The poignant installation “Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Picture Books at the New York Historical Society explores the events, people, and themes of the civil rights movement through the children’s picture book.
Picture books are compelling forms of visual expression not just for young children. This exhibition showcases 80 artworks from picture book artists who interweave art and storytelling, history and now. Looking at the excerpts from many pictures books around the themes of the civil rights movement provides depth, diverse voices, and powerful meanings. The stories presented inspire young people and viewers to speak up and speak out as agents of transformation and social change. The exhibit tells important stories about the movement’s icons, including Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scenes are presented of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Ruby Bridges integrating her New Orleans elementary school, and the Black students who catalyzed the sit-in movement at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Some of the many highlighted illustrators and authors include Faith Ringgold, Brian Pinkney, Nadir Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, and many more.
Picture the Dream is an open invitation to start important discussions with children, friends, and family about race, equity and social justice. Take a look at a list of all the books in the show and here is the family discussion guide created by High Museum of Art in Georgia. You can also find lesson plans and a powerpoint of 19 key images from the exhibit in this teacher resource kit.
Here are some ways I use picture books with my middle school students to present key themes and scaffold complex ideas.
Read Alouds – Don’t just leave read aloud to elementary school teachers, in secondary education reading aloud picture books help to create a classroom community and build multimodal comprehension skills. Images and words work side by side to communicate a message. Read aloud can be used to hook students into a lesson or even useful as a teaching point during a mini-lesson.
Gallery Walks – Images are powerful storytelling tools. Just like in a museum exhibit, hanging up the images from the picture books can allow students to read closely, infer the dialogue, and convey meaning from the visual text.
Small Group Work – I often during station work leave a collection of picture books at one station for students to read, evaluate, and analyze to pull out key details and draw connections. Scaffolding guiding questions help students look closer at the images and text and the story presented. I might ask students what do they see, what does it say, what do I think, and continue with sentence frames or specific questions to climb the ladder of critical thinking.
Jigsaws – Each student reads a different picture book along the same theme or topic and then shared the powerful elements of the story with the small group. Students put their heads together to make connections and draw conclusions about the bigger questions presented in the texts.
I am a big proponent of graphic organizers to help students organize and visualize information. Graphic organizers are helpful to outline a writing task or showcase understanding during reading. Jay McTighe and Harvey Silver write in Teaching for Deeper Learning (ASCD, 2020), “The use of graphic organizers enhances meaning making and promotes deep understanding of critical content – especially when reinforced through questioning and summarizing.”
In 8th grade I begin the school year providing graphic organizers for all students to utilize and access to organize content information. I share and utilize different organizers with each assignment. Sometimes I might demonstrate filling out the organizer and use think aloud to show students the process of making meaning using graphic organizers. Slowly, using gradual release, I encourage students to create their own graphic organizers in the second semester of the school year. The first twenty weeks of school students have curated a toolkit of strategies and organizers for to choose which are the best to create based on the assignment and learning goals.
Here are four different organizers that are the go-tos for note making and organizing information.
It Says, I Say, So What – Taken from Smoky Daniels, this three column organizer helps students record the literal details of a text, make connections and inferences. Inferences are hard for many students, especially struggling readers, because the text does not explicitly say. To make an inference students combine what the text says with what they know to come up with the answer. They need a scaffold, something that visualizes and helps students internalize the process of how to infer. The It Says—I Say chart helps students finally see a structure for making an inference.
2. Window Notes/Organizer – Jay McTighe and Harvey Silver introduced this type of note making in Teaching for Deeper Learning (ASCD, 2020) “Window Notes at its core is an invitation to think actively, to express curiosity, and to use prior knowledge and personal feelings to help construct meaning during note making process. Students use a window shaped organizer that encourages them to collect four different kinds of notes: 1. Facts: What are the important facts and details? 2. Questions: What questions come to mind? What am I curious about? 3. Connections: How does this relate to my experiences or to other things I have learned? 4. Feelings and reactions: How do I feel about what I am learning?”
3. Know. Question. Reflect. New Questions (KQRN) – I am over KWL charts. I think they work well in elementary school but when I see them utilized in middle and high school, we are not asking students to use higher level thinking. Here is a blog post I wrote ten years ago with alternatives to the KWL. What are some other organizers that are alternatives to the KWL and activate schema at the same time? The KQRN. This is another note making organizer that helps students extend their thinking about an idea or concept. Now with any of these organizers, the teacher wants to model for students how to complete these graphic organizers with examples and think alouds.
4. Character Traits Organizer – Characterization and theme are two key elements we study when reading literature in 8th grade English. Characterization refers both to the personality of a character and the way in which an author reveals that personality. A character’s personality is made up of different qualities, or character traits, that the reader discovers as the work unfolds. An author often gives characters several different traits to make them seem real and believable. Helping students develop the language to describe character traits and read to identify character traits is necessary to work on throughout the school year. Characterization leads to insight and inferences about theme. I have a stand alone organizer for character traits but also have created a hyperdoc based on the short story Raymond’s Run by Toni Cade Bambara that scaffolds the entire process of curating character traits then building out a written response about characterization as it impacts theme.
Writing is a powerful thing. If we want to inspire students to write, we can use young adult fiction with protagonists who write to encourage and arouse the writers within all our students. I just finished reading Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light and found myself dog-earing so many pages with powerful passages and statements about a writer’s life.
“We think language as this tame thing that lives in neat garden beds, bound by rules and fences. Then someone shows it to you growing wild and beautiful, flowering vines consuming cities, erasing pavement and lines. Breaking though any fence that would try to contain it. Reclaiming. Reshaping. Reforming. In my life, I’ve never known anything else that felt so full of infinite possibility. Words make me feel strong. They make me feel powerful and alive. They make me feel like I can open doors. (Zentner (2021:264)
Here are 13 young adult books that offer teen protagonists who write:
Cash Pruitt is the protagonist in Jeff Zentner’s In The Wild Life by (2021). Cash loves his rural Tennessee hometown, his grandparents who raised him after his mother died of an overdose, and his best friend Delaney Doyle, a science genius whose boundless knowledge of the natural world fills him with wonder. Both children of an opioid-addicted parent, Delaney and Cash have a deep bond and when Delaney’s scientific discovery – a mold with powerful antibiotic properties – both are awarded scholarships at a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut. Cash worries his grandfather, who has emphysema, will die while he is away at school, but accepts the scholarship. At school he takes a poetry class that shows him the power of language to reshape experiences of pain and fear into beauty. As in Zentner’s earlier works, grief is a central theme explored in many forms.
In the YA novel Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink (2021) Angel and Isaiah are two young Black teenagers living in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the days leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot and massacre. The two come together for a summer job running a mobile library, delivering books to poorer black areas. Despite early contention and philosophical differences (Angel is a follower of the more conservative Booker T. Washington; Isaiah prefers the teachings of the more revolutionary WEB De Bois) the two fall in love as the world around them begins to catch fire. Isaiah writes poetry throughout the story and it is great to see a young man use poetry as a form of expression.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone(2018) using letter writing and journaling to understand Justyce McAllister, a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend. None of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Jaqueline Woodson is an amazing young adult author who has powerful stories to tell. In her book From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (2010) addresses what it means to be a family. Melanin Sun has a lot to say. But sometimes it’s hard to speak his mind, so he fills up notebooks with his thoughts instead. He writes about his mom a lot–they’re about as close as they can be, because they have no other family. So when she suddenly tells him she’s gay, his world is turned upside down. And if that weren’t hard enough for him to accept, her girlfriend is white. Melanin Sun is angry and scared. How can his mom do this to him– is this the end of their closeness? What will his friends think? And can he let her girlfriend be part of their family?
The Diary of Anne Frank is a classic. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.
Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2020) has won the National Book Award and the Printz Award. The book is told in poetry. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, 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 leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (2018), Cath is a Simon Snow fan. For Cath, being a fan is her life―and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words.
Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead (2015) begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more–though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was–lovely and amazing and deeply flawed–can she begin to discover her own path
Newbery Medal Winner, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2010) begins shortly after a fall-out with her best friend. Sixth grader Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes, and she doesn’t know what to do. The notes tell her that she must write a letter—a true story, and that she can’t share her mission with anyone. It would be easy to ignore the strange messages, except that whoever is leaving them has an uncanny ability to predict the future. If that is the case, then Miranda has a big problem—because the notes tell her that someone is going to die, and she might be too late to stop it.
Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea in Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (2019). When a new boy at school tempts Eliza to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble. In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace transfers to her school and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.
In Riley Redgate’s Final Draft (2018) the only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced–by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed. At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval.
Natalie’s best friend, Zoe, is sure that the novel Natalie’s written is good enough to be published. But how can a twelve-year-old girl publish a book? Natalie’s mother is an editor for a big children’s publisher, but Natalie doesn’t want to ask for any favors. The School Story by Andrew Clementsis 20 years old but a perfect read for 5th and 6th graders. Zoe’s brilliant idea is that Natalie can submit her manuscript under a pen name, with Zoe acting as her literary agent. Can Natalie and Zoe pull off their masquerade?
What happens if your notebook ends up in the wrong hands? Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy (1964) is about Harriet M. Welsch, a spy. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them. Despite being written decades ago, there are some key themes about friendship that are worth noting.
This weekend marks the final season of Stranger Things. The first part of final season was be released on Friday, May 27, 2022 and the second part of the finale will be released in July. This 80s ode sci-fi horror series was created by brothers, Ross and Matt Duffer and streams on Netflix. The series first aired in 2016 and centers around a group of “nerdy” friends living Hawkins, Indiana who love playing Dungeons and Dragons. Then they meet a girl with psychokinetic abilities and strange things happen keep happening. Think 80s films ET and War Games meets Goonies, the series is part adventure, investigative drama with supernatural elements and government conspiracies.
I have used Stranger Things episodes with in the media literacy course I teach in middle school to help teach storytelling, allusions, director moves, and suspense. There are many scenes that borrow from iconic films from the 1980s and pay homage to director like Steve Spielberg (ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and John Hughes (Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club), writers Stephen King (IT and “The Body” ie. Stand By Me) and RL Stine (The Goose Bumps Series).
The fourth and final season of Stranger Things does not disappoint. It has taken a clear horror turn clearly influenced by Body Snatchers, Poltergeist, and The Shining. Once you binge the first part of Season Four and have four weeks to wait for the July release of the final episodes, what are you going to watch, read and listen to when you want more. Lots more.
Well, here is a list of what you can read, watch, and listen to while you wait patiently.
You cannot deny that 80s music comes to the forefront of the final season. Music is in every scene to build suspense, set the mood, and even parallel character development. TAMARA FUENTES writes for Cosmopolitan Magazine and provides links and background information on Season 4 Stranger Things Soundtrack.
According to his publishers, R.L. Stine invented the teen horror genre with Fear Street, the bestselling teen horror series of all time. He also changed the face of children’s publishing with the mega-successful Goosebumps series, which went on to become a worldwide multimedia phenomenon. Guinness World Records cites Stine as the most prolific author of children’s horror fiction novels. If you haven’t read any of R.L. Stine’s books you might want to check them out.
Think teen horror is too light and looking for something to scare the begeezies out of you? Check out Stephen King‘s short stories, books, and movies. He has since published over 50 books and has become one of the world’s most successful writers. King is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to the American Letters and the 2014 National Medal of Arts.
Satan Panic in the 1980s. Season 4 Episode One introduces panic in the town of Hawkins, Indiana when two teens end up dead. One theory is that these teens were possessed by a demon. In fact, the popular game Dungeons and Dragons is criticized by mass media and hysteria as a demonic game that brainwashes children — sound familiar? This idea of teens brainwashed by games, music, and videos games continues to persist today. Back to Stranger Things Season 4. The Duffer Brothers are not making anything up. According to Vox.com, “one of the most famous, prolonged mass media scares in history, Satanic Panic was characterized at its peak by fearful media depictions of godless teenagers and the deviant music and media they consumed. This, in turn, led to a number of high-profile criminal cases that were heavily influenced by all the social hysteria.” Most people associate the Satanic Panic with so-called “satanic ritual abuse,” a rash of false allegations made against day care centers in the ’80s. Crime Reads gives more of the background on this panic that shook the world.
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.
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
Setting is an important part of any story because it explains where and when the events take place. The setting helps create the mood and set the tone for the literary piece. We often ask students to analyze the setting by examining the surrounding environment, background, historical place in time and geographic location and notice how the setting impacts the character and conflict in the story.
Studiobinder.com defines setting as, “A setting is the time and place of a story. Setting is either outwardly articulated to us, or discretely suggested to us. It can be suggested by weather, clothing, culture, buildings, etc. In screenwriting, setting is written into the slugline of a scene heading. But setting isn’t just the location of a scene, it’s the time in which it exists as well.”
My students will be starting our mystery unit and I want to help use more descriptive language so we will spend the next two weeks focusing on setting in film, stories, and their own writing. I have created this playlist to help students understand the depth of setting in literature.
This unit is an introduction to understanding author’s craft and structure.
Craft and Structure:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.5 Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.6 Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Spyby 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.
This week I started reading Forged by Reading by Kyleen Beers & Bob Probst.
These authors are mentors to me and all of their book have shaped my teaching and learning. Kylene Beers, author and educator, is a past-President of the National Council of Teachers of English. She received an NCTE Leadership Award, held a reading research position in the Comer School Development Program at Yale University School of Medicine, and has most recently served as the Senior Reading Advisor to the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University. Robert E. Probst is an author and consultant to schools nationally and internationally. He speaks to administrators and teachers on literacy improvement, particularly issues surrounding struggling readers and meeting standards. Bob is Professor Emeritus of English Education at Georgia State University and has served as a research fellow for Florida International University.
In their newest book, Forged by Reading they explore historic and timely topics through the context of literacy— literacy is the gateway to power and privilege. The book serves as a call to action. Educators have a critical role empowering readers to think; to seek curiosity and skepticism; to shape themselves and their ideas through evidence and reason, vision, and imagination and; in doing so, to forge themselves and our world through reading.
As more and more students lose interest in reading visual and print text, there is space for misinformation and manipulation. In PART II of the text Beers and Probst explore power and how throughout history, reading and writing was used as a form of control and suppression. Discussing slavery, first nations people, Latino-Americans and education the reader looks throughout history to see how literacy was used as a tool to control and oppress.
Kylene and Bob help us understand that reading is a transaction between the author and the reader (Rosenblatt, 1995). Every time we enter a text, there is always the possibility that we will emerge somewhat changed by the encounter—with new insights, ideas, and understandings. And this is as true of fiction as it is of nonfiction. We want our children to read with open minds and hearts, alert to the possibility of learning something new that might sharpen and deepen their understanding—leading, perhaps, to questions that might, in turn, show the way to additional learning.
What does this look like in the classroom? Kylene and Bob (2021) suggest that the ideal reading environment for our children would reflect the following:
• “A rich diversity of literature that acts as the ‘mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors’ that scholar Rudine Sims Bishop wrote of decades ago.
• A rich diversity of response that promotes questioning more than answering and leads to a sharper understanding of ourselves, our students, and of the text itself.
• The acceptance of the student’s uniqueness, to allow each student to feel welcomed in the classroom, to be more fully present and, perhaps more fully engaged.
• A welcoming of a range of opinion and interpretation, providing an opportunity to learn how to deal with differences and how to bring evidence and reason to bear upon assumptions and beliefs.
• And, perhaps most important, inviting students to see the act of reading as an opportunity to grow and change.”
Educator Kate Roberts reminds us, “Literacy is an essential element of freedom.” Too often, traditional, mind-numbing instructional practices diminish the robust power of literacy for our students. Too many children experience reading in the classroom as little more than extracting and recording information from the text, rather than a freeing intellectual exploration—reading as an invigorating and deeply satisfying cognitive and empathy workout that makes possible the joy of new learning.
Throughout the book a central idea is that we need to be both Responsive and ResponsibleReaders. In the simplest of terms, we have to be open to the idea that reading can impact us, lead us to think, create a sense of urgency to act and then we must act. We spend so much time teaching kids to read for information that we inadvertently teach them to ignore the feelings they encounter. Students are focused on completing tasks asking irrelevant questions at time to prepare for a standardized test and not recognizing the thoughts and feelings that we have around a text. I am reminded of a scene in the movie A View From the Top:
This is exactly what teachers have been doing when teaching reading: emphasizing accuracy, lexile levels, classical canon over critical thinking and personal reactions to the text. Bob and Kylene include multiple examples of interactions with readers that make us cringe because the teaching points at that moment ignored the student, what they can do, what they felt, how to support them as readers, thinkers, and someone with feelings.
In Forged by Reading Bob and Kylene expand on a great Framework that they gave us in Disrupting Thinking to increase the role of responsibility in reading. The Book-Head-Heart Framework is an amazing tool to help readers be more responsive, providing a structure to responsibly organize their thinking around a text and reflect on the importance to them. In Forged by Reading it goes a step further asking what we can DO. BHH-D asks us to take that next step and our students are ready for it when the opportunity is provided because our students want to talk about and work to make better the problems of the world.
The revised “BHHD” strategy, first introduced in their book, Disrupting Thinking, where students are asked:
“What’s in the book?
What’s in your head?
What’s in your heart?
What will you do now?” (p. 178)
Beers and Probst end with a call to action: “You, our nation’s teachers, have the power to help students become empowered readers and thinkers. You can help each student forge his or her life through reading. And so again, dear teachers, we turn to you” (p. 193).
As a middle school English teacher in a suburban school 25 minutes outside of New York City, I am seeing more and more parents challenge the work that I am doing in my classroom. Questioning literature choices and my agenda to provide contemporary young adult fiction alongside classical text that raise issues relevant today, so that my students have mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors, and even telescopes in the fictional texts they read. My agenda is to support my students as critical thinkers of information and to promote kindness. When my students read I want them to “to think again and anew about significant issues, so they may see the world and themselves more clearly,” (pg. 16) and have the courage to realize their potential to help make a positive difference in the world.