Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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How to Analyze Crafted and Captured Moments in Photographs

Photos are immediate—they are unstaged, unplanned, caught in the moment to stand as witnesses to history. …well, some of the time. Some photos really are all that, and they really do capture a moment that speaks to millions of people.

For example, John Filo’s famous photo of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller at Kent State University in 1970: Kent_State_massacre

Filo did not stage this photo. It went out to the American public via LIFE and other magazines and communicated the shock of the incident, in which National Guard soldiers shot and killed unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War. But between Filo taking the photo and LIFE publishing it, one little edit was made: the pole behind Ms. Vecchio, that looks like it was coming out of her head, was airbrushed out.

Someone in Editing somewhere thought that pole coming out of the young woman’s head was too distracting and took it out. That someone wasn’t the photographer, in this case, but would it have mattered if it was? Does perfecting a photo after the fact take away from its integrity? If a photo is staged, can it be as powerful as a lucky shot taken on the fly? Is crafting a moment less authentic than capturing one?

We put this question to students in a continuing effort to give them more authority and control over their reading of photographs. (See Selfie: Bringing Personal Meaning to Photos). Photos seem to be unquestionable to most students: they have one clear, set meaning to give the student that the student must passively receive. We want to show students that this is not always, or not completely, true. As Makeda Best puts it, instead of stopping at asking ourselves and our students what we see in a photo, we have to “look more closely and ask questions of why we see what we see.”

In Selfie, we showed strategies to bring meaning to Dorothea Lange’s famous 1936 photo Migrant Mother:

This image is so famous, and so ingrained in our minds and eyes that it’s hard to believe that it was only one of five photos Lange took of this woman and her family. Lange saw them when she visited a pea-pickers’ camp in California while documenting the effects of the Great Depression. Lange made no secret of the fact that she took several photos before she felt she got just the right one to tell the family’s story. Here’s how Lange described it:

8014_BOWL_H_lowres

From Essential Lens: #8014 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-9058-C)

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. [She] seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. …I did not approach the tents and shelters of other stranded pea-pickers. It was not necessary; I knew I had recorded the essence of my assignment.”

Show your students the five related photos in Essential Lens, “Disaster and Government Response.” Start like Lange did, from a distance with #8015, then to #8016 – #8018. Then go to the final shot, and the one Lange knew was best: #8014. Ask students:

  1. What do you see as you “approach” the family? What was missing from the first four photos that Lange felt she finally got in the fifth?
  2. The first photos are taken at a distance. The first shows all of the children, while the next three show just two of them. What do you notice about the final photo? (It is a close-up.) Do you think Lange made this choice to get closer deliberately? If so, what was she trying to capture?
  3. Why do you think the two older children are in the final photo? Do you think Lange asked them to step in?
  4. The mother has the same worried expression in all five photos; what does she do in the fifth that makes it even more powerful? Do you think she did this consciously, to give a better photo? Why do you think the children hide their faces?

Discussing student responses helps them understand that crafting a moment for a photo can be just as powerful as capturing one by surprise, and that sometimes photos are a mix of lucky accident (such as Lange finding this family), and careful artistry (taking multiple shots and possibly asking people to pose a little). Also, they can consider how editing photos, even to remove objects that someone judges as distracting (like with Filo’s photo), can undermine authenticity.

Try this exercise with other photos in the Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum collection. Students can choose a photo that speaks to them and research the photographer to find other photos on the same topics. They may assess the artistry that went into that photographer’s work, and what makes one or two of their photos famous while others on the same topic are not.

Selfie: Bringing Personal Meaning to Photos

EssentialLens_MakedaBestWhen students see a photograph in a classroom, a textbook, or a school project, they often treat it just like a poem or short story: they try to clearly state what the photo “means.” They believe that a photo has a unique, incontestable meaning that is clear to the perceptive viewer. A photographer wouldn’t take a photo without having a message in mind, the reasoning goes, so that message must be clear in the photo s/he took, and if I can’t find it, there’s something wrong with me.

It’s hard to convince students that this is not true (for photos or for poems and short stories, but we’ll stick with photos here). Photos cross a line between art and reportage. They can have a clear message when they are reportage. When they are art, they are open to almost endless personal interpretation. When they are a mix of both, photos can challenge the most perceptive viewer. The student looking at the photo is not just a data analysis machine taking in information and processing it. The power of photos is in their immediacy: they are shots of real people in real situations that the viewer takes in through the lens of her or his own life experience. In short, the viewer makes the meaning. As historian of photography Makeda Best puts it, instead of stopping at asking ourselves and our students what we see in a photo, we have to “look more closely and ask questions of why we see what we see.” This is a big shift. It gives the student authority over the photo instead of the other way around.

To teach students to use their own experiences to analyze a photo, practice on the photo mentioned below using the Focus In activity from Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. (Watch Makeda Best demonstrate the Focus In activity in the “A Closer Look” video.):

Start with Dorothea Lange’s masterpiece “Migrant Mother,” taken in 1936. Students may have seen it before. It is one of the most famous photos in the world. Too often, students move past their initial emotional reaction to this photo to try to discern its objective meaning. Following the steps in the Focus In Method for Analyzing Photographs, try to get your students back inside their own heads and hearts and experiences as they analyze “Migrant Mother.” Click on the link for a detailed description of each Focus In step. This step-by-step process can take the burden of finding meaning off students by encouraging them to make meaning.

Focus In Steps

Step 1: Observe

Step 2: Build on Your Observations

Step 3: Make Inferences

Step 4: Formulate Further Questions

Note: Here is a link to information about the photograph “Migrant Mother.”

 

How are you using photographs in your classes? Share in the comment section below.

Let Kids Read Whatever They Want!

“You can’t read that.”

“You shouldn’t read that.”

“Why would you read that?”

Leave kids alone. Let them read, for goodness sake!

Well-intentioned adults (teachers and parents) are doing a huge disservice to kids when we doubt their ability to read, when we censor what they read, and when we judge what they read. What happens? Kids stop reading.

We should celebrate that our kids are reading! Especially if they’re reading books (and not scores on video games). We shouldn’t be putting them down.

Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to challenge themselves with a complex text? It shows initiative. It shows their willingness to grapple. It shows their desire to read more. STOP telling them they can’t read certain books.

Children looking at picture books at school, Santa Clara, Utah. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326]

Children looking at picture books at school, Santa Clara, Utah. Credit: LOC, Prints & Photographs Division

Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to read books about controversial or gritty topics? It shows intellectual curiosity. It shows an interest in perspectives and worldviews different from their own. STOP telling them they shouldn’t read certain books.

Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to read all kinds of books? It shows they’re lovers of many types of writing and storylines instead of book snobs. Who are we to determine what are good and bad books for individual readers? Allow kids to form their own opinions. STOP judging their choices.

How many decisions do you think kids make in a day? We decide what they eat. We decide when they go to school. We decide what they read. We might give them options but ultimately, we decide what those options are. Kids make very few decisions – the ability to choose what they want to read should be one of them.

I take great pleasure in choosing books. One of my favorite things about finishing books is being able to choose the next one. I love being in book clubs because I eventually get to choose the book we read. (I pity the fool who tries to take that decision away from me!)

Instead of denying students the pleasure of choosing books, we should model our passion. Take, for instance, Ms. Bileni Teklu in Engaging With Literature, program 8, “Finding Common Ground.”

“…her students come to love reading because she is not dictating what they must read and when they must read it. These students have few choices in their personal lives, and so are especially appreciative of being able to choose what they read.”

In Classroom Lesson Plan: Independent Reading (also watch  the classroom video here), Ms. Teklu models her own decision-making process with students. She empowers them to make reading choices by sharing her personal experience.

I’m a literacy scholar. I’m a teacher educator. I’m a former classroom teacher. I know we need to teach district-sanctioned instructional materials. I know kids should be reading books at their independent level to build fluency. I know kids should be reading books at their instructional level during guided reading. I know kids should be reading complex texts during read-alouds. Effective literacy instruction requires us to make decisions about what kids read.

But, we should ensure kids have opportunities to choose their own books. And, we shouldn’t make them feel bad about their decisions. The consequences are too great.

Creating a High-Performance Learning Environment

learningclassroom_4All teachers want their classrooms to be engines of learning where students feel inspired to focus, think, and participate and know that they are expected to perform. There are many ways to create this kind of high-performance learning environment, from changing the way your room looks to rethinking your class structure. Let’s look at a few ideas and options to get started.

Setting the Standard

How do you set a high standard for student performance? It starts with your own vision for each class, before the school year begins. When you imagine your ideal classes, what do you see—what would you like to see? Students going over peer edits in pairs? Small groups analyzing a text or image? Whole-class discussions with full participation? Discussions led by students instead of you? Once you know what you want to see, brainstorm ideas for making it happen. How can you structure your classes to allow for this kind of activity? It might mean shortening lectures or moving them offline by flipping your classroom, at least part of the time. Or it could mean creating a new routine that allows students to move from lecture to discussion to individual work more frequently. As the school year progresses, you can fine-tune your changes. Learn more about “Starting in September”.

Once you have a strategy and a goal, explain them clearly to your students. Most teachers hand out a set of rules for behavior at the beginning of the year that describe policies for homework, grading, attendance, etc. Add your expectations for student performance to that handout. What level of analysis do you expect in class discussions? How often do you expect them to lead a small group through an assignment? How often will you ask someone to engage you in a dialogue in front of the class? How many revisions will they be expected to do for major pieces of writing? These specific guidelines alert students to the level of performance you are expecting of them.

Staging the Room

In the elementary grades, there can be more flexibility to create open spaces and small group learning stations than in the middle and high school grades because there is more understanding that younger students need to move around and shift focus over the course of the school day. Since their students are in the same room for most of the day, elementary teachers have developed many clever ways to change up the scenery from morning to afternoon. Gathering in reading circles, moving through stations, and creating places for quiet, independent work are all part of this environment.

Observe the classrooms in these workshops to see examples of engaging learning environments:

But what about the older grades? Most middle and high school classrooms do not feature cozy rugs and library corners. Step into the average 8th or 11th-grade classroom and you still find rows of desks facing the front of the room. Students don’t move around the room, and their focus remains in one place for the duration of the class. Teachers who are in constant motion may see this as a positive, but it can be paralyzing for students. When the body checks out, the mind often follows, and the longer a student is not allowed to move or speak, the more likely it is that s/he will drift. Students fight this battle to keep their minds alert while their bodies remain static every day.

In the older grades, you can address this threat to high performance in a few ways. An easy place to start is the seating chart. It’s easy to seat students in pairs without having to restructure your whole classroom; once this is done, take a few short breaks during your lecture to allow the student pairs to share notes, ask questions, or complete a quick activity or solve a problem. When you resume your lecture, begin by asking a few pairs for their thoughts or solutions. Change the seating chart frequently so students end up working with everyone in the class at least once a term. In addition, work in opportunities for collaborative grouping and for independent study to allow introverts time to work alone.

Making Tactical Changes

Here are some quick ideas for ramping up student performance:

  • Question the content. Why do we need to learn history? When will we ever use this math again? Why do we need to graph this data? Do regular reality checks on the subject at hand, and don’t provide the answers—guide students to find and describe real applications of and real meaning in the work they are doing. If that meaning is hard to find, challenge students to delve into the subject and find a purpose for it.
  • Re-evaluate your routine. Is every part of your class structure working? For example, if you always have students do a quick problem before your lecture, and you answer the problem in your lecture, students may just skip solving the problem. That’s wasted time for you and for them. Consider shifting the activity from written to oral by asking students how they would solve the problem. Then incorporate their responses into your lecture.
  • Create a space for vulnerability. This is hard. School is a public forum and many students don’t want to make themselves vulnerable by participating in class. It’s up to you to model vulnerability: be willing to say “I don’t know”, be willing to laugh at yourself, be willing to change your mind based on what you hear from your students. Be in real dialogue with your students—let them see that their ideas can impact your own. When you are willing to let students shine their own spotlight on you, they will be more willing to also step into it themselves.

Most important to high-performance is this golden rule: generate goodwill. If students see that you are consistently respectful and thoughtful, they will participate more readily and sign on to your vision. When students see that you are committed to increasing their performance, they will more readily share that commitment. Learn more about building student trust, no matter what subject you teach, by watching The Art of Teaching the Arts, workshop 5, “Creating Rich Learning Environments” and reading our blog post “Get Ready: Build a Learning Community.”

For more on creating a High-Performance Learning Environment, see The Learning Classroom: Theory into Practice for all K-12 teachers.

Teaching with Twitter

Twitter_logo_blue copyToday it seems like everyone is on Twitter, following and/or being followed. There’s a hashtag for everything (#chestnuts, anyone?) and much of the traffic is devoted to fun and games and news. But away from the chatter, there is also a steady stream of educational Twitter use. It makes sense: Twitter is free, easy to use, and most high school students are already on it.

But as late as September 2014, Ben Stern of TeachBoost described teachers who are heavily engaged with Twitter as “outliers”. Why? Some school districts don’t allow in-school use of social media, of course, but that’s not the whole reason. Many teachers who have not yet used Twitter as part of their curriculum may be holding out for some concrete examples of using Twitter with their students. If that’s you, you’re in luck. We provide some great examples right here:

Hold Tweet Chats and Conversations

Have students who don’t like to speak up in class? Of course you do. Twitter allows students to comment and contribute to classroom discussions without raising their hand. Have students who can’t stop speaking up in class? Twitter’s 140-character format discourages long harangues and allows for more equal participation.

The joy of Twitter is that it expands the definition of student participation, both in class and well after the bell rings. Tweet a question like “Who’s most responsible for the tragic introduction of Jim Crow segregation law?” during your U.S. history class at 9:00 AM and you’ll be reading tweet after tweet on the subject well after 9:00 PM, and into the next day and the next—for as long as you keep the topic open. Discussions that light up Twitter go on to feed vibrant and informed classroom discussions.

Don’t forget to add custom made hashtags so that you and your students can easily follow the conversation. George Couros offers some tips to create classroom hashtags for Twitter on his blog.

If you prefer more structure to your Twitter chat, ask students to discuss a question for homework within a specific time frame (on Tuesday evening from 7-9 pm, for example) to give students a window for participation. Designate a hashtag for the assignment and tweet out the question with that hashtag at 7pm to get the students going.

Elicit Peer Feedback in Real Time

Ever notice how people at conferences tweet like mad during the presentations? (Are you one of them?) They’re giving instant feedback on speakers and ideas to their network and getting responses right away. By the time the speaker is finished, their thoughts have already gone around the world twice and been thoroughly hashed and re-hashed by their peers before the live discussion in the conference room even begins. Your students can do the same thing: have them tweet questions and comments during videos or student presentations so that when it’s time to talk, the conversation is already in motion. For example, if your science class watched “Biodiversity Decline”, program 9 of Annenberg Learner’s series The Habitable Planet, they could tweet questions and comments about the episode using the hashtag #HP9discuss.

Have Students Tweet in Character

Taking on a persona can be a tough sell in the classroom. Few students want to stand up and deliver a presentation in character (especially in costume) as a figure from the past or from literature. But ask them to tweet from the perspective of a Revolutionary soldier or Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games and it’s a different story. Tweeting allows students to create a longer-term project of living inside a character’s head from day to day, expressing concise thoughts from their point of view over a longer time period that immerses them in the character—especially when they have to answer questions as the character.

Involve the Community

Students can also reach beyond their peers to begin meaningful dialogues with people outside the classroom. You can help them come up with questions for local political candidates, performers, business owners, and more to inform in-school projects and help create socially engaged members of your city and state.

Follow News and Issues

Have students track specific issues in the local, national, or world news as they are being tweeted about (#climatechange for example) to get a sense of how those issues are being discussed at large.

Encourage Group Work

Twitter can get students cooperating as a group. For your next reading or video assignment, organize your class into groups and have each group post a summary. It’s hard work to summarize any resource in 140 characters! Tweeting content like this forces students to really single out the main point of a text. You can have students vote on the best summary, or choose and retweet it yourself.

As students do all these things on Twitter, you are able to track their activity and get a good sense of where to go in your next classroom session. Afraid of spending hours each day tracking hundreds of student tweets? You can spread out Twitter-based assignments. Even one a month will give your students the benefits of the format without keeping you chained to your web browser. If your students and school have internet access, try one of the strategies above to join the “outlier” teachers who are teaching with Twitter.

What’s your experience with using Twitter? Let us know by posting a comment. (Don’t forget to follow @AnnLearner on Twitter!)

Prevention Month Recruits Parents, Students, and Teachers to End Bullying

antibullying pic_SPcreatedPSFor children and adolescents across America, October is usually a festive time of year, associated with costumes, candy, haunted houses, and corn mazes. Since 2006, though, October also marks National Bullying Prevention Month, an awareness campaign started by the PACER Center. Rejecting the idea that bullying is simply a normal part of childhood, PACER initially developed a bullying awareness week that would take place every October. National Bullying Prevention Week grew into an entire month in 2010.

The theme for 2014’s National Bullying Prevention Month is “The End of Bullying Begins with Me.” Already this year, students across the country have celebrated by participating in anti-bullying 5K runs, wearing blue for the World Day of Bullying Prevention, and signing online petitions. In the last week of October, students have the opportunity to combine Halloween with bullying prevention. While trick-or-treating, participating children and teens can hand out cards to the neighbors and community members, encouraging them to sign an online bullying prevention pledge.

This year’s awareness month also has special significant since, in January 2014, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created the first federal uniform definition of bullying. The definition was developed in order to aid in the research and monitoring of bullying – specifically its effects and prevalence, determining who is at risk, and, most importantly, what can be done to prevent it.

The official definition from the government agency marks another departure from viewing bullying as a harmless rite of passage. It is increasingly considered a public health threat.

Between one in four and one in three students say they have been bullied. These are alarming statistics since the effects of bullying can include decreased academic performance, lower scores on standardized tests, and struggles with depression and anxiety that continue into adulthood. Connections between bullying and suicide, however, are often oversimplified. It’s important to know that no direct cause and effect relationship has been established between bullying and suicidal behavior

To prevent bullying in their classroom, teachers may benefit from understanding how a student’s emotional state affects his or her ability to learn and function in school. Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 2, discusses how, even without bullying, children and adolescents have trouble understanding their emotions and the emotions of others. They can be easily swept away by negative emotions, and the result is that students may not be able to motivate themselves or engage in meaningful learning.

While the science behind bullying prevention has uncovered many useful facts and statistics, researchers have yet to identify the best way to prevent bullying. However, most agree that prevention and awareness require a community effort.

For parents and teachers, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the KnowBullying mobile app, which has specific resources for educators, information about warning signs, and even a feature that reminds adults that it is time to talk to their children or students about bullying.

While dedicating a month to prevention of the epidemic of bullying is admirable, awareness needs to be a priority the entire year.

Share the ways in which you raise awareness for bullying prevention among your students in the comments section below.

How can schools prepare for discussions of controversial issues? (Part II)

MCR D7 TalkOn Monday, we looked at the reasons why schools should allow discussions of controversial issues. See Part I. Now let’s address the how.

What can school leaders do? Schools could preemptively address parental and other concerns by preparing teachers through professional development and appropriate planning. The following are just a few ideas to consider so that current news events may enrich instead of derail curriculum plans.

1. Set up the school-wide goals. What do you want students to gain from the experience? Will they learn to think objectively? Discuss difficult topics while respecting each other? Examine historical influences on current events? Collect facts and differentiate between credible resources and voices that are just stoking a fire? Brainstorm ways they can work towards a solution for the community?

2. Discuss appropriate approaches for these conversations. Meet with teachers early in the school year and determine procedures and guidelines. For example, not everyone will agree that opinions need to be left out of the conversation, but we are human and we arrive to the discussion table full of opinions, preconceptions, and biases. What are appropriate ways to deal with the whole human package that the school and parents would be comfortable with?

3. Determine which professionals in the school would be best to handle discussions. Do students have advisers or a school counselor that they can talk to? Are there teachers in the building who are willing to tackle issues with their students and who have expertise they could share with the group? Social studies and literature teachers could offer natural safe spaces for students to work on issues.

4. Designate a liaison between the school and the parents and guardians. This person, whether an administrator, teacher, or parent volunteer, can provide parents with information and field questions and concerns. Consider developing guidelines for how administrators and teachers will handle any challenges to or concerns about the classroom discussions.

5. Respect an individual’s preference to sit out of the conversation. Not every teacher will be comfortable talking about difficult issues with their students, and that’s valid. Some teachers might recognize that they have a bias due to personal experience or just might not feel comfortable leading a discussion safely. What resources can these teachers direct students towards when questions occur?

What can individual teachers do? At the individual teacher level, here are some ideas for guiding students in respectful conversations about controversial topics and what it means to be a part of a community. (These videos below could also be used for professional development on this topic.)

1. Develop students’ understanding of multiple points of view. For example, teacher Wendy Eubank’s students simulate a town hall meeting, role playing characters that have a stake in an outcome, so they can learn to express their ideas freely. Students have researched facts from multiple sources and are asked to consider multiple viewpoints. Watch Social Studies in Action, program 31, “Dealing with Controversial Issues,” to see this and other examples of activities at varying grade levels.

2. Structure discussions to allow every student a chance to share, listen, and evolve. For example, JoEllen Ambrose does a fantastic job leading students through a discussion about individual rights versus public safety related to news topics students are already familiar with. She asks for students to respond to questions physically and verbally, by grouping themselves by agreement and providing personal examples to support their opinions. Watch students specifically discuss their ideas about police power and individual rights, especially related to racial profiling. See workshop 7, “Controversial Public Policy Issues,” of Making Civics Real.

3. Empower students to act as a member of a community. In the introductory video for Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ Martina Grant’s students discuss their “universe of obligation;” reasons why people choose to act and not to act during times of crisis; and how history is connected to their own lives and experiences. Once we understand why individuals or communities fail to act during a time of crisis, we can work together to propose possible solutions or realistic ways people can act.

News comes and goes as one event overshadows another. Underlying themes and issues persist, and teaching students how to discuss these themes and work together to build a stronger community that can problem-solve should be an important goal of any school. Meanwhile, the beauty of the internet is that resources we often need are a click away. Please share more links and ideas that you find helpful on this topic in the comments. I started a list here.

Here are some links to some additional resources:
Discussing Controversial Public Issues in the Classroom, via TeachingHistory.org
Michael Brown, via Facing History.org
Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply, via Edutopia

Should schools allow discussions of controversial issues? (Part I)

MakingCivicsReal_7[OP-ED] On Saturday, August 9 in Ferguson, Mo., a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, a young black man, sparking protests in the town and discussions about race and history across the United States. On August 21, Ed Week reported that the superintendent of a nearby school district banned the discussion of the events in Ferguson, Mo. in schools, because “parents complained … that some teachers were interjecting their own opinions into class discussions rather than objectively guiding discussion for students.”

While it’s true that discussions about emotionally charged or controversial issues must be handled carefully in the classroom, what message do teachers send when they have to tell their students, “We are not allowed to talk about that here?” And while parents certainly have a right to be concerned about how teachers will address difficult topics in their classrooms, silencing the discussion all together is not an answer. The ability to discuss public controversy is a sign of a healthy democracy and a right we can share with our students. Preparing a plan for discussing national news events as they occur could help avoid the “shut it down” effect, which cuts off golden learning opportunities to build better thinkers and stronger communities.

School is most likely one of the best places to address controversial news topics, and there are several benefits to providing students a forum to express themselves. (Similar discussions already occur in literature and social studies lessons as students read and talk about literary works and historical themes.)

First, students are already talking about events as they occur, so they will be easily engaged and invested in learning experiences tied to these topics. In the classroom, teachers, as objective moderators, are able to guide students in thoughtful discussions in a safe space.

Second, controversial issues offer teachers an opportunity to develop students’ critical thinking and analytical skills, goals of the Common Core Standards. For example, they may examine the role that emotions and personal biases play in how people initially react to a national news event like Brown’s death and the resulting protests and police response. With appropriate activities, students learn to review available information, evaluate sources, consider multiple perspectives, and propose solutions.

In addition, allowing students and teachers to talk about timely events and controversial issues creates a sense of community and empowers students to take productive actions to correct wrongs within the school, city, even nation or world.

Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments and look for Part II on Wednesday: How can schools prepare for controversial discussions?

(The views expressed by the authors of Learner Log blog posts are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or endorsement of Annenberg Learner or the Annenberg Foundation.)

Using Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Why should you consider teaching with graphic novels?

WorldLit_Odyssey_RoyThomascomic

The Odyssey comic written by Roy Thomas, et al. See Thomas talk about his experience with the work in Invitation to World Literature.

Kids read graphic novels – walk into any library or bookstore and you will find young readers hanging out in the manga and comics aisles. So, why aren’t teachers using more graphic novels in their classrooms? One of the main reasons is due to a bias against graphic novels as a “legitimate” text; however, this bias is being chipped away as research supports the efficacy of using graphic novels in the classroom. Yildirim (2013) writes, “The increasing popularity of graphic novels has transformed it into a powerful medium of expression. Once regarded as only a means of amusement lacking literary insight and merit, graphic novels have evolved into a respected and well-regarded genre of literature which deserves a permanent place in the literary world” (122).

Graphic novels are popular and prevalent today because these texts offer a diverse range in complexity and topics/issues in addition to crossing genres. Today’s graphic novels are about more than just superheroes, science-fiction and fantasy (Gorman, 2002) – they can be used in all content areas as there are graphic novels about history, science, and major literary works. Furthermore, graphic novels not only target teen readers, but are also making an impact in the early/emerging reader markets (Brown, 2013). Simply put, there is a graphic novel for everyone.

There are many benefits to using graphic novels in the classroom.

1. They can be used to build students’ reading and writing skills (Frey and Fisher, 2004; Yildirim, 2012; Brown, 2013). They offer multilevel reading experiences, as reading the words and images builds students’ basic reading skills and analytical skills (Yildirim, 2013).

2. Graphic novels provide support for struggling readers, including English learners, by addressing multiple learning modalities. Hassett & Schieble (2007) indicate that graphic novels facilitate comprehension by combining images with texts, making them particularly helpful for visual learners. Graphic novels also provide a path for more complex reading by building reading fluency and reading confidence (Yildirim, 2013).

3. Graphic novels build students’ reading habits; for example, Schwarz (2002) found that graphic novels were a source of motivation and stimulation for struggling and reluctant readers.

4. Graphic novels can boost students’ critical thinking skills, creativity, and imagination (Yildirim, 2013).

Graphic novels benefit all readers. As McTaggert (2008) indicated, “[Graphic novels] enable the struggling reader, motivate the reluctant one, and challenge the high-level learner” (32). Reading a graphic novel requires students to make inferences and draw conclusions from the images and text while being supported by visuals and pacing. I would argue that in some ways, reading a graphic novel is more complicated than reading a traditional novel in that graphic novel readers have to rely on non-textual cues to derive meanings and they also have to rely more heavily on their inferring skills.

It makes sense that today’s digitally-oriented students would find graphic novels appealing. These students are used to surfing the internet, navigating multiple open windows of content, and reading messages from various social media sources. Our students have been reading graphically for years!

Resources for Using Graphic Novels in Your Literature Classroom

Annenberg Learner provides several resources to graphically enhance your classroom instruction. Invitation to World Literature is a comprehensive resource for learning about literature from around the world and across time. There are several programs within the series that could support learning about graphic novels.

1. “Journey to the West” is a classic Chinese story about the Stone Monkey King. In this program, you’ll find videos, texts, maps, slideshow of images, and connections to graphic novels. This unit would pair nicely with a study of Gene Luen Yang’s “The Shadow Hero,” a graphic novel about the Asian-American superhero, The Green Turtle. (Also, make sure to check out Yang’s other graphic novels.)

2. The video introducing “The Epic of Gilgamesh” presents comic book artist Jim Starlin. Starlin wrote a comic book series, “Gilgamesh II,” for DC Comics. Students might find it interesting to learn more about him as he is best known for re-inventing Marvel Comics superheroes, Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock. He also co-created Thanos and Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu.

3. Roy Thomas is another comic book artist featured in the program “The Odyssey.” Thomas was Stan Lee’s first successor as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. He is famous for writing graphic novels for “X-Men,” “Conan the Barbarian,” and “The Avengers.” He has also written titles for “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad.”

4. Lastly, the program on “The Thousand and One Nights” also features a comic novelist, Bill Willingham. He created the DC comics series “Fables” and wrote a comic novel entitled “1001 Nights of Snowfall,” which would be a nice pairing for this program. Students might get a kick out of studying how Willingham puts a unique spin on classic stories.

 

How are you using graphic novels in your classroom?

 

References

Brown, S. (2013). A blended approach to reading and writing graphic novels. The Reading Teacher, 67(3), 208-219.

Gorman, M. (2002). What teens want. School Library Journal, 48, 42-47.

Hassett, D. D, & Schieble, M. B. (2007). Finding space and time for the visual in K-12 literacy instruction. The English Journal, 97(1), 62-68.

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2004). Using graphic novels, anime, and the Internet in an urban high school. The English Journal, 93(3), 19-25.

McTaggert, J. (2008). Graphic novels: The good, the bad, and the ugly. In N. Frey, & D. Fisher (Eds.), Teaching visual literacy: Using comic books, graphic novels, anime, cartoons, and more to develop comprehension and thinking skills (pp. 27-46). CA: Corwin Press.

Schwarz, G. E. (2002). Graphic books for diverse needs: Engaging reluctant and curious readers. The ALAN Review, 3(1), 54-57.

Yidirim, A.H. (2013). Using graphic novels in the classroom. Journal of Language and Literature Education, 8. 118-131.

 

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.