Tag Archives: Literacy in the Content Areas

An Action Plan for Building a Culture of Readers

I teach college courses on literacy and the one course that all preservice teachers are required to take is Literacy in the Content Areas. You can be working on a Masters in Teaching Physical Education, Art, TESOL, maybe science or math and you are required to take this course. For many of these teachers, the idea of teaching literacy is not at the forefront of their thinking about teaching. In fact, many question if I am asking them to teaching reading in their classes. My answer is always, YES!

Reading is an essential skill necessary across ALL content areas for learning. It is the foundation of all that we do.

This past weekend I read Many Ellis’ Lead with Literacy: A Pirate Leader’s Guide to Developing a Culture of Readers (2018) and Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney’s Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us (2018). Both books are published by Dave Burgess Consulting, the famed PIRATE educator and presenter. Ellis’ book showcases how she went about promoting the love of reading in her elementary school by transforming the school culture and building enthusiasm among teachers, students, and parents. Crowder and Nesloney highlight student work and activities that showcase the necessity of reading and writing in all classrooms to promote student voice and critical thinking. Both books are filled with practical, actionable ideas and strategies to embed books, literacy, and the reading into your school.

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Here are a few treasures to promote a love of reading in your own school and or classroom:

  1. Be a Reading Role Model – Take ownership and accountability for embedding literacy in all facets of the school and learning environment by being a lead reader. If you expect to create a culture of readers, talk about books, let teachers and students talk about books, share your love of reading, invest time in allowing students to read in school books of their own choice, celebrate books and readers, and promote a love of reading among teachers, parents, and students.
  2. Share Your Love of Reading – When students walk into your classroom or office the environment should showcase your love of reading. Display what you are currently reading, maintain a reading log, use social media to share your reading life, build a library, and share great books.
  3. Books for All – In addition to time and choice, students have to have access to books. In Mindy’s school there are reading emergency shelves throughout the school for students to pick up a book to read at anytime, even on the way to the bathroom. In her school is a clawfoot tub that is painted in school colors and filled with books for students to dive into what books to read next. Classroom libraries should be robust for students to choose books that capture their interests, questions, and curiosities.
  4. Your Physical Environment Should Mirror Your Mission – Set up a #BookSelfie station for students to snap a picture with the book they are currently reading. Comfy chairs, carpets, and reading nooks allow students to read in a comfortable place. Organize for a service dog to come to school for students to read to on a regular occasion, and set up little free libraries outside of the school by the playground if a student wants to just sit outside and read. Create book backpacks for students to take home over the weekend and share with their families. It is your responsibility to motivate students to read and see reflections of themselves and the diversity of our world in the libraries that are established. There are so many ways to bring that love of reading into your space and school.
  5. Have Fun with Reading – Reading should not be a punishment but a pleasure. Whether that means hosting a doughnuts and pajamas story time or a reading camp out for students, create events that celebrate books and reading. Gifting students birthday books on their birthday or having students share their favorite book on the morning announcements allows students to showcase their own love and fun with books.
  6. Cultivate a Love of Reading Among Teachers and Staff – Mindy shared two activities for PD that I am going to adapt for my students. The first was a Speed Dating PD where teachers had eight questions to discuss in three minute rounds. Questions like: As an educator, what book character are you most like and why? What is one book that has impacted your life? The second activity, Strangers in the Ball Pit is another fun way for staff members to interact with both light hearted and heavy hitting questions. Gallery Walks, flip a book study, and gifting great books to your teachers shows that reading is something that you value. When every teacher is on the same page, the school mission is attainable.

Crowder and Nesloney write, “If our goal is to build our students’ capacity as readers and writers, it is imperative that we participate in the process of reading and writing as well, in everything we do, in every subject we teach . . . the poetry of math, the metaphor of science, the humanity of history, and the literature of language arts combine to create a beautiful experience, all united by literacy.” (pg. 2) It is all of our responsibility to provide our students the educational experiences that empower them. Reading and writing are so important today in all of our classrooms as facts are being altered, silenced, and negated. Students need to be able to read critically and communicate effectively in order to amplify their stories, challenge, question, and inspire the words and information around them.

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Lessons from the Past: Building a Multi-genre Humanities Unit on the Holocaust

I am currently working with two social studies teachers to create a unit of study on the Holocaust. This collaborative unit will tap into the new 3C Framework  for Social Studies Standards and the Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy to promote critical thinking, close reading and students creating their own multigenre text.  

This 6-8 week unit on World War II incorporates multigenre texts (book excerpts, poetry, plays, letters, primary documents, speeches, political cartoons, and additional art work), project based activities, and co-teaching among ELA and Social Studies teachers. Over the course of the unit students will write their own multigenre text as a formative assessment based on some aspect of World War II. This unit of study will be a skills based unit that requires students to look at aspects of humanity within war and conflict.

Below are five learning stations that highlight the voices and testimony of Holocaust survivors and victims.

Station One: Concentration Camp Life

1. Read the story of Holocaust survivor Erma Sonnenberg Menkel (http://www.ou.org/holidays/the-three-weeks/saw-anne-frank-die/)

What did you learn after reading this article?

What happened to Anne Frank after she was taken out of the secret annex?

2. Watch the survivor video testimonies of Norbert Wolheim (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_oi.php?ModuleId=10007143&MediaId=5721) and Alice Lok Cahana (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_oi.php?MediaId=1081)

How were their stories similar or different from Erma’s?

Would you have done the same things they did if you were in their position(s)?

3. Choose to complete 20 Words Activity or Found Poem

Station Two: Reading Diaries of Teenagers Who Lived in the Ghetto

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1. Read excerpts from diaries, written by teenagers, about their life in the ghettos, and their physical and emotional conditions there.

The story of Yitskhok Rudashevski from Vilna Ghetto began writing his diary when he approached his fifteenth birthday. He wrote about his academic pursuits and of how he sees himself contributing to the intellectual and literary life of the Ghetto.

On September 1943, the liquidation of the ghetto began. He and his family went into hiding; later on, the family was found and taken to Ponar, where they were shot to death. His friend, who survived, returned to the hiding place where she discovered the diary.

2. Complete the Think Dots Activity: Each person at your table will take turns rolling the dice and complete the learning task from the corresponding dot.

Station Three: Poetry & The Holocaust

1.Read the poem three times. Then answer the following questions:

What are some words in the poem that brings images to your mind?

What do you think is the theme (message) of the poem? What line or lines from the poem gave you that indication?

What is the poet’s purpose for the reader (How did the poet stir you?)

Emotional- Does the poet wants the reader to become emotional about the message? (angry, sad, happy, peaceful, complacent, courage, fear, etc.) What is your evidence?- Share a line.

Reflective: Think about the message in terms of your own life, be inspired. Share a line and make a connection.

Homesick

(from I never saw another butterfly)

I’ve lived in the ghetto here for more than a year,

In Terezin, in the black town now,

And when I remember my old home so dear, I can love it more than I did, somehow.

Ah, home, home,

Why did they tear me away?

Here the weak die easy as feather And when they die, they die forever.

I’d like to go back home again,

It makes me think of sweet spring flowers. Before, when I used to live at home,

It never seemed so dear and fair.

I remember now those golden days…

But maybe I’ll be going there soon again.

People walk along the street,

You see at once on each you meet That there’s ghetto here,

A place of evil and of fear.

There’s little to eat and much to want, Where bit by bit, it’s horror to live. But no one must give up!

The world turns and times change.

Yet we all hope the time will come When we’ll go home again.

Now I know how dear it is

And often I remember it.

Station Four: Art and the Holocaust
What does the text say?Read the picture carefully. What do you notice? (Literal Understanding)

About the artist: Samual Bak is one of many artists that choose to express in their artwork their feelings and thoughts about the Holocaust. Samuel Bak is a survivor of the Holocaust and for many years he painted subject surrounding the Holocaust. The painting The ghetto, as Samuel Bak explains it is “An inclined surface with no horizon and no possibility of escape. Indeed, when we were thrown into the ghetto like human garbage, it felt like being in a deep hole. This hole is in the shape of the Star of David, the emblem of the ghetto. Near it lies our badge of identification.”
What does the text mean? What is the artist’s purpose in taking this photo? Who did Samual Bak hope would see his artwork? Why?

Station Five: Terrible Things

When a child is born, it has no prejudices.

Bias is learned, and someone

Has to model the behavior.

  1. Read aloud in your group Eve Bunting’s picture book Terrible Things.
  2. Discuss with your small group your thoughts and reactions.
  3. Write a reflective response drawing connections to the picture book and the following passage by Holocaust survivor and author Eli Wiesel:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.  

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never. (Night, 32)

4. The question that is always asked in why do we learn what we do in school, with that question looming in many student’s mind,  Why study the Holocaust, something that happened more than 50 years ago? What are the important lessons that you take away from the testimonies of people who were witnesses, allies, targets, and rebels during this time.  

 

 

 

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Where Science and Literacy Meet: Investigative Journalism

English and social studies lend themselves too conveniently to reading and writing with historical fiction and writing with document based questioning. In fact, half of my ELA curriculum is driven by the humanities.

But what about science? Yes, there is reading and writing involved in science classes but how do we bring to the forefront the interconnectedness between these two disciplines?

This past month I wanted to bring science into my 8th grade English class through an investigative journalism unit. Students read and wrote an investigative journalism feature article with a science focus.

Guiding Question: How do the choices we make impact the world?

First, I immersed my students in science based nonfiction texts. We examined author’s purpose, text structure, and craft moves like Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

The Society for Environmental Journalism recognizes and awards the top written journalism about the planet and I utilized their nominations and recognitions as mentor texts for my students.

I wanted my students to live like journalists. Students wrote down possible topics of interest and choose two or three to research more about.  Students began gathering the 5 Ws about these topics: Who, What, Where, When, and Why?

After a few days of research student selected one topic to commit to. Before we did any writing, I required students dig deeper in their research and compile an annotated bibliography with four or five sources to help them write their feature piece. The idea being, all good writing is based on solid research.

After students wrote their annotated bibliography they started their own articles. Paying close attention to the lead or lede, the author’s point of view, voice, and blending the qualities of narrative and argumentative writing. Our class became a writing workshop and the articles that my students created were informative, engaging, and inspiring. Topics addressed endangered animals, depression, obesity, pollution entwined with personal stories and connections.  I created an eFlipbook of their writing using FlipsnackEDU to share their work.

 

Because FlipsnackEDU is a closed sight, I cannot share the ebook with you, but below I have included a pdf version of one class’s writing. I have also listed resources used to develop the unit.

Resources:

Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Units of Study: Grade 8 Investigative Journalism 

Gallager, Kelly (2015) In the Best Interest of Students. Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

I’m Lovin’ Lit: Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks 2 (for Point of View Foldable)

Period9InvestigativeJournalismArticlesSpring2016-3

 

 

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Literary Postcards

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This summer my 8th grade students read Warrior’s Don’t Cry, Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir detailing the emotional and physical abuse she endured as one of the nine students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, AK in 1957.  This personal story, from a teenager’s perspective, offers insight into Beals’ struggles between being a “normal” teenager and a freedom fighter for racial integration.

I had read about a writing and art activity in an article written by Linda Christensen for the Zinn Education Project called Literary Postcards.  Christensen’s article details the variety of activities she employed in her classroom to help her students’ read deeply and understand the historical impact Beals’ experience had on American history.

I had my students complete Literary Postcards and I was in awe of their writing and drawing abilities.  Using oversized note cards, students drew pictures of significant scenes from the book on one side of the “postcard.”  Then, on the other side of the post card the student wrote a poem, letter, diary entry or monologue from one character to another explaining what happened in that moment. The written part is not meant to retell the scene, but to understand the scene from an personal perspective.  Below are some of the postcards my students created.

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