Eating Insects Argumentative Assignment

The New York Times published a video that is a perfect introduction to an argumentative essay writing assignment. Check out the video below:

What Insects Can Learn From Lobsters About Rebranding | NYT Opinion

This opinion piece was fascinating and very informative. It offered multiple perspectives and was also interesting to watch. I used the video to introduce an argumentative writing assignment this week. Students first watched the video and took notes in their Writer’s Notebooks. Then, we discussed the key ideas in the video and students shared whether they would eat insects or not.

The next day I provided students two different articles about eating insects. One article I paired down from a Time Magazine article by Aryan Baker titled “They’re Healthy. They’re Sustainable. So Why Don’t Humans Eat More Bugs?” (February 26, 2021). The second article from EatCrickster.com, “Edible Insects: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Amy Gardner, I also edited to provide more of the cons for farming and eating insects. Students read the articles and coded the text. Then we created a PRO/CON chart on the Smartboard collaborating the findings from the article.

Now students will write an argumentative essay about whether food companies and restaurants should introduce insects into the Western diet for daily consumption and an alternative source of protein. 

Writing Assignment: Eating Insects

Eating Insects Argumentative Writing prompt

Write an argumentative essay about whether food companies and restaurants should introduce insects into the Western diet for daily consumption and an alternative source of protein. 

  • Write a multi paragraph argumentative essay in which you take a stance on the topic of whether  food companies and restaurants should introduce insects into the Western diet for daily consumption and an alternative source of protein. 
  • Make sure you establish an argumentative claim, address potential counterarguments, and support your claim from the sources you have read. 
  • Develop your ideas clearly and use your own words, except when quoting directly from sources.
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Deepening Comprehension & Conversation with Book Discussion Bingo

I know you have experienced this before: your teacher assigns you a collaborative project or asks you to sit small groups to hold a discussion and some students have done the assignment and they say a few things and then the subject switches to something off topic. Or there is one or two people who did not do the assignment and they either do not care or are just looking for someone to give them the answer.

Let’s address cooperative learning and those hitchhikers, discussion directors, discussion derailers, and how to hold more accountability among the group.

I am currently facilitating a book club unit with middle school students. Working in small groups of three to six students, each group is reading a contemporary dystopian fictional novel and meeting daily in their book clubs to discuss aspects of the book they deem important. Additionally, I have peppered in some lessons on characteristics of a dystopian society, characterization, and the hero’s journey. Whereas I have some groups reading and everyday mapping out a reading goal for the group (i.e. how much they are going to read before the next class, asking and answering each other questions), there are some book clubs where a student is not doing the reading and has fallen behind unable to participate in the discussion without spoilers.

Group work is an integral part of school and work culture. Through group work, students learn that there’s a diversity of valid perspectives, build comfort around using their own voices, and understand the value of accepting and building on the contributions of others.

Getting people to work together does not come naturally and as teachers we need to foster positive collaboration and group work in our classroom. Collaboration is part of building a community of learners. Here are some benefits to collaborating and working in small groups as identified by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels (2009):

  • Collaboration generates energy for challenging work.
  • In small groups we are smarter.
  • In small groups diversity is an asset.
  • Collaboration makes for engaged, interactive learning possible.
  • Collaboration allows teachers to differentiate instruction.
  • Well-structured group work enhances student achievement.

The important thing to note is that effective groups are made, not born. Collaboration doesn’t always work and as teachers, we need to help facilitate good group work so that it can be successful in all the ways described above.

So, with these ideas in mind I created a book club discussion bingo board for some groups and students to use during their book club meetings to help foster collaboration and communication. This bingo board can be used as a roll the dice or numbered heads activity where everyone takes a turn to answer a question and respond or can be used to facilitate the book club discussions. Yes, I would love for the book club discussions to be less task oriented but collaborative skills need to be modeled and taught. Providing students with group roles, group objectives, and even a collaborative game can help all students keep on task and accomplish the goal of the group assignment.

The Declaration of Independence was a collaboration. Music and dance is collaboration. Google was created because two men collaborated on an idea. Wikipedia is all about collaboration.  Many great ideas and inventions happen because people got together to create and share. We need to make sure that our classrooms allow students to work independently, with partners, in small groups, and as a large group.

Here are four additional collaborative activities to try in your classroom.

Jigsaws – Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece–each student’s part–is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final product. If each student’s part is essential, then each student is essential. The teacher breaks students up into a group and each student in the group has a specific reading or task which they are responsible for reporting back to their group members. You can read more about the jigsaw strategy for active learning.

Write Around – A trustworthy Harvey Daniels activity that allows students to collaborate on paper and in conversation about a specific topic or subject. You can find the directions here.

Numbered Heads – Numbered Heads Together is a cooperative learning strategy that holds each student accountable for learning the material. Students are placed in groups and each person is given a number (from one to the maximum number in each group). The teacher poses a question and students “put their heads together” to figure out the answer. The teacher calls a specific number to respond as spokesperson for the group. By having students work together in a group, this strategy ensures that each member knows the answer to problems or questions asked by the teacher. Because no one knows which number will be called, all team members must be prepared.

Think Dots or Cubing – There are many ways to do this activity. To see the variety of ideas and examples check out PB Works.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) and Writing Instruction

I am currently participating in a study to understand more about Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) as a model for struggling writers. The goal is to teach the strategies that students need in order to write clearly and concisely. 

According to Graham, Harris, & McKeown, 2013, the SRSD approach consists of explicit teaching of:

  • general and specific writing strategies, such as:
    • using the right vocabulary,
    • being mindful of the intended reader,
    • creating interesting introductions and conclusions
  • the knowledge required to use these strategies;
  • ways to manage these strategies;
  • the writing process; and
  • one’s behaviour as a writer
    • self-regulation
    • self-instruction

Just like we teach students the habits of proficient readers, teachers need to articulate the habits of good writers. Writing researchers identified what good writers do: plan, monitor, evaluate, revise, and manage the writing process. These strategies should be taught explicitly for learners to apply them to a writing task. 

Elements of SRSD Instruction

Instructor modeling of strategies is essential to SRSD and must explicitly show learners how to create meaning. Graham and Harris (2005) describe a five-step process. By completing the following scaffolded instructional sequence, teachers can help learners gain confidence in the strategy and learn to use it automatically for more independent learning.

  1. Discuss It. Develop and activate background knowledge. Discuss when and how learners might use a strategy to accomplish specific writing tasks and goals. Talk about the benefits of becoming a more proficient and flexible writer. Address any negative self-talk or negative beliefs the learner holds, and ask the learner for a commitment to try to learn and use the strategy. Discuss how the learner should track progress to document the use and impact of the strategy.
  2. Model It. Model the strategy using think-alouds, self-talk, and self-instruction as you walk through the steps. Discuss afterwards how it might be made more effective and efficient for each individual, and have learners customize the strategy with personal self-statements. Ask students to set specific writing goals. Model the strategy more than once with various sample texts; for example, use a graphic organizer to demonstrate how to comprehend various texts of a similar genre (persuasive arguments or editorials). The Modeling stage is a key component for students. When students can read strong and poorly written writing and discuss it they are able to name and identify elements of good writing. Similarly, when teachers demonstrate writing and think aloud throughout the process, students are able to monitor their own thinking and improve their own writing.
  3. Make It Your Own. Strategies are composed of multiple steps, similar to a checklist. When steps are captured in a mnemonic or acrostic sentence, they are easier to remember. Paraphrasing or re-naming the steps in a mnemonic or creating a new mnemonic is fine, provided that the learner is able to remember the steps that the names represent. Customizing the checklist or mnemonic helps learners make it their own.
  4. Support It. Use the strategy as often as possible, in as many ways as possible. Instructors and other students can be supports, offering direct assistance, prompts, constructive feedback, and encouragement. When you introduce a new type of application (a new genre or writing frame, for example), it may be appropriate to model the strategy again. Learners can rely on charts and checklists too, as they learn the strategy and make it their own, but all of this should fade as learners become familiar enough with the strategy to set their goals, monitor their use of the strategy, and use self-statements independently.
  5. Independent Performance. Learners come to use the strategy independently across a variety of tasks. For example, learners may begin to draw graphic organizers without being prompted as a means to help them comprehend and plan.

Strategies like Acronyms are also helpful for students to remember the steps of the writing process and can act as a guide or checklist for students to write well. For example, the POW+TREE strategy helps writers approach an essay-writing task and check their work as they become more independent (Harris, Graham, Mason, & Friedlander, 2008).

POW, represents and emphasizes the importance of the planning process: 

Pick my idea and pay attention to prompt 

Organize

Write and say more

The TREE acronym is a memory and visualization tool that helps writers structure their essays: the Topic sentence is like the trunk of the tree that supports the whole argument; Reasons (at least three) are like the roots of the argument; Explain is a reminder to tell more about each reason; and finally, Ending is like the earth that wraps up the whole argument. Think sheets or graphic organizers shaped like stylized trees that learners write in as they brainstorm and plan can prompt the internalization of this strategy.

References

Graham, S. (2006). Strategy instruction and the teaching of writing: A metaanalysis. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 187–207). New York: Guilford Press.

Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2005). Writing better: Effective strategies for teaching students with learning difficulties. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. Available at http://www.all4ed.org/files/WritingNext.pdf.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Contemporary Dystopian Fiction Playlist

Instructional Playlists are individualized digital (hyperlinked) lessons and assignments for students to follow. Whereas a hyperdoc could be one lesson or inquiry unit, a playlist provides students directions for an entire unit. Students can work through these hyperdocs and play lists at their own pace. The teacher might provide dates to help students keep pace and not leave the assignments until the last day. Additionally, since every student gets a copy of the playlist on Google Classroom, the playlist can be individualized to support the diverse learners in your classroom.

This contemporary dystopian playlist is a three week unit that is driven by students reading and book club discussions. Playlists are perfect for blended learning classrooms. Playlists are like full lessons that involve combinations of whole group learning, online learning, face to face opportunities, online learning with individual collaboration and small group learning. When you enter my 8th grade ELA classroom students spend the first ten minutes of class time reading their contemporary dystopian text and then responding in their Reader’s Notebook. On Reading Workshop days students get longer reading time in the classroom. If we expect students to read we need to give them the time to read in our own classes. For this unit, since it is only three weeks we are focusing in on the setting of the dystopian society and characterization. Students will learn about the Hero’s Journey and types of dystopian controls. Students will have multiple opportunities to work in their book clubs to share their thinking about their reading and learn from one another.

If you are new to creating playlists and hyperdocs, note that packaging is key. Think about aesthetics and the visual effect of the playlist. Make sure the organization is simple, clear, and accessible to diverse learners. Provide opportunities for student collaboration and inquiry based learning. Try new approaches to student learning. So what are you waiting for? Try out a playlist with your next unit and let me know how it goes.

Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Digital Gallery Walk as a Teaching Tool

During a virtual gallery walk, students explore multiple texts or images that are placed in an interactive slideshow, Google Slide, or Padlet. Teachers can use this strategy to offer students a way to share their work with each other and build class community, or use it to introduce students to texts that they can analyze.

The traditional gallery walk allows students to explore multiple texts or images that are placed around the room. Teachers use this strategy for students to share their work with peers, examine multiple historical documents, or respond to a collection of quotations. This strategy requires students to physically move around the room and can can be especially engaging to kinesthetic learners.

In a blended learning environment, students can use their own devices to explore multiple texts in one curated space. Teachers share the digital gallery with students during a synchronous session or ask them to look through the gallery asynchronously. Viewing instructions will depend on the goals for the activity. If the purpose of the virtual gallery is to introduce students to new material, taking notes as they view the sources is beneficial. For example, with the Russian Revolution Digital Gallery for George Orwell’s Animal Farm, students took notes on an interactive foldable in their Reader’s Notebook.

Similarly, students can complete a graphic organizer as they view the digital gallery, or compile a list of questions for them to answer based on the texts on display. Sometimes teachers ask students to identify similarities and differences among texts. If using an interactive application, such as Google Jamboard or Padlet, you can also ask students to leave comments on the sources.

Once students have finished viewing the sources, debrief the activity together. You can ask students to share their impressions or what they learned in small group breakout rooms or with the whole class.

How to Create A Digital Gallery

  1. Choose the platform for the digital gallery – Google Slides, Padlet, or Jamboard. I prefer to use Google Slides to create a customized art gallery look for backgrounds, frames, and layout.
  2. Determine the viewing purpose and then select the images, student work, or texts that will be on display on the Digital Gallery. Once you have your ideas go hunting for pictures, political cartoons, short primary source documents for each topic.
  3. Customize the text, layout and display of the images or texts on the document so they are easily visible and accessible for students. SlidesMania has many great interactive templates that can be a starting off point for creating a Digital Gallery.
  4. Hyperlink the images or text on the Digital Gallery. For example, on the Japanese Internment Digital Gallery above each image is hyperlinked to specific web link to provide historical information about Japanese Internment during World War II. The images are placed similar to the experience of visiting a museum or gallery. Each image has a boarder or frame around them and are numbered to correlate with additional information. Include few to no words. This is a gallery walk; students learn through visuals, not blocks of text. You might also include audio segments your virtual gallery walk if you choose. Add an appropriate song, interviews, radio shows, audio speeches, videos. To embed, simply click on insert and choose audio.
  5. Write out and post instructions for students on the digital gallery. 
  6. Create a graphic organizer where students will capture their responses as they circulate (this is optional, but it is an effective way to hold students accountable for their participation and critical thinking). For the Japanese Internment Digital Gallery students completed a “Who, What, Where, When, Why” graphic organizer or students can complete a “See Think Wonder Graphic Organizer.” Another ideas for evaluation is to create a Google Form for students to reflect and synthesize their viewing and understanding.  
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tools to Help Students Question, Synthesize, and Process Reading

When students are reading for academic classes there is always a test, essay, or check for understanding to follow. Teachers want students to showcase what they read, understand, and learned.

Research shows that proficient readers utilize a note taking system to help track of the important aspects of the text, make connections, and synthesize the information gleaned. Yet, note taking is a skill that needs to be taught and many students are resistant because they believe it slows down their reading. Yet, if there will an essay or a test, taking notes during reading can be a beneficial learning tool.

As a middle school English Language Arts teacher, I intentionally teach my students different note taking strategies throughout the year to help they try out and find the reading and study strategies that will help them be successful in high school and college. I do not teach the different note taking strategies all at once but with each reading unit we try out a strategy and then reflect on how well it worked for the student and whether they would use it again. This practice and reflection allows students to be more metacognitive about their own learning and how they learn best.

Here are the strategies we have been working on.

Post It Response Notes

Sticky notes help mark sports in the text is one strategy that helps students code the text and record mental responses to the reading. Students might use the sticky notes to flag important passages, noticing aspects of the topic or themes, ask questions, or mark confusion. Students might even color code the notes to distinguish between the different type of notes recorded. These post it notes are great to place right on the page that incites a response and if you need to assess this work, students might transfer each sticky note on a separate piece of paper with their name on it.

Bookmark Strategy

By folding a piece of paper in thirds, each student makes a book mark for keeping their place in the reading. On the bookmark, students write briefly about the key concepts of the information as they encounter them in the reading. This strategy is from Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman’s Subjects Matter (Heinemann, 2004). Students might record their connections, questions, visualizations, inferring, and summarizing. The Bookmark can be used for class discussions and recall during writing assignments.

Rather than provide students with a blank bookmark, I have scaffolded their reading and thinking about an all class read of Animal Farm for students to try out this strategy.

Front Side Animal Farm Bookmark Strategy

Double Entry Journals

Also called the Cornell Notes System, with a double entry journal students take notes on their readings in two columns with a line drawn vertically down the middle of each page. In one column, readers summarize important ideas from the text. In the other column students write their own thoughts and responses – questions, confusions, personal reactions, or reflections on what the information means. The double entry journals are more continuous and self directed as compared to sticky notes and the book mark strategy. Give students opportunities to practice this kind go thinking and note-taking with short pieces of text and then share the results in small groups or as a whole class.

Sketchnoting

Drawing simple pictures, icons, or diagrams can help students conceptualize ideas from their reading. In this strategy students create a sequence of sketches to illustrate thoughts, steps, stages, key ideas, and central themes in the reading. We don’t all think the same and some students are visual learners, drawings are powerful because it helps students visualize their thinking and understanding.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

#NCTE 2021:  4 Resources & Takeaways

NCTE 2021 was virtual this past fall and although the in person experience of the conference feeds my creativity and teaching practices, there were still many gems online that I am still musing over. Below are the top four take aways that interest me right now.

1. Opening Session with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Americanah, and much more, offered a hopeful beginning to this year’s Convention at the opening general session. Here are some of the amazing quotes and ideas she shared:

“To be a good teacher is often not just about teaching the curriculum. It is also about those things that are harder to quantify: teaching confidence; making a child feel seen as an individual. Because when we value a student, we teach that student to value herself.”

“I want to argue that it’s important for us to make peace with discomfort. That there’s something perverse about expecting always to be comfortable. Life is messy. Sometimes discomfort opens us up to growth and to knowledge and to meaning.”

“There’s a certain kind of excessive ‘safeness’ that concerns me about what we think children should read or not read. We don’t need to be overly safe. We can afford to be uncomfortable.”“There’s something wonderful and affirming about reading about your own reality and reading what is familiar to you. And that particular pleasure should never be denied anyone. But it is equally important to read about people who are not like you.”

2. Story Telling Through Art with Bisa Butler & Dr. Gholdy  Muhammad

One of my favorite artists today is the fabric artist, Bisa Butler. She participated in an engaging webinar with Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, author of Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. These women spoke about teaching culturally and historically responsive education through 5 pursuits:

  • Identity – teaching students to know themselves and others;
  • Skills – teaching students the proficiencies needed across content areas;
  • Intellectualism – teaching students new knowledge;
  • Criticality – teaching students to understand and disrupt oppression; and
  • Joy – teaching students about the beauty and truth in humanity.

Muhammad recently wrote a curriculum for Butler’s work available on webpage linked above. You can also make a copy of this activity I created based on one of Butler’s Quilts and segregated baseball in America.

3. Poetry with Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher
Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher just published a new book which is a MUST READ for all English teachers. The new book, 4 Essential Studies covers essay writing, poetry, book clubs and poetry – discussion of this book is for a different department meeting. Kittle and Gallagher spoke on a poetry panel and here is a list of their favorite poems to check out. Why poetry? It’s short and accessible for students. Don’t just teach students to read and analyze poems but to write their own poems and emulate/imitate craft moves and styles of poetry. Here is what Kelly learned when Penny challenged him to write a poem.

4. Using Digital Texts to Deepen Understanding: Elevating Critical Thought

It is not about digital vs. print text, teachers need to read and create a variety of texts. Let’s consider multimodal texts for our English classrooms that include podcasts, digital text, and visual texts. Brandon Abdon (@BrandonAbdon), Alice Wu, Andy Schoenborn (@aschoenborn), and Troy Hicks (@hickstro) discuss how to use “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” from The New York Times as a multimedia mentor text, as ways to give students a choice in topic and approach. Although this was geared for APLit and APLang teachers, it is relevant for all teachers to help students prepare for the thinking process. Communicate ideas in digital ways to diver audiences beyond the walls of our classroom for civic engagement.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art

During World War II, untold numbers of artworks and pieces of cultural property were stolen by Nazi forces. After the war, an estimated one million artworks and 2.5 million books were recovered. Many more were destroyed.

You might have seen movies like Monuments Men which tell the true stories of the British and American men and women who tracked, located, and recovered looted objects of Western Civilization from the Nazis and Hitler during WWII or The Woman in Gold which tells the true story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee, who sued the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family.

The Jewish Museum in New York City’s current exhibition Afterlives chronicles the layered stories of the objects that survived from famous paintings to religious artifacts that were stolen by the Nazis. Some items were supposed to be destroyed where as other painting were selected by Nazi military leader Hermann Goering for his personal collection, and even put in storage for Hitler’s degenerate art exhibits and antisemitic exhibitions. Afterlives explores the circumstances of each painting’s theft, their post-war rescue, and their afterlives in museums and private collections.

Afterlives includes objects by renowned artists as Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Gustave Courbet, Paul Klee, Franz Marc, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Camille Pissarro. Treasured pieces of Judaica, including rare examples of Jewish ceremonial objects from destroyed synagogues, are also on view, as well as rarely seen archival photographs and documents that connect the objects to history.

75 years after the Second World War, Afterlives explores how surviving artworks and other precious objects were changed by those events, and how they have moved through time, bearing witness to profound historical ruptures while also acting as enduring carriers of individual expression, knowledge, and creativity. The exhibition follows the paths taken by works of art across national borders, through military depots, and in and out of networks of collectors, looters, ideologues, and restitution organizations.

One of the plaques in the exhibits reads, In war, property becomes power, and stolen art becomes an instrument of policy. During WWII, looting from Jewish collections was widespread and included both systematic plunder and opportunistic thefts. One of the largest Nazi art-looting tasks forces, operating throughout occupied Europe, was the Einsatzsab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, ERR. The ERR was shared with stealing valuables – jewelry, furniture, and especially works of art. Some were absorbed into Nazi collections as marks of prestige; others were sold on the international market to raise funds for the Nazi war machines and many, labeled “degenerate,” were destroyed. Below is the audio transcript of the exhibit and the artifacts.

The Nazi’s hid the art work they stole across multiple countries and continents. In 1945 Allied forces found looted art that was transferred to a salt mine in Altaussee in Austria, one of the largest Nazi storage depots. The mine’s underground tunnels housed more than six thousand artworks, including masterpieces by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Jan van Eyck, and Vermeer. Some items were sent from Paris to Czechoslovakia like Picasso’s 1929 Group of Characters.

The Monuments Men Foundation has a lot of information on its website of the men and women who helped to saved the art, more about the discoveries and returns, and more about restitution. Anyone can discover the story of the Monuments Men through an interactive online game developed by Mystery City Games. In this point-and-click adventure, you will collect clues, solve puzzles, and complete missions as you race to find some of Europe’s most precious pieces of art looted by the Nazis. Experience the story in a whole new way through beautiful graphics and fun puzzles as you compete or collaborate to solve the most missions! 

You can read more about Hitler’s “Degenerate” Art Exhibits used to politically and culturally spread Nazi ideals. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides more details of the Degenerate Art Exhibits and Disposal of Confiscated Art.

When my students are learning about WWII and the Holocaust I have a QR code art exhibit with some of the art Hitler deemed “degenerate.” I used this guide and pamphlet for students to record their observations of the art work, ask questions, and dismantle Nazi propaganda.

History is more than dates, name, and places. Each piece of art that was looted during WWII tells a story and encompasses a journey that is steeped in history worth sharing with our students.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

12 Movie Shorts, Animations, and Documentaries

 For Teaching and Promoting Social Emotional Learning

I have taught a media literacy elective to seventh and eighth graders for fifteen years. During that times, movies were a fuel for reading, writing, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. Students analyzed Disney films for their portrayal of sexism, ageism, classism, and racism. Students took on a cause that they were passionate about and created public service announcements and short documentaries to raise awareness and call to action.  Students analyzed the features of the classic Twilight Zone episode and the current Stranger Things to identify elements of suspense and storytelling. But you do not need to be teaching an academic class specific on media literacy to bring movies into your classroom as a teaching tool for social emotional learning. Utilizing short films in any classroom can provide mini lessons and conversations to address social emotional learning with children and adults. 

Currently, I am kicking off the week with “Movie Mondays” in my middle school literacy lab where students view a short film and extract themes and key ideas the first fifteen minutes of this academic support class. These films become teaching tools to support close reading skills, critical thinking, and social emotional learning. 

Here is a list of a dozen short films available on Youtube, TedEd,  and Vimeo that promote SEL themes and topics. Be sure to preview the films before you show them with your students. You know better than I do what is appropriate for the students in your classroom. 

Being “different,” Accepting Others who are Different, and Building Empathy

1. I Have a Visual Disability and I Want You To Look Me In The Eye – NYT Opinion – This short documentary is part of the New York Times Op-Doc series and was created by James Robinson, a filmmaker from Maine He uses his personal experiences to shows what it feels like to live with several disabling eye conditions. “Using playful graphics and enlisting his family as subjects in a series of optical tests, he invites others to view the world through his eyes.” This video is a powerful essay on  seeing and being seen, how we treat others who look different.

2. A Conversation on Race – New York Times Series – Started in 2015, The New York Times created eight videos that included testimony of people talking about race, ethnicity and gender. These short films focus on identity in America.

Perseverance & Promoting Growth Mindset

3. One Small Step by TAIKO Studios – This animated short film tells the story of a young girl and her quest to become an astronaut. Viewers see her perseverance, dealing with set backs, and then reaching her goal.

4. Hair Love by Sony Picture Animation – Hair Love, an Oscar®-winning animated short film from Matthew A. Cherry, tells the heartfelt story of an African American father learning to do his daughter’s hair for the first time. The movie also addresses cancer and how a family copes when a parent is sick. There is no dialogue and the images themselves are powerful for making inferences.

5. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk – University of Pennsylvania professor and author, Angela Lee Duckworth describes her job teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She quickly realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled. Here, she explains her theory of “grit” as a predictor of success.

6. The Boost Students Need to Overcome Obstacles TED Talk by Anindya Kundu – How can disadvantaged students succeed in school? For sociologist Anindya Kundu, grit and stick-to-itiveness aren’t enough; students also need to develop their agency, or their capacity to overcome obstacles and navigate the system. He shares hopeful stories of students who have defied expectations in the face of personal, social and institutional challenges.

7. Pip Goes to Guide Dog School By Southeastern Guide Dogs – In this animated short, Pip enters canine university in order to become a guide dog. Although he does not meet the guide dog standards, he shows grit, diligence, and tenacity to become a guide dog. Despite not passing the guide dog test, once outside in the “real world” Pip shows his strengths and ability to be a lead dog.

8. Instructions for a Bad Day – Shane Koyczan – Shane Koyczan is a powerful Canadian poet. His poems address topics of bullying, self regulation, cancer, death, and perseverance. Also check out these other poems, “To This Day Project ” and “How to Be a Person.”

Designing a Better World + Encourage and Guide Positive Social Activism and Social Awareness

9. Man vs. Earth by Prince Ea – Prince Ea is a spoken word poet and his videos on YouTube address key themes of acceptance, social action using the power of language to communicate his message.

10. Plastic Bag directed by Ramin BahraniPlastic Bag is a short film where a Plastic Bag goes on an epic journey in search of its lost Maker, wondering if there is any point to life without her. The Bag encounters strange creatures to be with its own kind until it ends up in the North Pacific Trash Vortex.

Communication, Emotional Regulation, Compassion

11. Modern Love, A Kiss Deferred (Animated)The New York Times – A 12 year old girls life and love are turned upside down during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Learn the joys and challenges faced when the war breaks out.

12. How to Be Alone by Sindha Agha New York Times Op Doc – How do you handle being alone? This documentary was created during quarantine and COVID. The director shows viewers how she is dealing with isolation and loneliness, her longing to interact others and lessons learned from arctic explorers.

Have a favorite animation, movie short or documentary that promotes social emotional learning? Share your ideas in the comments section.

Tagged , , , ,