Tag Archives: Reading

Middle School Student Reading Assessment

Earlier this May I had read a post from Isabelle Popp on Book Riot, “What Do Your Favorite Books Say About You?” Intrigued by this article I found myself thinking this prompt would make a great opening narrative essay assessment and assignment for students. And a reading assessment came to fruition.

I have scaffolded the article for students to explore what their favorite books say about them as readers, writers, and individuals. My plan is for this assignment to be an un-graded pre-assessment of their reading and writing skills. I can use the data from their essays to map out writing lessons for the school year and learn about their reading habits. I made a same organizer for myself as a model for students.

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13 Young Adult Books With Teen Writers

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 Clements is 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.

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Identity Choice Novels & Playlist

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

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

Students selected from five (5) choice novels:

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson – Newbery Honor

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

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Nevin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One Pagers for Deeper Reading Comprehension

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

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

Elements of the One Pager:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Not to Do 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Assessment Speed Dating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. It must be timely.

2. It must be specific.

3. It must be understandable to the receiver.

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

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

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

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

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Literature Circles: A Trusted Book Club Reading Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.  
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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.

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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.

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