Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum


A Teachable Moment: Returning Sacred Artifacts to Their Owners

Pomo basket_AFAnnenberg Foundation trustee Gregory Annenberg Weingarten has purchased sacred artifacts to return them to their Native American owners. Twenty-one of these items will be returned to the Hopi Nation in Arizona, and three artifacts belonging to the San Carlos Apache will be returned to the Apache tribe. Laurel Morales of Fronteras reports that “The Hopi call the ceremonial items friends and believe them to be living spirits.”

For a perspective of the importance of ceremonial items to the tribes they belong to, look to two resources from Annenberg Learner—the educational media arm of the Annenberg Foundation—that describe the ceremonial and cultural significance of native artifacts.

In session 8, “Ceremonial Artifacts,” of the workshop series Artifacts & Fiction, teachers pair religious items with literary texts when teaching students about different cultures and how those cultures change over time. See how two intellectual products produced by members of different Native American tribes—two Pomo Indian gift baskets and Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony—are used to help students better understand the beliefs and values of two distinct Native American cultures.

The worldwide art history series, Art through Time, unit 4, “Ceremony and Society,” features an installation of religious items created by members of the Skokomish Indian Nation to conduct a soul recovery ceremony. An explanation of the ceremony and items used begins at 20:00 in the video. Use this video as a point of discussion with students about the importance of preserving these artifacts and how nations use the items for healing, teaching, and reconnecting with their communities.

Share a Love of Reading: Book Clubs in the Classroom

BJ Namba and her students at Punahou School, Honolulu, Hawaii

BJ Namba and her students at Punahou School, Honolulu, Hawaii

According to “Book Clubs,” a July 2011 article posted to Slate, more than 5 million adult Americans participate in book clubs. The author Nathan Heller wryly credits Oprah, the possibility of dessert and/or wine, and intellectual aspiration for the proliferation of book clubs in American culture. He doesn’t mention the mission of the Women’s National Book Association and its October celebration of National Reading Group Month and the joy of shared reading. To that sentiment I would like to add the comfort of shared challenges, the value of diverse points of view, and the potential for deep understanding. These are points of entry that can be as inviting to young readers as they are to adults.

BJ Namba, a third grade teacher at the Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, uses book clubs to engage her students in close reading and lively discussion of titles such as The Great Gilly Hopkins, Maniac Magee, Just Juice, The Pinballs and War With Grandpa. In “Sharing the Text,” video 5 of the series Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5, you will see how Namba organizes her class into five book clubs. Namba deliberately chose titles that the students can connect to that are also eye-openers that provide perspectives on situations that may be outside their own experience (2:09). Find her full lesson plan here.

Namba provides tools that are probably familiar to many adult book club members—sticky notes. She introduces students to the idea of “golden lines,” powerful quotations that students collect to share with their groups and start discussions. 

While Namba’s goal is to have students independently run their own groups by the end of the school year, she is on hand early on to ask clarifying questions or help students draw on previous learning as they explore new ideas. At 9:28 watch how gracefully Namba enters a Great Gilly Hopkins discussion when she senses the students are headed down a superficial path. At 13:42 she helps a Maniac Magee group grapple with a definition of prejudice.

To prepare for deep discussion, each group uses a Consensus Board to share individual feelings about the books and then come to consensus about a discussion topic for the next book club session. Go to 11:42 to see how this works. The students are well on their way to meeting Common Core English Language Arts Standards for Reading: Literature (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.). Stay through 12:58 to see just how profound a 3rd grader’s understanding of The Pinballs can be.

Namba’s approach need not be limited to 3rd grade students or standards. Her methods would be equally appropriate in middle and high school classrooms or in adult book club gathering spaces. We’d love to hear how you adapt Namba’s ideas—or any of the strategies featured in the Engaging with Literature series to meet the needs of your students.

New (Online) Literacies for Your Elementary Researchers

TeachRead_5Are your 3rd-5th grade students learning the skills they need to conduct online research? Last year the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project conducted a survey of over 2,000 advanced placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers to determine their perspectives on students’ research habits and the impact of technology on their studies.

The survey report How Teens Do Research in the Digital World concludes that virtually all (99%) survey participants agree “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available.” At the same time, a significant majority of these teachers strongly agreed that students expect to be able to find information quickly and easily using the internet. 83% felt that the amount of information available online is overwhelming to most students. 71% agreed that today’s technologies discourage students from using a wide range of resources for their research. 60% agreed that these technologies make it harder for students to find credible sources of information.

There’s a lot that 3rd to 5th grade teachers can do give students the foundational skills they need to tackle rigorous research projects throughout their academic careers AND address the Common Core State Standards that concern informational text:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.7 Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.8 Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.9 Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Check out session 5, “New Literacies of the Internet,” in the video workshop Teaching Reading 3-5. In the video, Donald Leu of the University of Connecticut clarifies some of the differences between reading narrative text and reading informational text, and then defines five skill areas that students need to draw on to learn from online information.

  1. Identifying important questions: In the video you’ll see educators helping students generate questions on topics such as global warming and colonial American history. Good questions lead to good searches.
  2. Searching for information: Young researchers can too easily get in the habit of clicking on anything that turns up on a search results page. The teachers in the session 5 video walk students through taking a close look at search result summaries to make inferences about which sites will be the most useful.
  3. Analyzing and evaluating information: You can learn a lot from an “About Us” page. When was the information created? Who created it and why?
  4. Synthesizing information: Dr. Leu points out that synthesis is different on the internet. In print, the text is contained. Online, the text is constructed as students navigate from link to link. Skimming and scanning with purpose are important here. Students need to practice monitoring themselves to keep from getting distracted from their purpose for reading. Graphic organizers to the rescue!
  5. Communicating information: Students can practice safe and authentic online communications by sharing their research efforts with other students. How about 3rd graders creating a shared list of the “best” sites for learning about Egyptian civilization?

You can use the session’s Literacy Practice Portfolio to reflect on your current practice and to plan for implementing new techniques. And when today’s third grader astonishes his future AP teacher with his online research acumen, you will hear distant applause.


Multicultural Literature Helps Middle Schoolers with Search for Identity

TeachMultiLitAs immigration reform is debated in the halls of Congress and in communities across the nation, now is a good time to shine a spotlight on the contributions that immigrants are making to American culture and commerce. Annenberg Learner offers dozens of resources for teaching and learning about immigrant experiences, but in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, I’m going to hone in on some strategies for teaching multicultural literature. The workshop series Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades demonstrates how teachers across the country are using literature to engage students in reading and responding to the work of writers such as Gish Jen, Tina Yun Lee and Lemsey Namioka.

The works that you will see students exploring in Workshop 1, for example, focus on the theme of dual-identity and the challenges of trying to fit into a new culture while honoring family heritage. These themes are a perfect fit for middle grade students who are often struggling to form and express their own identities.

For example, students will relate warmly to Gish Gen’s character Mona Chang from the story “What Means Switch” who was “ad-libbing [her] way through eighth grade.” As teacher Carol O’Donnell points out, “Junior high school students are really travelers between worlds. On one hand, they’re very young children who need a lot of nurturing and support and encouragement. On the other hand, they’re young adults who really need an incredible amount of challenge and independence and pushing.”

O’Donnell uses poetry, short stories and biography to give students insight into the authors’ experiences with being perceived as “other.” The literature also serves as a springboard to discussion of their own experiences with identity issues, bias, and self-discovery. O’Donnell uses structured Peer Facilitation Circles as a strategy to help students make deep explorations of the readings and appreciate these authors’ voices as part of the American story. In the Workshop 1 video, you will see students who take responsibility for their own learning and show genuine respect for their peers’ thoughts and opinions.

The work of many Asian-Pacific American writers is featured throughout the eight Teaching Multicultural Literature workshops. You’ll find content and strategies that fit your students’ interests and needs. When you introduce these writers to your students, some will see mirror images of themselves; some will see worlds they didn’t know existed. How do you use the richness of multicultural literature to engage your students?


Monday Motivation: Teaching Kindergartners to be Story-Tellers

Arts_Bringing Artists_warmups In The Arts in Every Classroom, “Bringing Artists to Your Community,” theatre artist Birgitta De Pree involves a kindergarten class in a storytelling activity that engages the imagination while reinforcing story structure skills. She warms the students up with activities that relax them and build trust. Watch the video until 14:00. While Ms. De Pree served as an artist-in-residence in the school, these engaging activities can be adapted by any language arts teacher willing to take on the role.

Laughing and Learning with Limericks

WGBHTeaching Math K-4 LibThere once was a poet named Lear

Whose fondness for nonsense was dear.

His verses were short

And silly, of course.

And that’s why we fete him each year!

As I see it there are at least three good reasons to introduce your students to limericks this month:

1. May 12 was Edward Lear’s birthday and Limerick Day. Children today enjoy Lear’s sly sense of humor and the limerick’s manageable structure as much as the children for whom he wrote his verses in 1846. You can use the illustrated, closed-captioned audio book to introduce your students to the silly fun and rhyming challenges of limericks. Although limericks have a reputation for being bawdy or coarse, you can find many kid-friendly examples by searching limericks for children. Visit the Limerick Factory on Learner.org to give students practice with the form, permission to be goofy, and the urge to write their own poems.

2. Testing season is upon us and it’s likely you and your students could use a little comic relief. Humor is a healthful stress reliever. Sharing a limerick “moment” will take only a few minutes of class time. The resulting giggles (or groans) will be a refreshing break from test-itis. Provide students with a physical break as well by inviting them to stand up and clap their hands to the pronounced rhythm of a limerick.

3. Analyzing patterns in poetry is similar to recognizing patterns in mathematics. Using the Limerick Factory on Learner.org, you might have students devise codes for communicating the rhythmic and rhyming structures of limericks. Students who have not yet picked up on number patterns may benefit from the practice of finding patterns in accessible poems or nursery rhymes.

You can get a lot of brain-building mileage out of a five-line rhyming poem. May I challenge you to finish this one?

There once was a teacher named West

Whose students were scared of the test . . .









Teaching the Magic of The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyJazz, silver, gold, champagne, opulence, New York City.  The decadence of the Roaring Twenties is brought to life in my all-time favorite novel to teach, The Great Gatsby. From the moment I enter the world and thoughts of Nick Carraway, I am swept away to another time and place, which for each future generation is becoming increasingly erased from the collective consciousness. Teaching the novel keeps an important voice and piece of American culture alive.

To give context to the novel, it was helpful to have an exposition on the era of the Roaring Twenties. We looked at the changing lives of women and how the emergence of the “new woman” who smoked, drank alcohol, and dated was a major cultural shift in society. It was amusing to see students wrap their minds around how a woman showing her knees could be considered scandalous. It was also helpful to build an understanding of what was considered the “modern world” in Fitzgerald’s time, especially to a generation of students who can’t imagine a world without the internet, let alone a world where electric light and automobiles are the latest thing. American Passages, unit 11, “Modernist Portraits,” provides historical and literary context for this time period and biographical information on F. Scott Fitzgerald.

My teaching of the novel revolved around introducing the concept of The American Dream. Students were asked to give their own definitions of the concept, which usually included words like money, success, happiness, education, love, property. After they established their own definitions, I began to introduce the earliest mention of the concept with Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer and built on the idea with the teachings of Benjamin Franklin. See American Passages, unit 4,“Spirit of Nationalism.”  As we moved through the novel, students were given the opportunity to examine how The American Dream was attained, or not attained, through the lives of the characters. They began to peel away at the imagery and magic of Fitzgerald’s words to see the underbelly of the dream, the “valley of ashes” that lurks throughout the novel. They drew personal connections to current social and political issues and argued if indeed we are all “borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Another fun way to build connection to the novel was to have the students modernize a scene from the novel. Jazz became hip-hop, “old sport” became “dude,” and Model-T’s became Mercedes.Fitzgerald

To end the unit, I showed the 1974 version of the movie, giving the students a chance to see how their visualization of the novel matched the vision of writer Francis Ford Coppola and director Jack Clayton.  Students generally liked the movie version, finding some aspects a little over-dramatic or corny at times. Clayton’s affinity for highlighting Fitzgerald’s symbolic use of silver and gold with camera angles to make objects and eyes literally sparkle usually got some chuckles.  I often wished someone would do a remake and bring a modern cinematic eye to the beauty of the novel. Well, I don’t have to wish anymore!  The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy premiered on May 10th.  Check out the trailer for the movie.

I can’t wait to see how the other Gatsby fans react to the new version and if the remake is bringing new life to the teaching of the novel.  Are you building your unit with the remake in mind? What creative ways do you bring the novel to life?


National Environmental Education Week (April 14-20)

HabPlanet_earthDiscuss current and future environmental problems, including possible solutions, with your students. The following resources provide ideas for science, social studies, and literature classrooms:




  1. Hear thought-provoking views and research findings from experts in the field, including entomologist E.O. Wilson in The Habitable Planet, unit 13 video, “Looking Forward: Our Global Experiment.”
  2. Two interactives in The Habitable Planet allow you and your students to manage an energy crisis. The Carbon Lab explores how human influence on carbon output affects the future health of the Earth’s atmosphere.  In the Energy Lab interactive, try developing a portfolio of energy resources that cuts back on CO2 and considers the pros and cons of multiple sources of energy.
  3. Gage Reeves asks his 5th graders to relate their reading about global warming and climate change to events and products in their community in Teaching Reading 3-5 Workshop, classroom program 13, “Reading Across the Curriculum.”
  4. Consider the possible conflicts that arise when living in a future society affected by significant global warming and other challenges by reading “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler.  The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature, session 7, “Critical Pedagogy,” includes an audio clip of the author and a synopsis of the story.
  5. Learn about where oil comes from, how it is extracted and used for energy, and the effects of using oil as an energy source on the environment in Earth Revealed, program 26, “Living With Earth, Part II.”
  6. Explore environmental mysteries like the causes of ice ages and consider how life shapes the earth in Planet Earth, program 3, “The Climate Puzzle,” and program 7, “Fate of the Earth.”
  7. Economic stories show how pollution is a “negative externality” that can have serious consequences for economic efficiency in Economics U$A, unit 8, “Pollution and the Environment.”
  8. The World of Chemistry, program 17, “The Precious Envelope,” explains ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect on the earth’s atmosphere.

Monday Motivation: Cultivating Young Poets

Write in the Middle_3A 7th grader recently gave me a wonderful gift. She invited me to read an anthology of poems she wrote in 6th grade. Zoe’s poems were sensitive, wistful, beautiful, and silly. As I read them silently, she was drawn back to them and read each one aloud as a critical reader of her own work. I saw a frisson of pleasure when a poem hit its intended mark. Some, from her more mature 7th grade perspective, she pronounced “childish.”

In Zoe’s poems, I could also see her 6th grade teacher’s approach to teaching the art of writing poetry. The anthology included cinquains, haiku, clerihews, and acrostics. In other words, Zoe’s teacher had given her students accessible models of poetic forms and content, laying a safe foundation on which young writers could express their own emotions and observations.

Whether your students are eager to read and write poetry or are resistant to the craft, they will benefit from this approach. Two learner.org video workshops demonstrate techniques that you can use to cultivate your young poets.

In “Gaining Insight Through Poetry” in Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ high school teacher Chris Mazzino uses “copy change” to help students thoughtfully empathize with the children portrayed in the holocaust memoir they read as part of a citywide reading program. Copy change involves using another writer’s structure as the scaffold for your own work.  Here, Mr. Mazzino and his creative writing students are exploring what it feels like to be an outsider. He uses the student-written poem “Will They Ever Learn?” (page three of PDF) to instigate a discussion of “otherness.” Afterwards, students copy change the poem to express their own experiences and emotions. In this instance, the copy change technique provided an accessible model and a safety net for encouraging teens to share emotions they might otherwise keep to themselves.

In Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers, workshop 3, “Teaching Poetry,” two master teachers—Vivian Johnson and Jack Wilde—share how they help their students develop as readers and writers of poetry. Both teachers emphasize the importance of immersing their students in poetry throughout the school year to ready them for formal writing units. Mr. Wilde breaks down resistance by providing his students with accessible poems than can be understood on the first reading. Ms. Johnson makes the writing process non-threatening to her 8th graders by presenting forms such as found poetry and list poems.

These teachers agree that close reading of model poems is essential, but they don’t dwell on interpretation of abstractions. They do hone in on structure, word choice, rhythm, and line breaks. They examine techniques students can transfer to their own writing and use with power and purpose. Mr. Wilde uses Mekeel McBride’s poem “The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes,” a fun five-stanza poem that views the potato from five perspectives, to help students discover how ideas can be handled in poetic form and what poems can do that prose can’t. He asks, “What can you learn from Mekeel about writing a poem?” One student responds, “You don’t have to say a potato is a potato, but what else could it be.” At this point, his students are ready and eager to write their own poems based on McBride’s model.

The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “Imitation, conscious imitation, is one of the great methods, perhaps the method of learning to write.” And, as you’ll see in these videos, imitation can put students on the road to profound and beautiful invention. What a gift!

A Jazz Festival in Your Classroom

World of Music_jazzAs the weather warms, jazz festivals will be springing up all over. Why not celebrate spring and Jazz Appreciation Month this April by holding a jazz festival in your classroom? A key word search for “jazz” on learner.org returns a host of resources that you can use to guide your students to appreciate this uniquely American musical genre and to understand its influence on culture here and around the world.

For example, American Passages: A Literary Survey, unit 11, “Modernist Portraits,” describes the dramatic social and cultural changes that Americans experienced during the years between World War I and World War II.  Jazz provided the soundtrack for these changes and had a profound influence on visual artists, poets, and novelists who sought to capture its images and rhythms. Use the American Passages archives to find audio and visual artifacts from the Jazz Age that illustrate the innovation and energy of musicians and writers such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jacob Lawrence.

Try asking students how structure, improvisation, and collaboration—aspects of jazz adopted by so many artists working during the modernist period—can be applied in their world. The Problem-Based Learning activities included in unit 11 could be presented as a way to put a jazz spin on collaborative projects in school.

Jazz up this historical exploration by inviting a local performer or your school’s jazz ensemble to play for your students and to discuss the unique interaction of structure, improvisation, and collaboration in jazz. Or check out Exploring the World of Music, program 11, “Composers and Improvisers.”  At 9:09 you’ll find a great discussion from saxophonist Joshua Redman about the role of improvisation in jazz. In program 10, “The Shape of Music,” the segment that begins at 8:52 illustrates why collaboration is essential to improvisation in a group performance.

What are other ways to use jazz to inspire learning in the classroom? I’d love to hear your improvisations!