Category Archives: Culturally Resonate Teaching

Identity Choice Novels & Playlist

Students are reading books with themes of identity as our last unit this school year. Student outcomes include

  • Recognize how people and characters define themselves as individuals through multiple complex factors, including culture, family, peers, and environment, and that defining oneself is a complex process
  • Read texts of various lengths to analyze content and structure, and cite evidence
  • Respond to texts (orally and in writing) coherently and thoughtfully
  • Develop and support claims with textual information
  • Participate in small-group and whole-class discussions

Students selected from five (5) choice novels:

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson – Newbery Honor

Acclaimed author Renee Watson offers a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her. Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way, which Jade has. Every day she rides the bus away from her friends to the private school where she feels like an outsider. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help or someone who people want to fix.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Nevin

Libby and Jack get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both angry, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel.

Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – A National Book Award Winner. 

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world.  Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. She has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy. (Some mature topics throughout the book.)

The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor – National Book Award Finalist

Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard.  An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.

Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri – 2021 Michael Printz Award

An autobiographical novel, middle-schooler Daniel, formerly Khosrou, tells his unimpressed and at times cruel classmates about his experience as an Iranian refugee.  Modeling his storytelling on Scheherazade and not beholden to a western mode, Daniel Nayeri writes a patchwork of memory and anecdote.  He layers stories upon stories to create a complex, hilarious, and devastating understanding of memory, family, and perspective. This book is a complex read due to the interweaving of stories in past and present and suggested for advanced readers. 

I created this identity playlist to help student meet learning targets and draw connections text to self, text to text, and text to world.

This is just a highlight of some of the slides. To get a copy of this playlist you can access HERE.

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One Pagers for Deeper Reading Comprehension

The One-Pager is a single-page response that shows a student’s understanding of the text. It is a way of making representation of one’s individual, unique understanding. It is a way to be creative and experimental and respond to reading imaginatively and honestly. The one pager assignment is a perfect summative assessment for students to showcase comprehension, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation skills. 

The requirements for the one pager are up to the teacher. I try to change up the one pager requirements with each assignment. Students complete two one-pager assignments in my class during the school year, I do not want to assign more than that because it loses it luster. Below are some examples of what students can include in their one pager. Also note the different one pager assignments I have shared in this blog post. 

Elements of the One Pager:

Write the title and author so that it stands out on the page.

Answer three (3) of the response questions from the question bank (see back) citing textual evidence to support your claims. – Sometimes I provide a question bank with higher level thinking questions for students to respond to where as if I am assigning the one pager later in the school year, I might have students create their own question and provide a short response answering the question. 

Pull out two (2) “notable quotes” or phrases that jump out at you, make you think or wonder, or remind you of something. 

The quotes must pertain to an aspect of the central idea/theme in the text. The quotes must emphasize key points to be remembered or used to explain the major concept. Write them down anywhere on your page.

Use different colors and/or writing styles to individualize each “quote” or phrase.

Include a visual image or illustration, which creates a visual focus; these images need to illustrate what pictures you have in your mind from reading.

Make a personal statement about what you have read–what does it mean to you personally? What is your opinion, final thought, big question or personal connection?

FILL THE PAPER UP with your words, images, and symbols. 

What Not to Do 

• Don’t merely summarize–you’re not retelling the story.

• Use unlined paper only, to keep from being restricted by lines.

• Don’t think half a page will do. Make it rich with “quotes” and images. 

Want More  . . . check out this blog post on NCTE providing more description and samples. My co-teacher provides specific students with PDF templates and checklists to help students with the visual layout of a one pager and also break down the assignment into smaller parts. 

Can one pagers be digital for your students who do not like or think they have artistic abilities, of course. Additionally, I have even had students work in groups to make collaborative one pagers for chapter notes when we are reading an whole class novel like Animal Farm. Working together helps break down the assignment into smaller pieces and also encourages discussion about the key elements of the reading and assignment. 

One pagers can be meaningful as an assessment tool, creative response to literature, and or check for understanding. One pagers are a powerful way to ask students to reflect upon what they have read. ISTE Standards for Students require students to be creative communicators as well as literate humans. One pagers are an invitation for teachers and students to consider alternative formats and opportunities to be creative communicators and design thinkers while at the same time, foster literacy learning in both a traditional and a blended learning environment

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Organizing A Day of Service for Middle School Students

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

WHAT?

My colleague and I are organizing be a day of service for our 8th grade students the last day of school. We want to end the year taking some time focusing on helping others and make a difference in the community. 

Day Of Service Activities At A Glance

Walk-a-thon: Walk and raise money for World Central Kitchen. WCK is first to the frontlines, providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises. 

Brook & Nature Center Clean-Up: Join others to keep trash our of the brook and Rye Nature Center.

Dog Toys for Animal Shelters: Braid pull toys for animal shelter dogs at Humane Society of Westchester.

Letters of Hope: Create works of art that share messages of hope, show compassion and promote healing for children in the Ukraine. 

WHY?

Numerous studies report the benefit of community service among teens. One study that analyzed data from the National Education Longitudinal Study found that students who are more civically engaged tend to perform better in school subjects such as reading, history, science and mathematics and are more apt to complete high school. Researchers also found that community service enhanced students’ problem-solving skills, improved their ability to work within a team and enabled them to plan more effectively.

Volunteering helps the teens gain new skills necessary for the job market such as leadership, communication skills, dependability, time management, and decision making.

HOW YOU CAN SET UP YOUR OWN DAY OF SERVICE

Consider ways that students can actively be involved in helping others. Students can pick up trash around the school, create a mural to inspire the community, or work with community based organizations. For examples, we wanted to plan activities that were low or no cost.

Students, teachers, and even the parent organization can meet to brainstorm project ideas. The following criteria should be considered in selecting projects:

  • Location: Convenience and proximity are important.
  • Money/resources/equipment required: Make sure that you have the necessary money, resources, and equipment before confirming a project.
  • Visibility in the community: Think about whether you want to work only for “well-known” agencies, those less known, or the neediest.
  • Constituency mix: Consider whether you want to concentrate on helping one segment of the community or offer a wide range of project types.
  • Number and size of projects: Consider your student population, you might want to organize several smaller projects. Keep in mind that too many volunteers for a project can lead to people standing around with nothing to do, and this will not be a good experience for them. We are going to have students complete a Google Form to sign up for projects of their choice and also cap certain projects.

Want to include remote volunteer opportunities? This article from We Are Teachers with ten virtual volunteer opportunities for teens.

Have more ideas, share in the Comments section on this blog.

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Assessment Speed Dating

Formative Assessment is a constantly occurring process, a verb, a series of events in action, not a single tool or a static noun. — from Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction (NCTE, 2013) 

Assessment is an integral part of instruction determining whether or not the goals of education are being met. It is used to measure the current knowledge that a student has. It is through assessment that teachers are continually asking:

“Am I teaching what I think I’m teaching?”

“Are students learning what they are suppose to be learning?”

A test, quiz, or assessment project is not just a grade to evaluate the students at the end of a unit but an ongoing evaluative tool for the teacher.  Teachers are engaged in assessment every minute that they are in the classroom. As teachers we are always observing, noting, and evaluating. There are three types of feedback and goal setting assessment tools that teachers need throughout a unit of inquiry:

Pre Assessment (Finding Out) – Pretests, inventories, KWL, checklists, observations, self-evaluations, questioning, mind mapping, anticipation guides

Pre Assessment allows student to demonstrate what they already know about what is being planned and what further instruction opportunities are needed or what requires reteaching or enhancement. Teachers can not just begin a lesson without taking a “temperature” of what the students know in the beginning.

Formative Assessment (Keeping Track and Checking Up) – Conferences, peer evaluations, observations, talkaround, questioning, exit cards, quiz, journal entry, self-evaluations

Formative assessment occurs concurrently with instruction and provides feedback to teachers and learners. Formative assessment can be formal and informal to frame meaningful performance goals.

Summative Assessment (Making Sure) – Unit Test, performance task, product and exhibition, demonstrations, portfolio review

Summative assessment shows what students have learned at the conclusion of an instructional unit and is evaluative.

For reliability and validity teachers should use a variety of assessments to provide enough helpful feedback to improve performance. Assessment should be used for guiding, self-reflection, instruction, nurturing, and used over multiple activities. In addition, students should be involved in daily or weekly evaluation of their progress. Rubrics and other scoring tools help evaluate understanding of content and skills that are used by both the teacher and the student for both specific tasks and long term progress. I never handout to students an assessment without also giving them the evaluation rubric at the same time so they know exactly what I am looking for when I evaluate their projects and assessments. Here are four criteria of quality feedback as defined by Grant Wiggins (1998): 

1. It must be timely.

2. It must be specific.

3. It must be understandable to the receiver.

4. It must allow the student to act on the feedback (refine, revise, practice, and retry).

It is easy to give tests and quizzes but in actuality, they are not always the most accurate evaluation tools. Teachers want to use a variety of assessments or data sources and teacher data mechanisms to help gain a more accurate picture of students knowledge and understanding.

To help my pre-service English teachers consider the various aspects of assessment, I created this Assessment Speed Dating Hyperdoc that walks teachers through various literacy based assessments in the English language Arts classroom and more.

The hyperdoc and speed dating template was inspired and adapted from Amanda Sandoval @historysandoval.

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Literature Circles: A Trusted Book Club Reading Strategy

I first learned about Literature Circles back in the day when I was studying to be a teacher. Literature circles are a form of book group that engage students by allowing them to respond to the text in a variety of ways and practice using reading comprehension strategies as identified by Harvey Daniels.

In literature circles the teacher chooses books that will interest students. Currently students are participating in an interdisciplinary unit on WW2 so they have a choice of six historical fiction and non fiction books about WW2, the Holocaust, and Japanese Internment to choose. Students selected the book they would like to read and were then organized into small groups of four to five for their book clubs and literature circles. During ELA class, students meet twice a week in book groups to discuss their reading. In order to hold each other accountable and encourage a productive book discussion student choose a given a role for the day. Rather than the teacher assigning the roles, the students select new roles for each book club meeting. The purpose for assigning students a role is to have each student engaged in a conversation about the section read. Students are the discussion leaders and respond to the text in a variety of ways and practice using reading comprehension strategies.

The Literature circle model is partly based on Piaget’s constructivist theory, and on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Piaget believed that learners construct knowledge through experiences. Building on Piaget’s initial theories, constructivists also believe that a child is an active learner and thinker, or a sense maker who is constructing his or her own knowledge by interacting with objects and ideas (Constructivist Education, n.d.). In literature circles there is specific role for each student and students must draw upon past experiences. Vygotsky’s theory of ZPD suggests that if children practice a new skill with the help of an adult or a slightly more capable peer then they gradually develop the ability to perform the skill without help or assistance. Literature circles engage students in active sense making and involve them in peer interactions like those expressed in the theory of ZPD.

When I first learned about Literature Circles student’s roles required them to complete an actual task or assignment and turn in to the teacher. Then a decade later, the tasked roles were removed and were said to deter students from reading engagement rather, it makes the reading assignment task oriented. Moving ahead with literature circles now, I find it important for students to complete the role requirements in their Reader’s Notebook. This scaffolding helps middle school students work on their reading comprehension and also have artifacts to bring to their weekly book discussions. The goal for a teacher is to help students become independent and self-regulated learners (Scharlach, 2008). Providing scaffolds and gradual release of responsibility helps students become independent and self-regulated learners.

I have created this slide deck for my students are you are free to get your own copy HERE. Each slide has a description of the different group roles and the tasks needed to complete for their preparation of the book club/literature circle meeting. There are five different roles and students do not repeat the roles but are to take on a new role with each book club meeting. I am also having each group submit their work on a Padlet to curate the group’s discussion reflections and group tasks to house all their work in one place and access for writing assignments and assessments.

Lee Araoz, the District Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Lawrence Public Schools in New York describes many ways to infuse technology into Literature Circles. He uses Padlet, Flipgrid, students create their own Quizizz, and Google Suite. The key is choice. Students choose their books, their group roles, and a technology platform to showcase their reading.

If you also use literature circles in your classroom I would love to know how it is going and what you have found woks well to support your students as readers and independent thinkers. Do you use role sheets and or infuse technology? What are the different roles you have found most successful for middle school students? You can share in the comments section of this blog.

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Teaching Writing in High School: Reflections from TCRWP Workshop

More than twenty years ago I spent my summer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshops for teaching reading and teaching writing. My teachers, Katherine Bomer, Pam Allyn, Isoke Nia, and Lucy Caulkins left an indelible impact on my teaching over the course of two decades. My classrooms still is still guided by Reading and Writing Workshop.

Earlier this month I attended a three day summit with #TCRWP on teaching writing in the high school. Interestingly, in all my years teaching and working with TC, reading and writing workshop was for K-8 and it was enlightening to be working among high school teachers to see the possibilities of bringing this model of teaching into high school. This particular workshop focused on teaching memoir and narrative writing in high school. Despite being geared towards high school, many of the ideas and texts presented in the workshop are adaptable across grade levels.

Let’s start: “Writing is hard and the hardest part is getting started.”

Why start with narrative and memoir?

  1. When students tell their stories we are building relationships (culturally relevant teaching)
  2. We teach storytelling with passion and grace we help students make meaning from life

Launching memoir and getting students ready to begin writing is “having the courage to tell your own stories.”

We began with listening and viewing Renee Watson’s “This Body,” a poem from her book Watch Us Rise.

We started with the video, rather than a dense text as a mentor text to provide an accessible text for our students to discuss and write off of. One way to get started as a writers is getting inspired by other writers. Teachers can help students begin memoir by writing poems and vignettes.

Writers need time to write, lots of mentor texts, choice, and responses from a community of writers. One great move that my workshop leader showed was not to just provide one mentor text, but she actually offered us a Padlet with multiple mentor texts and had each of us pick one to read and study it and record the writing moves we noticed the writer using. What moves dis this writer make that inspired me? We use mentor texts to move our writing forward. After reading and discussing the mentor text students are able to build a vision how their own memoir can go based on the study of the mentor text.

Within the memoir lessons we were talking and thinking about what our memoir is really tell us? We focused and wrote around issues (Is there an issue hiding in a story that is big in your life?, change (Is there a critical change that happens in the story that means something to you?), and identity/relationship (Does the story arise a question about your relationship or identity?). We stretched our writing by talking and creating time lines. We also created some storyboard and story maps, and creating our own story arcs. We even used poetry to elevate our writing. We wrote poems off scenes in our memoirs to think deeper about our piece and place that we think needs more clarity or imagery.

Teaching students to write memoir can be a powerful start to the school year and launching of writing workshop. Memoir and narrative helps to celebrate the diverse voices in your classroom and provide choice and agency. By modeling our own stories and writing alongside our students, they can come to learn that their stories matter.

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Faith Ringgold Retrospective & Ideas for Implementation in the Classroom

More than two decades I was introduced to Faith Ringgold’s gorgeous quilts. They became catalysts for a memoir unit with my middle school students in New York City. We visited an exhibit of Ringgold’s quilts to look up close at the beautiful illustrations, vivid stories, and craftsmanship of her quilts. Not only is Ms. Ringgold an artist, she is an author and illustrator as well. I read to students her famed Tar Beach, a beautiful story quilt turned picture book, introduces readers to Cassie Louise Lightfoot. She has a dream, to go wherever she wants for the rest of her life. One night the rooftop (tar beach) of her family’s Harlem apartment building, her dreams come true when the stars lift her up, and she flies over the city, claiming the buildings and the city as her own. The pictures themselves are bright and colorful illustrating Cassie as she floats among the stars and night sky. Students wrote their own memoirs with magical realism elements like Ringgolds. 

Faith Ringgold’s art is now on display at the New Museum in New York City. The museum states, “Bringing together over fifty years of work, “Faith Ringgold: American People” provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the artist’s impactful vision. For sixty years, Ringgold has drawn from both personal autobiography and collective histories to both document her life as an artist and mother and to amplify the struggles for social justice and equity. From creating some of the most indelible artworks of the civil rights era to challenging accepted hierarchies of art versus craft through her experimental story quilts, Faith Ringgold has produced a body of work that bears witness to the complexity of the American experience.” Within the beauty of her art she brings attention to issues of race, gender, and economic inequalities. She provides an element of art history and art criticism to her work, especially her quilts, and borrows from other cultures to present her art work in new ways likeTibetan Tankas. Her work is semi-autobiographical which lends it self as a model of agency and voice in art and writing. 

As a explored the exhibit and mused over Ringgold’s lifetime of work, I thought there were multiple entry points to use her artistry in the classroom. 

Art History & Representation

The New Museum provides on its website, an activity for kids based on 

The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles: The French Collection Part I, #4, (1991). In The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles, Ringgold portrays a group of famous and influential Black women from across history seated at a quilting table: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Ella Baker. These women advocated for African American rights, freedoms, and opportunities, reshaping the course of American history. The group stitches fabric covered with sunflowers, while the mid-nineteenth-century Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh, stands in the background holding a bouquet. Some of Van Gough’s most famous works are his paintings of sunflowers in Arles, which are referenced in the title and imagery of this work. 

Ringgold said of The French Collection series: 

“….I wanted to show there were Black people when Picasso, Monet, and Matisse were making art. I wanted to show that African art and Black people had a place in that history.

 …For me it also had a lot to do with my mother, as you know. She was a seamstress, and she taught me how to back the quilts up and how to put the seams in and hold them together. Although she was a dressmaker, she still knew all the steps to make quilts, because she had grown up at a time when African Americans still made quilts to go on beds. Women would sit around and make quilts and talk and tell stories as they did. So yes, storytelling and quilts have been related for centuries…” 

— Faith Ringgold, interview in the exhibition catalog, Faith Ringgold: American People

When students examine the quilt, ask them “What is the relationship between the man holding sunflowers and the women at the quilting table, and what are they doing? Who is in the background? Who is in the foreground or front of the painting? Who do you think the artist wants us to notice first?”

Think how Ringgold’s mixed-media story quilt inspire us to make a narrative artwork honoring people we know from our own lives and families, or important people from history or today? 

Students can create a mixed-media story quilt collage using materials available (or digitally) to celebrate people we know and love in our daily lives, or people we admire from afar. 


Blending Art, World Cultures, & Personal Heroes

Besides Ringgold’s story quilts, she created “tanka paintings” — tanka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity. In the 1970s, Ringgold began making paintings on fabric inspired by Tibetan tankas that could be easily rolled, transported, and stored. Although they represented a departure for Ringgold, an important thread from previous series remained: the use of hand-painted text. The Feminist Series includes quotations from nineteenth-century feminist icons such as Maria Stewart and Clarissa Lawrence that hold special resonance for Ringgold.

Students can learn about and research Tanka paintings. Similar to Ringgold, students choose an icon they wish to represent on a Tanka they will create.

History of Quilting

Faith Ringgold took the traditional craft of quilt making (which has its roots in the slave culture of the south – pre-civil war era) and re-interpreted its function to tell stories of her life and those of others in the black community. African American quilts are significant artistic pieces of both the past and present history for black Americans. They tell stories of slavery and segregation, giving viewers valuable history lessons while also representing beacons of hope. They are symbols of culture, community, and freedom. For more information about the stories behind African American quilts check out arthelp.com. Students can research and report on the incredible history of quilting and see how it impacts present day fabric artists like Bias Butler.

One of Faith Ringgold’s most famous story quilts is Tar Beach, which depicts a family gathered on their rooftop on a hot summer night. Check out the video about Faith Ringgold talking about creating her quilts.

Memoir & Storytelling

Faith Ringgold’s artworks–startling “story quilts,” politically charged paintings, and more–hang in the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and other major museums around the world, as well as in the private collections. Through her quilts she retellings her family memories. Have students write their own memoirs and then illustrate them.

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Book Review: 4 Essential Studies by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher

What are the core units of study that you teach in your English Language Arts class? Essays, Literature, Poetry, maybe argumentative writing? In Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s newest book 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency (Heinemann, 2021), there is a deep dive into teaching essay writing, poetry, book clubs, and digital composition.

Now for a disclaimer, I am a HUGE!!!!! Kittle and Gallagher fan. Ever since I participated in a workshop 18 years ago with Kelly Gallagher at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York I was hooked. I have read every one of his books, adopted Article of the Week in my middle school classroom, and even use many of his texts in the college classes that I teach. If I am at NCTE or ILA, I will go to a Gallagher and Kittle workshop because I know that the information they provide is practical and timely. So, this book was something that I was eager to dive in. Let me highlight the key points presented in each section.

The Essay

How do we as teachers bring students’ voices to the forefront of essays. So much of essay writing that is taught in school is bland, rote, and formatted in a constricting five paragraph essay. But that is not the types of essays that we read outside of school. Check out Sam Anderson’s essay in The New York Times, “I Recommend Eating Chips.” or John Green’s collection of essays in The Anthropocene Reviewed. These writers write compelling and insightful essays that make readers pay attention to the insight, perspective, and point of view. Teachers want to provide opportunity for students to write meaningful essays that honor and amplify their voice and agency. We might need to experiment with form — while throwing out the five paragraph essay template to write authentic essays that blend forms and hone in on craft and structure.

Some teaching moves one can make to help students with their essay writing include providing lots of model and mentor texts and have students complete a WRITE AROUND to notice and name the writing craft moves. Additionally, providing students with lots of TIME TO WRITE and low stakes opportunities to develop their writing and voice. Kittle and Gallagher write, “A volume of ungraded practice gives them opportunities to play with their ideas – some which they will develop into polished essays using craft moves they learn in this study. We know that the quantity of writing will move more writers towards proficiency.” (page 13) Teachers must MODEL THE WRITING PROCESS for students and write along side students. Have students read, analyze, and IMITATE WRITING PASSAGES, Kittle and Gallagher call this writing activity, “kidnap the structure and style”. Don’t forget to allow time for students to conference, work in writing groups, and opportunities to revise, reflect, and evaluate their own essays.

Book Clubs

Similar to writing, volume is key when teaching reading and readers. Kittle and Gallagher write, “Book clubs motivate us to read. They deepen our understanding of not only the book but how others read and interpret the same text. Books stretch out thinking, and they expose us to books and authors we may not have otherwise missed.” (Page 45) Students practice the habits of life long readers when they engage in book club conversations, books encourage readers to talk about the topics addressed in these texts. More importantly, “rigor is not in the book itself, but in the work students to understand it.” (pg. 47) It requires teachers to choose books that are relevant and provide opportunities for students to reflect and by writing daily in their Reader’s Notebooks.

Excerpt from Penny Kittle’s Notebook in response to reading. There are so many more beautiful notebook excerpts from student’s notebooks pages 65-72.

Poetry

“Professor Thomas C Foster notes, poetry “offers a window into the human experience.” (page 80). Kittle and Gallagher call poetry, “little mysteries.” There needs to be a balance in poetry analysis and poetry writing. Inviting students to create and write their own poems and “start with playing, wondering, free writing, reading and listening to poems, creating notebook lists and phrases, and imitating. ” (page 82) Again, volume is key when teaching poetry. For poetry lists you can find more on Penny Kittle’s website.

Here are two poetry writing exercises to try out with students and lots more in the book:

Spine Poems – students collect books from the classroom library or their own personal library and stack in combinations so that the titles on the spines make poems.

Crowd Source Poetry: Using a Google Form, a teacher can crowd source poetry lines to build a community driven poem about an event, person, theme, or central idea.

Additional poetry lessons and activities include teaching figurative language, having students emulate a poetry form, host a poetry tournament to immerse students in a poetry study by theme or genre. Host a poet of the day – I actually do something similar to this with my poetry playlists providing students with a menu of poets, poems, and poetry forms.

In terms of assessment, Kittle and Gallagher created an “Excellence in Poetry” Grading Menu where poems are not graded individually but students are provided with choices and each student turns in a poem for inclusion in a classroom anthology. There were also six different poetry analysis assignments/exams.

Digital Composition

We live in a digital and visual saturated culture and to think that literacy and texts does not blend digital media. Kittle and Gallagher state, “Digital composition is not just engaging, it is necessary.” (page 117) Let’s put our students interest first and support them as content creators and creative communicators while practicing digital citizenship. Possible digital composition assignments include: designing public service announcements (PSAs), create a movie from a notebook entry, make a podcast, and analyze digital texts.

If you are looking for practical ideas to implement in your English Language Arts classroom tomorrow than Kittle and Gallagher’s book with give you four unit of study that support deep students learning and at the same time help students to practice essential skills needed to be critical thinkers and consumers of information while at the same time honoring student voice, choice, agency, and creativity.

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10 History Lessons from Savannah Georgia

This past weekend I was able to visit Savannah, Georgia for the first time. I was enamored by all the history around me and thoughts of all the take aways that I was immersed in to bring back to my students to help understand all aspects of history as it relates to this town.

1. Ships of the Sea – Since Savannah is located along the river and includes a major global portal across centuries, the Ships of the Sea Museum exhibits ship models, paintings and maritime antiques, principally from the great Era of Atlantic trade during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, founded in 1966, exhibits ship models, paintings and maritime antiques, principally from the great era of Atlantic trade and travel between England and America during the 18th and 19th centuries.The Museum features nine galleries of ship models, maritime paintings and artifacts.The vast majority of ship models were commissioned by the Museum to interpret the rich story of Savannah’s maritime history.The collection of models includes, colonial vessels, ironclads, ocean-going steamers, and modern navy ships. The models have been strenuously researched and intricately detailed.

Designed in 1819 by English architect William Jay, the Willian Scarbrough House is one of the earliest examples of domestic Greek Revival architecture in the South. Now home to the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.

2. Slavery – The arrival of the slave ship Wanderer to the Georgia coast in 1859, involved the illegal capture and transport of Africans, a conspiracy, the hierarchy of both Savannah society and the United States government, over 40 years of failed U.S. policies, and a capital punishment trial. 

The Ships of the Sea Museum offers an online exhibit the chronicle of the Wanderer is explored, along with the historic context within which this intriguing story unfolded. The history of the slave trade is examined along with U.S. legislation regarding slavery, such as the abolition of the Slave Trade Law, the Fugitive Slave Act, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the influence of John Brown’s abolitionist actions and the historic Dred Scott Supreme Court decision.  

3. Sugar – “A most precious product, very necessary for the use and health of mankind” 

– William of Tyre, 12th century

The sweet culinary habits wealthy Savannahians is exhibited at the Jepson Center Telfair Museum dedicated to the consumption of sugar in the port city. This unique display gives visitors a glimpse into humans’ connection to sugar and its complicated history, dependent on slavery, and the city’s socio-economics. Porcelain and silver were shipped from Europe and beyond into the Port of Savannah, providing the elite of this city with purchasing options far surpassing those of any inland towns of the 19th century.

4. Revolutionary War – The siege of Savannah, the second deadliest battle of the Revolutionary War (1775-83), took place in the fall of 1779. It was the most serious military confrontation in Georgia between British and Continental (American revolutionary) troops, as the Americans, with help from French forces, tried unsuccessfully to liberate the city from its yearlong occupation by the British.

5. Yellow Fever – Savannah’s first major yellow fever epidemic occurred in 1820 when 666 people died. In the 1854 epidemic, 1,040 people died. Locals who could afford to leave fled the city and businesses shut down.

6. Civil War – Hundreds of antebellum houses, buildings and churches abound with Civil War history in this city. The Savannah area has three historic forts once occupied by Confederate and Union forces, and miles of coastal channels where gunboats and ironclads sailed and slithered through the marshes, inlets and backwaters of historic Chatham County.

The Civil War is more than what happened on the killing fields of battle. The old city is woven with the stories of generals, planters and brokers, enslaved (and later free) West Africans who lived in the historic lanes. And there are the families — regardless of color or nationality — Savannah’s diverse multicultural population is another side to Civil War history in Savannah that is more than worth the time to explore.

Civil War Savannah is also a place where Union General Sherman, and 60,000 Union troops entered in December of 1864.

Telfair Museum

7. The 3rd Oldest Art Museum – Designed for Alexander Telfair, the Telfair mansion was constructed in 1819 on the site of the former colonial Government House, the official residence of Royal Governor James Wright. Alexander commissioned William Jay, a young English architect, to design his new home. Jay had recently arrived in Savannah from England to oversee the construction of the residence of Richard Richardson (now Telfair Museums’ Owens–Thomas House & Slave Quarters).

In 1875, Alexander’s sister Mary – heir to the family fortune and last to bear the Telfair name – bequeathed the house and its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society to be opened as a museum. The Society hired German-born artist Carl Brandt to create the new institution. Working with New York-based architect Detlef Lienau and Savannah-based architect Augustus Schwab, Brandt remodeled the old Telfair home and constructed an addition to house a new collection of art. The museum opened to the public in 1886, making it the oldest public art museum in the South and the first museum in the United States founded by a woman.

In 1906, Telfair Museums’ Board of Trustees asked American artist Gari Melchers to serve as the museum’s fine arts advisor and to make purchases on its behalf. During his tenure from 1906 to 1916, he facilitated the purchase of many of the best-known works in the permanent collection thanks to his many connections to the international art world.

Today, Mary Telfair’s unique gift to the city of Savannah has grown into an institution comprising three architecturally significant buildings, over 6,300 works of art, and a proud history of educational programming and exciting exhibitions.

8. Ghosts & Hauntings – Savannah is widely known as the most haunted city in America. Walk into any historic building or cemetery in Savannah and you may catch sight of ghostly presences surrounding you. Some say that the city was built on the graves of indigenous people and then over time built on top of cemeteries of slaves and those who died during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. In fact, unbeknownst to us, we stayed at the Marshall House one of the top haunted hotels in the U.S. Since 1851, this hotel has been used as a hospital three times – once for Union soldiers and twice for 19th century Yellow Fever epidemics.

Civil Rights Marker

9. Civil Rights –  On March 16, 1960, black students led by the NAACP Youth Council staged sit-ins at white-only lunch counters in eight downtown stores. Three students, Carolyn Quilloin, Ernest Robinson, and Joan Tyson, were arrested in the Azalea Room here at Levy’s Department Store (now SCAD’s Jen Library). In response, African-American leaders W.W. Law, Hosea Williams, and Eugene Gadsden organized a nearly complete boycott of city businesses and led voter registration drives that helped elect a moderate city government led by Mayor Malcolm Maclean. Sit-ins and the boycott continued until October 1961, when Savannah repealed its ordinance requiring segregated lunch counters. The boycott continued until all facilities were desegregated in October 1963, eight months before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared Savannah the most desegregated city south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The Davenport House presents the story and lifestyle of a young builder, Isaiah Davenport, and his household in the early 19th century.

10. Mythology of Moonlight & Magnolias – There are many historic mansions built in 1820s in Savannah. Whereas, when these museums opened in the 1950s, there was no mention of the people enslaved on the property. Like most house museums, the focus used to be on the luxury and aesthetic appeal of the lifestyles of the wealthy, centering and mythology of moonlights and magnolias. It has taken decades of labor, research, and collaboration to construct an honest interpretation of the history of this period. Many museums continue to hone their presentation as facts present themselves. Savannah’s historic homes can offer a closer look at the lives of its (mostly white and wealthy) residents in times past, an appreciation of the architecture and furnishings of a particular period.

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Helping Students Read Between the Lines: Graphic Novels, Inferences, & Close Reading

Students have been reading three specific graphic novels this month that are historically based on people who dedicated their life work to speak out against injustice. The three titles are The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, and Run by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Now students might be thinking, how cool, what an easy book to read, and there is so little words but really this is a deeper reading unit that others.

Graphic novels have depth of plot, character development, theme, and lots of literary elements found in a prose text. It also has the elements of film we study with students, allowing them to develop literacy in the interpretation of image for meaning. When students combine both aspects to investigate a text’s effect on readers, they develop varied insights into how meaning is communicated and interpreted. It makes for a very rich literature study.

What started as a mini lesson on inferring, because a rich discussion about the messages the authors and illustrators made balancing the words and images to help convey a particular message.

Looking closer at the page from Faithful Spy together the students were able to recognize the double-page spread symbolically represents Germany’s decline from the stability of the early 20th century through the disaster of the Great War, then into the postwar years when Germany tried to gain her feet and reassert herself on the world stage.  It gives the reader a literal picture of how an opportunist like Hitler was able to take advantage of his country’s instability to seize power. Both Germany and Hitler are represented by the wolf which is ripping off its collar to represent Germany would no longer be following the key provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. History.com cites Article 231, commonly called the war guilt clause, which required Germany to accept responsibility for causing “all the loss and damage” inflicted on the Allies in WWI.

Additionally, students pointed out how the wolf’s eyes are white providing a lifeless, vicious animal that is driven by aggression. It is eating its prey represents Hitler’s desire to eat up all surrounding countries to accumulate power and anyone getting in his way.

To encourage students to go back into their graphic novels and look closer at specific panels and sections, I created task cards to help direct them to specific parts of the book and begin developing theories about their reading. This was followed up with a lesson on symbolism and possible theme ideas in the text. You can grab a copy of these materials here.

*They Called Us Enemy Questions are not my own but were found on this website.
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