physicality as it pertains to the view of black and brown young men.” The stark image of an African American young man staring at the reader enveloped in bright, colorful flowers (a Wiley signature) draws you in. Tyler and Marvin are twins brothers. When Tyler disappears from a party, he quickly goes from a boy who disappeared one night to another black boy who was murdered at the hands of police brutality. This book addresses family, education, poverty, and racism. Coles presented characters who go beyond stereotypes and it blurs between fiction and reality.
Whether you are looking for summer reads, new books to incorporate into your classroom library, or a book that is going to grab a students and make them sit up, read and want to talk. All of these books are worth reading, sharing, and talking about.
BreakoutEDU does not accept or recommend creating games on topics such as slavery and the Holocaust. In fact, on the website it states, “Not all topics are suitable for a Breakout EDU game. For example, topics like slavery and the Holocaust are better suited for a classroom discussion or reflective essay and should not be gamified.”
With a sensitive topic like the Holocaust, I am reflecting on whether or not to gamify an 8th grade Holocaust and WWII unit of study.
There are a few games related to the Holocaust currently on the market like Secret Hitler which “is a social deduction game for 5-10 people about finding and stopping the Secret Hitler. Players are secretly divided into two teams: the liberals, who have a majority, and the fascists, who are hidden to everyone but each other. If the liberals can learn to trust each other, they have enough votes to control the elections and save the day. But the fascists will say whatever it takes to get elected, advance their agenda, and win the game.”
I came across a game in development titled Rosenstrasse by Moyra Turkington and Jessica Hammer last summer at the Games for Change Conference. Rosenstrasse is “a tabletop freeform scenario with a strongly defined historical story weaving the lives of four pairs of men and women bound by love under the tightening chokehold of Nazi Germany. Players work through two characters to deeply explore two of these relationships as the clock ticks towards WWII and the Final Solution. Ideologies will be challenged, marriages tested, personal losses will be grave, and they will have to hold tightly together to see it through. The stories of these eight people will converge in a historic moment of terrifying civic defiance.”
Additionally, Call of Duty WWII depicts the Holocaust where “the player controls an American soldier fighting in the European theater. In addition to shooting Nazi soldiers, players will also be exposed to racism towards Jews and African-Americans within their platoon.”
I have thought about giving students passports or avatars, similar to those guests received upon entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Students go on a mission to uncover the events and actions that led up to Holocaust, collecting evidence on both allied powers and axis powers for their roles during WWII. Furthermore, students examine primary documents to address the refugee crisis, decision to use atomic weapons, and the trial of Nazi War Criminals to explore the complexities of this time period. What are the choices and decisions that were made and how did it impact masses of people.
I am still thinking this through and developing lessons. The one burning questions at this time is when a game is created to address a sensitive topic what is lost and or gained building students’ understanding and empathy?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section on this blog.
My students are currently studying the Holocaust and WWII. Collaborating with social studies, students are reading in small groups a wide selection of historical fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs connected to this time period. In addition to the independent books, primary sources, propaganda posters, diaries, poems, and art work are presented to help students learn about this time period and from multiple perspectives.
A current exhibit at The Ronald S. Lauder Neue Galerie in New York City, Museum for German and Austrian Art foreshadows the atrocities of Germany in the 1930s. — Yes, this is the same Ronald S. Lauder who purchased Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) better know as the Woman in Gold also on permanent display at the museum.
Currently on exhibit is “Before the Fall: German and Austrian Art of the 1930s” an exhibition devoted to the development of the arts in Germany and Austria during a decade marked by economic crisis, political disintegration, and social chaos. The website states, “This exhibition, comprised of nearly 150 paintings and works on paper, will trace the many routes traveled by German and Austrian artists and will demonstrate the artistic developments that foreshadowed, reflected, and accompanied the beginning of World War II. Central topics of the exhibition will be the reaction of the artists towards their historical circumstances, the development of style with regard to the appropriation of various artistic idioms, the personal fate of artists, and major political events that shaped the era.” Works by Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka, and Alfred Kubin are presented alongside pieces by lesser-known artists such as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Albert Paris Gütersloh, Karl Hubbuch, Richard Oelze, Josef Scharl, Franz Sedlacek, and Rudolf Wacker.
This exhibit and the paintings are windows and doorways into artists premonitions and warnings that something terrible was brewing in Europe in the 1930s. Many of these artists were deemed “degenerate” by Nazis because of political and religious affiliations. As the The New York Times states, the art work on display is “more than mere evidence of barbarity.”
In order to help my students understand the events that occurred during this time period and understand the hatred and the horror in conjunction with the books they are reading, I created a virtual “degenerate” art exhibit. Upon entering the classroom, students were given a pamphlet with excerpts of Hitler’s Speech at the Opening of the House of German Art in Munich (July 18, 1937). Select paintings were posted around the room for students to view in a gallery format. I also included a QR Code to link to a slide show of the pictures on the art show pamphlet. Utilizing Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), students viewed the paintings. Together we viewed closely and discussed as a large class Felix Nussbaum’s Self Portrait [see above]. The next activity required students to complete the statements from the point of view of Hitler and the perspective of a modern artist deemed “degenerate.”
The closing quote at the bottom of the pamphlet poses a quote from the artist, Paul Klee, “Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.” Isn’t that what we want for our students, to make us see, provoke questions, make connections, and build empathy.