Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum


Get Set: Organize and Manage Your Classroom

Teaching Reading K-2 KostandosWhile considering all of the material you will need to cover during the school year, you might be tempted to jump directly into the content. Instead, consider spending time teaching classroom expectations and systems that can create more productive learning environments throughout the year.

Here’s an example of a productive first grade reading classroom. Watch Valerie Kostandos teach her students to be readers, writers, and leaders in Teaching Reading K-2, program 8, “Promoting Readers as Leaders.” She builds in early opportunities to teach systems that foster cooperative learning and student independence.

“I think it is important that all kids get in that role of being the leaders. If we give them a challenge, they rise to it. They feel so empowered… and that carries over when they write and when they read. They have the sense that they can do it…. What is hard is trying to stay back and not jump in.”
Valerie Kostandos

Ms. Kostandos’s classroom runs smoothly because she

1. organizes the physical classroom space so that she can see what is happening when children are working in small groups.
2. teaches students leadership roles, giving her time to work with students individually at the beginning of each class.
3. uses an observation survey to keep records of how students are progressing throughout the year.
4. models classroom expectations and systems early and gradually gives students more autonomy to perform tasks on their own.
5. provides opportunities for students to share their ideas about what they are reading and what they have learned at the end of the school day.
6. gives students some choice in the books they read and guides them to choose books they hadn’t considered.
7. varies activities to encourage social growth. Students learn to work independently, in pairs, in small groups, and as a whole group.

Discover more ideas for organizing and managing classrooms in the resources below:

Teaching Reading 3-5, workshop 1, “Creating Contexts for Learning,” explains why classroom organization matters, the importance of routines, and how grouping affects students’ learning. It includes tips for new teachers on setting up a vibrant literacy classroom starting on the first day of school.

Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practices Library, K-12, program 29, “Groups, Projects, and Presentations,” provides tips for forming cooperative learning groups and fostering problem solving skills in the classroom.

The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice, unit 13, “Pulling it All Together-Creating Classrooms and Schools That Support Learning,” looks at the bigger school community. What structural features of schools support teaching and learning for understanding? How can schools use what is known about student development to organize and scaffold instruction?

Now it’s your turn. We would love to hear how you get your classrooms off on the right foot in the comments.


Get Ready: Build a Learning Community

Get ready, get set! But before you go, step back and consider the bigger picture. What will your classroom look and feel like? How will students interact with each other? How will they express themselves and share ideas? Teach your students to be learners together and to respect differences by developing a sense of community. See the following examples for different grade levels and subject areas:

Social<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
                                                          Studies<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
                                                          Library1. Teach students how to discuss and appreciate differences within their classroom community. For example, in Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practices Library, K-12, program 31, “Dealing with Controversial Issues,” students learn how to conduct informed and open discussions that include multiple perspectives about gender-based discrimination, conflict in the Middle East, and other issues.  Program 30, “Unity and Diversity,” deals with teaching students to appreciate the different cultures of their community.

2. Plan your writing community before the year starts. Take a look at Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers, workshop 1, “First Steps.” Think about how much time students will spend writing, getting and giving feedback from peers, and reviewing their own work. In workshop 2, “A Shared Path,” you’ll consider the characteristics of a writing community and learn to set up effective writers’ groups.

3. Build a safe middle school writing environment from the beginning of the year. In Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers, workshop 1, “Creating a Community of Writers,” see teachers model participation in a writing community.

4. Involve parents and guardians. Watch how a teacher extends a 3rd grade book community using activities and discussions that involve the students’ parents, grandparents, and friends in Teaching Reading 3-5 Workshop, classroom program 10, “Fostering Book Discussions.” Students also learn how to generate discussions in small groups.

5. Set up classroom routines that help young students become positive, more self-directed learners using strategies from Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop, workshop 1, “Creating a Literate Community.”

6. Foster effective communication and mathematical thinking with strategies provided in Teaching Math Grades K-2, session 2, “Communication.” Help young students express their understanding of math concepts through oral, written, and visual (symbols, pictures, gestures) communication.

What are ways you build a learning community in your classrooms?

Why Should We Teach Multicultural Literature?

Why should we encourage our students to read multicultural children’s and young adult literature? Because everyone matters. Because we live in a globally-connected society. Because these books build cultural understanding. Because they are good stories…the list could go on and on.


Students ask Ishmael Reed questions about his life and writing during a classroom visit. The Expanding Canon, Session 5

I love Sims Bishop’s (Sims Bishop, 1990) assertion that multicultural books benefit everyone in that they serve as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. They are mirrors because they represent lived experiences of all kinds of people. They are windows because they serve as openings into other cultures and experiences. They are sliding glass doors because they allow readers a personal connection to experiences different from our own.

Students need to know that people of color have made significant contributions to history, culture, politics, and society. The very fabric of our collective humanity consists of threads of all different colors. Also, when students read multicultural literature, they learn to explore and discuss important themes such as their own search for identity, the rewards and challenges of varied cultural experiences, and even how to constructively engage in civic duties. As such, I am very much a soldier of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which is a “call to arms” to bring national attention to the need to highlight diversity in our books.

I do want to point out that we should move beyond conversations of needing more diversity, as the problem is not with quantity or quality. There are many high-quality books featuring people of color and/or written by authors of color, and we definitely could use more. But the real problem is that these books are not being consumed, meaning they are not being read, bought, and taught (Loh, 2008). The supply is there but the demand is not – and we can do something about this.

Teachers are the key to getting multicultural books in the hands of young readers. When teachers teach or recommend a book, that book gets read. One of the most often cited reasons why teachers don’t use multicultural books in their classrooms is because they claim to not know how to teach them (Loh, 2008). Annenberg Learner provides several resources to help teachers become more confident in using multicultural books in their classrooms.

The following workshops introduce teachers to authors of color and show models of teachers engaging in effective strategies and pedagogical approaches:

Other resources from Annenberg Learner:

  • Evaluate Your Multicultural Literature” from Teaching Reading, Grades 3-5– This session provides strategies for teaching young English Language Learners. It features a tool to help evaluate multicultural literature.
  • Invitation to World Literature – This course offers teachers an opportunity to learn about several examples of great works of literature from around the world and from ancient to modern times.

In addition, you can search Annenberg Learner’s website for lesson plans addressing specific multicultural titles. For example, some of my favorites include:

There are many, many resources available to educators who are committed to putting multicultural books in the hands of young readers who will ultimately become lifelong readers of all kinds of texts.

What are some multicultural books your students enjoy?


Loh, V.S. (2008). Asian-American Children’s Literature: A Qualitative Study of Cultural Authenticity. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). San Diego State University-University of San Diego, San Diego.

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). “Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).

Observe and Learn from Effective Teachers

Teachers take the stage every day in front of their students, striving to instruct, engage and guide. Being observed by a classroom of students is the norm. As Matthew O. Richardson points out in his journal article [1] for the National Education Association, “Teachers stand before others and put on a personal exhibition every time they lecture, lead a discussion, or guide a role-play.” Why is it, then, that the prospect of peer observation is potentially unnerving to many teachers?


From Teaching Math, program 6, “Animals in Yellowstone”: Fourth- and fifth-graders develop number sense and meaning for large numbers by estimating how many bison, elk, and pronghorn they saw on a field trip to Yellowstone National Park.

While discussing the growing trend of peer-to-peer learning for teachers, Education World acknowledges that the practice of peer observation (which is becoming more widely discussed in both university, and secondary and elementary environments) is meant to be a collaborative form of professional development, not an evaluation tool. Education World notes that learning by observing can reap benefits for teachers, administrators, and schools. They quote Dr. William Roberson, who served as co-director of the Center of Effective Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas-El Paso, as making this bold statement:

Easily, peer observation is more valuable than other forms of professional development, if the proper context is created. If done well, it is carried out in a real, practical, immediately relevant situation. Compare that to attending workshops or conferences in which participants remain at a certain level of abstraction from their own classrooms.

Ideally, peer-to-peer learning allows the observing teacher to reflect on their own practices and methodology in, as Roberson puts it, an “immediately relevant situation.”

Are you thinking about working peer observations into your schedule next year? Here are some resources for observing teachers in your own school and for observing teachers at your convenience.

Using checklists to focus your observations on specific goals:

Using checklists is a great way to get the most out of your observation experiences. Start by having a goal in mind. For example, is your goal to improve classroom management, track student achievement, or create more engaging lesson plans? Then, focus your observation on ways to meet that goal. Checklists are useful for narrowing your focus.

Look at some examples of teacher observation checklists below. Even if the examples are not in your subject area or grade level, you can glean ideas for developing your own checklists.

  1. This observational checklist from Teaching Reading, Grades K-2 allows a fairly straightforward evaluation of a peer teacher’s methods of developing the essential elements of literacy. Observing teachers have space to comment on their colleagues use of shared and independent reading and writing, among other practices.
  2. The Literacy Development Chart, also from Teaching Reading, Grades K-2, allows ongoing observation of a peer teacher to see how an individual student “case study” develops and how a teacher supports their progress based on the student’s strengths and needs.
  3. The Key Questions observation form provides a more open-ended way for teachers to observe their colleagues. This example asks questions related to how students develop literacy skills. The form’s prompts include questions on how reading and writing are connected and how a peer teacher instructs students with diverse needs.
  4. Searching “classroom observation checklist for teachers” on Google yields many very useful checklist formats.

Videos for observing expert educators on your own schedule:

Finding time during the school day for such detailed peer observation is not always feasible. In addition, a teacher who wants to use observation as a means to improve their own practice may encounter other obstacles; a culture of trust and a willingness to participate has to be present in their school already. Don’t have opportunities to observe peers at your school? Learner.org provides video examples of effective teaching in most subject areas and most grade levels.

The Learner.org workshops in the list below can be streamed for free. Here are just a few highlights:

  1. Teaching Reading, Grades K-2 could be used in conjunction with the aforementioned observation forms as an alternative to watching live classrooms. The extensive video library includes 30 minute programs on classroom practices in action as well as student case studies of children in grades K-2.
  2. In The Art of Teaching the Arts, workshop 3, “Addressing the Diverse Needs of Students,” watch how three teachers adjust their teaching approaches for students with various learning styles and needs.
  3. Making Civics Real, a professional development workshop for high school teachers, illustrates an activist approach to the teaching of civics. For example, in workshop 6, “Civic Engagement,” observe a Human Geography class taught by Bill Mittlefehldt. Students work in teams on a service project to solve community issue.

Here are more resources showing effective classroom instruction that can be used for observations:

The Arts:
The Arts in Every Classroom: A Workshop for Elementary School Teachers
Connecting With the Arts: A Workshop for Middle Grades Teachers
The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers

Foreign Languages:
Teaching Foreign Languages, K-12 Library

Language Arts and Literature:
Teaching Reading, K-2
Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5
Making Meaning in Literature, Grades 3-8
Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for Middle Grades
Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers
The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

Teaching Math: A video library, K-4
Teaching Math: A video library, 5-8
Teaching Math: A video library, 9-12
Insights into Algebra I: Teaching for Learning (middle and high school)

Social Studies:
Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practices, Library K-12
The Economics Classroom: A Workshop for Grade 9-12 Teachers
Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers (high school)

Science K-6: Investigating Classrooms
Teaching High School Science

While the best way to learn from expert teachers is to watch them in person, watching examples of excellent teaching in videos can be just as useful. In addition, you can observe these classrooms at your convenience and pause and re-watch sections as needed.

We are interested: Share your experiences using classroom observations to improve your instruction below the post.

[1] Richardson, Matthew O. “Peer Observation: Learning From One Another,” The NEA Higher Education Journal 16. No. 1 (2000): 9-20.


How to Share Ideas From Your Classroom

sharing ideasWe know you create amazing lesson plans and activities using Learner.org resources. Share them with other teachers on the Ideas From Your Classrooms section of our blog.

Submit your lesson plans and activities to blog@learner.org for consideration. We will post a new activity or lesson plan every Tuesday. Check back often to learn about fresh ideas from your peers.

Also, in the Ideas From Your Classrooms section of the blog, we encourage you to comment under lesson plan and activities posts, respond to questions about your classrooms, and support each other with knowledge and advice from your teaching experience.


How to Submit a Lesson Plan or Activity

Your plans and activities should state a clear objective, be well-organized, require minimal to no edits, and incorporate a Learner.org resource. (You may also refer to additional resources if desired.) The Learner.org resource you refer to can be a whole series, or part of a series such as an online textbook chapter or video program, an online interactive, or any other resources accessed free on our website. Series titles and urls must be included.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Please include the following information with your materials:

  1. Your name and email address
  2. Title of the activity or lesson plan
  3. Subject/ Class name
  4. Grade level
  5. School name or location (not required)

Also, please share this post! Thank you. Don’t forget to subscribe to LearnerLog.org so you don’t miss new postings.

Annenberg-Newseum Summer Teacher Institute: Apply Now!

28 Aug 1963, Washington, DC, USA --- More than 200,000 people participated in the March on Washington demonstrations. The throng marched to the Mall and listened to Civil Rights leaders, clergyman and others addressed the crowd, including Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Dates: Wednesday, July 16 – Friday, July 18

Time: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day

Where: The Newseum, Washington, DC

Cost: FREE

Application Deadline
Applications must be received by 11:59 p.m. on May 26, 2014

  • Participants will be notified by June 6, 2014. Apply Now

In partnership with Annenberg Learner, the Newseum is excited to offer a FREE three-day institute for teachers using new media. This unique professional development opportunity will include hands-on activities, exploration of artifacts from our collection with an archivist, and time to explore the museum independently.

“Speaking of Change” Institute Description
How has freedom of speech been used to spark movements for social change? What techniques have been effective for catalyzing action and securing the historical record? How can you apply these lessons from history to help your students effectively advocate using today’s high- and low-tech tools? Use resources from Annenberg Learner and the Newseum to explore the power of freedom of speech and help your students communicate effectively in traditional and new media.

The institute begins with an examination of speech and social change in history. Teachers analyze various primary sources for expression of freedom of speech and effective techniques. The institute will feature daily curatorial sessions, showcasing primary sources from the Newseum’s extensive collection. Then, participants will look at the opportunities for and challenges of self-expression in today’s media landscape, and use contemporary tools to update historic messages of change. Throughout the workshops, teachers apply what they’ve learned by working with a partner to create a resource or experience to implement during the 2014-2015 school year.

Attendees Will Receive

  • Classroom-ready and adaptable resources to implement into existing curriculum.
  • Strategies to implement Common Core, C3 and national standards aligned curriculum in the classroom including primary source analysis, media literacy and analyzing historical arguments and research.
  • An overview of digital classroom resources from the Newseum and Annenberg Learner in addition to other new media resources that can be used in the classroom.
  • Copies of select primary sources used in the curatorial sessions to take back to the classroom.
  • A private, behind-the-scenes “Tech Tour” of the Newseum’s production and technology centers.
  • A letter of recognition sent to your principal and superintendent.
  • Opportunity to submit a session proposal to present and attend a regional or national conference as the guest of Newseum Education and Annenberg Learner.
  • Access to Newseum Education staff to personalize a field trip for your class.
  • Monthly insider updates from Ed staff on resource, event and program development.

Complimentary breakfast and lunch will be served each day. Teachers outside of the D.C. metro area are encouraged to apply, but transportation and housing are not included.

Eligibility Requirements

  • Middle and high school teachers, librarians or media resource specialists.
  • Active creators of online content, whether through blogs, websites or social communication tools (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, etc.).
  • Note:
    • Applicants are encouraged, but not required, to apply in pairs to foster cross-curricular collaboration within the school or school district
    • The institute is open to all subject areas, but may be of particular interest to language arts and social studies teachers.

Participant Obligation Agreement

In return for attending the Summer Teacher Institute, educators agree to:


  • Complete a pre-institute survey.
  • Send an introduction via social media — tweets with institute hashtag and a post on a social media platform of their choice (Facebook, Tumblr, etc.).

During the institute

  • Actively tweet or post throughout the day about activities, resources, etc.


  • Write a guest entry on the Newseum and Annenberg Learner education blogs.
  • Co-host a Google Hangout with the Newseum and Annenberg Learner to expand the professional learning community (PLC) and encourage collaboration with teachers around the country.
  • Complete a post-institute survey.
  • Implement the resource or experience created during the institute.
  • Participate in the Newseum’s Teacher Open House on Oct. 4, 2014. Note: Participation can be an additional blog post prior to Teacher Open House highlighting a specific resource, or participating in a panel that day to share effective, classroom-tested strategies using Newseum and Annenberg Learner resources and new media.


  • Participants will be selected via a competitive application process.
  • Applications must be received by 11:59 p.m. on May 26, 2014
  • Participants will be notified by June 6, 2014.

Click here to apply.
Annenberg Learner is the exclusive sponsor of the 2014 Summer Teacher Institute.

(Reposted from the Newseum site.)

Historical Fiction Meets Common Core

LOH_PAPER SON_lowI know all kinds of facts about Anne Boleyn. How do I know these facts? Not from reading history textbooks or historical documents…at least, not initially. I know these facts because I got hooked on Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction novel, The Other Boleyn Girl (Gregory, 2002). In fact, most of what I know about history comes from historical fiction. Of course, reading these historical fiction novels inspires me to read informational texts to learn even more about the historical subject. As such, historical fiction is a “gateway genre.” It straddles the information and literary worlds. Based on historical settings and events, these texts are informed by primary and secondary sources. (Find an explanation of primary and secondary sources in Annenberg Learner’s America’s History in the Making.)

Authors of historical fiction texts tend to be researchers of history, if not historians. For example, as one of the authors for Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America (James and Loh, 2013), I spent a great deal of time researching the Chinese-American immigration experience at Angel Island. Historical fiction writers take great care to accurately and authentically represent the historical time period; however, the “truth” of history is often fictionalized in order to move the plot along. Even though historical fiction writers can take certain liberties, especially with characters and dialogue, they still need to present the story in such a way that it is historically probable.

Given this, historical fiction is a goldmine for educators implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). As part of my job at the Institute for Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, I designed a robust unit of study aligned to 4th grade CCSS entitled, Analysis of Historical Fiction: Paper Son. In this unit, students analyze the historical fiction text by critically examining the firsthand and secondhand accounts that informed it; they are essentially deconstructing the research process and learning about the history. They have opportunities to become “truth detectives.” (Of course, this can lead to discussions about how true is history given its interpretative nature.)

In addition to deepening their knowledge about literary and informational texts, students are also gaining historical knowledge; as such, historical fiction is valuable in both English Language Arts classrooms and History/Social Science classrooms. After reading Paper Son and engaging in the unit mentioned above, a 4th grader shared: “It taught me about Chinese-American history. I had not learned much about Chinese immigration from 1849-1920 before reading this book…I did not know that people sold information about themselves and their family to help someone come to the United States of America. I had heard of Ellis Island and the many people who came through there when coming to the U.S., but I did not know that Angel Island was where immigrants visited when coming to the U.S. in the West. I also learned what a coaching book was and how it helped people study for their immigration interrogations.” We can be impressed with this young student’s increased knowledge base about a complex historical topic. The next step would be to lead this student from information to inquiry, to think like a historian.

In order to effectively teach historical fiction, educators must provide students with the historical context. To this end, Annenberg Learner’s Artifacts & Fiction and American Passages: A Literary Survey focus on teaching American literature in its historical and cultural contexts. This will facilitate teaching with lenses. Students will greatly benefit from seeing history from various and multiple perspectives (Appleman, 2010). In addition, this list of resources cover American and world history topics related to literature that students are reading.

Another benefit of teaching historical fiction is the potential for it to connect to readers in such a way that social justice and multicultural understanding can be enacted. From reading historical fiction texts, readers can perhaps become both empathetic and sympathetic to how certain groups are treated unjustly by being able to feel the protagonist’s plight (Brooks and Hampton, 2005).

A graduate student of mine who is also a high school teacher added, “Even though [historical fiction writers may have] manipulated and amalgamated fiction and fact, [they do] this to help people understand the plight of a race in [a particular historical time period]. This manipulation helped readers in a beneficial way. History when taught by fiction writers may be trusted to an extent, but it should never be trusted fully. Students need to be aware of the text as a piece of fiction.” Historical fiction encourages readers to be critical consumers of information. Students can verify the history by working within and across texts and learn to distinguish between fact and fiction.

In closing, historical fiction offers teachers wonderful opportunities to teach both literary and informational texts, to teach research and critical thinking skills, to teach historical lenses, to increase content knowledge, and to learn to love reading because of its power to teach.


Appleman, D. (2010). Critical encounters in high school English: Teaching literary theory to adolescents. (2nd Edition). NY: Teachers College Press.

Brooks, W. & Hampton, G. (2005). Safe discussions rather than first hand encounters: Adolescents examine racism through one historical fiction text. Children’s Literature in Education, 36, pp. 83-98.

Gregory, P. (2002). The other Boleyn girl. New York: Pocket Star Books.

James, H.F. & Loh, V.S. (2013). Paper son: Lee’s journey to America. MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

9 Ways to Encourage Play for Kindergarten Day and Every Day!

ArtsEvery_11Time to pull out the blocks and finger paints. Kindergarten Day recognizes the importance of play, games, and creative activity in children’s education. In 1837, Friedrich Froebel, born April 21, 1782, established the first kindergarten in Germany. German immigrants brought the idea to the U.S. in the 1840s. In 1873, the first public kindergarten was started in St. Louis, MO.

Kindergarten classrooms of the past provided oodles of time for students to use their imaginations, develop social skills, and learn to love learning. As the arm of standardized testing reaches into the earliest years of childhood development, concerns are raised about the disappearance of play experiences. Read about why playtime is important for young students in this report from the Alliance for Childhood.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of Friedrich Froebel, we present the following ideas for using play to teach literacy and math skills, as well as concepts for social studies and science:

1. Students learn to appreciate different cultural backgrounds as they explore holidays such as the Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day in Teaching Reading K-2 Library, program 3, “Building Oral Language.” Sensory activities and crafts are combined with reading and writing activities to help students make connections.

2. Chuck Walker pairs kindergartners with 6th graders for counting activities located inside and outside of the classroom in Teaching Math, A Video Library, K-4, program 3, “Math Buddies.”

3. Students learn about story structure and engage their imaginations when theatre artist Birgitta De Pree visits the classroom in The Arts in Every Classroom: A Video Library, K-5, program 10, “Bringing Artists to Your Community.”

4. Thalia’s teachers tap into her interests and add whimsy with song and drawing to literacy lessons for this energetic kindergartner in Teaching Reading K-2 Library, program 4, “Thalia Learns the Details.”

5. Young students learn mathematical concepts while playing with different types of manipulatives in Teaching Math, A Video Library, K-4, program 7, “Cubes and Containers,” program 12, “Dino Math,” and program 43, “Beans, Beans, Beans.”

6. Students understand economic concepts of supply and demand while working together to make bread in Social Studies in Action, A Teaching Practices Library, K-12, program 6, “Making Bread Together.”

7. In Ms. Mesmer’s classroom, students participate in a variety of fun activities to compare holidays, while learning about seasons and the earth’s rotation around the sun. See Social Studies in Action, A Teaching Practices Library, K-12, program 8, “Celebrations of Light.”

8. Watch students practice their French vocabulary using song, movement, and cut-and-paste activities in Teaching Foreign Languages, K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices, program 4, “Chicken Pox.”

9. A kindergarten class mixes with a 4th-grade class to create an original performance based on Quidam by Cirque du Soleil in The Arts in Every Classroom: A Video Library, K-5, program 11, “Students Create a Multi-Arts Performance.”

What are ways you are using play in your kindergarten classrooms?

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.