Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Make Primary Sources More Accessible with Read-Alouds

TML_7_readaloudHow well can you read this excerpt?

…a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit: “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom…

The Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

Personally, I stopped reading and started skimming after “to wit.” What makes this text complex? Everything. First, the text contains challenging vocabulary words including but not limited to proclamation, to wit, whereof, thenceforward, authority, thereof, and repress. Second, it uses a sentence structure and language that is not familiar to our 21st century ears. Third, it requires knowledge of the historical time and politics in order to comprehend it. As such, it is an inconsiderate text as written. (To learn more about this specific primary source, review the Primary Sources workshop entitled, “Concerning Emancipation: Who Freed the Slaves?”)

Primary sources, especially historical documents like “The Emancipation Proclamation,” are not easy reading for our students. These documents often employ “technical” jargon and/or are written in historically-specific language. Students need support in deconstructing these texts – this support can be provided via instructional read-alouds. In doing so, teachers give students models for how to read and think about complex texts.

According to Annenberg Learner’s Primary Sources: Workshops in American History, primary sources are “firsthand evidence and artifacts of the past [including] letters, photographs, maps, government documents, diaries, oral accounts, pamphlets, or leaflets.” It is important for students to read and grapple with these primary source texts because they are the basis of our historical knowledge. However, because of the text complexity, teachers may choose to provide students with summaries or abridged versions instead. I would like to challenge teachers to support students in their reading of the actual documents.

There are several read-aloud strategies that will help make these texts more accessible to students. Here are two of my favorites:

Questioning the Author or QtA

My favorite instructional read-aloud approach is Questioning the Author or QtA (Beck & McKeown, 2006). Teachers help students actively build reading comprehension by asking queries during the read-aloud; these queries require students to refer to the text and seek evidence from the text to support their responses. Queries include: What does the author tell us here? Why do you think the author tells us this now? In addition, teachers explain complex vocabulary and content as they read. This is especially important for reading primary sources. Teachers are available to address challenging ideas during the reading as students build their comprehension. Teachers help build the context so that students aren’t confused by missing information. At the same time, teachers using QtA hold their students accountable for comprehending the text as a group.

Think-Aloud

Another strategy that will help students learn to effectively grapple with reading primary sources is the Think-Aloud (Wilhelm, 2003). As teachers read aloud a primary source, they should stop at difficult words and sections and ask, “Does this make sense?” Teachers then say out loud to the students why these parts are complex and what they plan on doing to decrease the complexity. In doing so, teachers model for students that all readers grapple with text and that there are effective strategies for comprehension.

These strategies are supportive and educative. Teachers support students in their comprehension of the text by stopping frequently during the read-aloud and guiding students’ interactions with the text. The strategies are educative because they help model for students how to be proficient readers. As such, the reading of primary source documents can be demystified for students.

Learn more about read-alouds in general in Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action.”

References

Beck, I, L. & McKeown, M.G. (2006). Improving comprehension with Questioning the Author: A fresh and expanded view of a powerful approach. NY: Scholastic.

Wilhelm, J. (2003). Navigating meaning: Using Think-Alouds to help readers monitor comprehension. Retrieved from: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/495

How to Teach Historical Documents

Democracy in America_2Imagine an adorable mini-version of me reciting the following words, “We the people of the United States…”

In the fifth grade, I remember memorizing the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution for a school play. I also remember reading textbook entries about it; thus, I was able to answer questions such as: Who wrote it? When and where was it written? Why was it written?

What I don’t remember is actually reading the document or grappling with its content. I did not answer questions that promoted higher order thinking like: What is the historical significance of the Constitution given the time period? How did the document reflect the social and political thinking of the time? How is the document relevant to me today?

Students need opportunities to explore more robust questions about the contexts of historical documents. For example, in “The Constitution: Fixed or Flexible?,” program 2 of Democracy in America, students study the document as a “living” entity. They examine their own role in perpetuating the principles set forth in the Constitution. They answer such questions as: What are some of the disputes over the Constitution’s wording that persist today? Why do some people consider the Constitution as a timeless, perfect document while others view the Constitution as a living document to be reinterpreted by each generation? In exploring these questions, students learn that the Constitution is a product of its people and that it is perpetuated by the people.

In particular and as described in the Artifacts & Fiction workshops (halfway down the web page), I like the CAATS strategy, which encourages students to study the Creator, Assumptions, Audience/User, Time and Place, and Significance of a historical document. An overview of this strategy is provided in the following table:

Creator: Who created this artifact? What do we know about the person(s) who created it? How did it influence his/her life at the time it was created? Would the creator find relevant connections to the literature you are pairing with this artifact?
Assumptions: What do you know about the context of this artifact? What assumptions can you make based on prior information that you bring to this analysis?
Audience/User: Who was the audience for this object when it was originally created? What leads you to this assumption?
Time and Place: When and where was this artifact created?
Significance: Why is this artifact important? How does it help explain the literature you are teaching with it? Does the context of the artifact parallel the context of your literature?

 

In Primary Sources: Workshops in American History, also find “Examining Documents and Images,” a resource guide with strategies to teach students how to read primary sources skeptically and critically. This workshop also offers webpages on several historical documents; these pages provide historical background and robust questions about the document. For example, the webpages featuring “The Declaration of Independence” and “Emancipation Proclamation” provide teachers with a brief historical background and questions about the documents.

Students will greatly benefit from studying historical documents from various and multiple perspectives and/or lenses (Appleman, 2010). By having students study the contexts of historical documents, teachers are building a rich knowledge base for students – one that supports agency and advocacy. By helping students go beyond “what is this document” to also examining “why this document” and “how this document,” then we are empowering students to understand their own roles and responsibilities.

How are you teaching about historical documents in your classes? Please share in the comments section under this post.

References

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

Teach Your Students to Argue Effectively

TML_7_3Have you ever met anyone with uninformed opinions? Didn’t it make you want to explode (or at the very least, lament the decline of mankind by eating pie)? Reasoning is one of our most powerful assets. As teachers, we have the opportunity to prepare students for a good old-fashioned banter. We need to teach students how to effectively argue so that they can engage in productive thinking and be active citizens of their communities. Otherwise, we are at risk for producing students who limit their own learning potential by focusing on regurgitation versus critical thinking.

First, take a minute to read the CCSS Anchor Standards for Writing as it pertains to argument:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

When we argue, we are assuming a position with the purpose of persuading readers or rather, convincing them of our opinion; this is active work, work that requires agency on the part of the writer. This agency is what 21st century literacies demand of its citizens; for example, Franklin and van Harmelan (2007) write, “In Web 1.0 a few content authors provided content for a wide audience of relatively passive readers. However, in Web 2.0 everyday users of the web use the web as a platform to generate, re-purpose, and consume shared content” (3). Argument writing is a tool that enables and empowers students to participate in and contribute to various discourses.

Argument writing pushes students to go beyond just knowing content; it forces them to actually do something with the content. Arguing requires students to ground their thinking in evidence from the text; in fact, this evidence-grounding is one of the main instructional shifts in English Language Arts. Teachers need to spend more instructional time teaching argument writing, which encompasses teaching students how to opine and how to write persuasive texts.

Let’s consider the discipline of history: We want students to go beyond just reciting facts and dates; we want them to make historical arguments and interpretations. We also want them to become adept at using textual evidence to support their claims. Historians and social scientists actively study and inquire – they do not just regurgitate facts; they examine the evidence and create claims based on the evidence. We need to help students understand that data is a live entity and that it requires our careful and critical reading and crafting. (Questions like, “Whose history is being represented here?” and “Why is this history being told in this way?” help build students’ inquiry skills which promotes their argumentation skills.)

This semester, I asked my pre-service teachers (graduate students) to write a historical argument paper. Because of the CCSS’s emphasis on argument writing, I wanted to make sure that my graduate students knew how to create arguments since they would be required to teach their students how to do the same. The process for this task is outlined below: 

Steps and Tasks: Prompts and Instructions

1. Pick a topic: What do you want to study?

2. Design your inquiry question: Narrow your topic. This question should guide your research and examine your topic deeply. Consider specific perspectives and lenses.

3. Conduct research: Guided by your inquiry question, conduct research. Critically read primary and secondary sources.

4. Craft a claim or argument: The claim is essentially the answer to your inquiry question as a result of your research. It is important to craft your claim/argument after conducting research so that your thinking is driven by the data. This claim needs to be arguable, meaning someone can deny your claim and argue an opposite point.

5. Provide examples: Use research data to support your claim/argument. Craft examples so that they prove your point. Use linking words and phrases and be explicit about how your example connects to your claim/argument.

6. Craft a conclusion: Answer the question, “So what?” Your conclusion should not be a regurgitation or restatement of your points. This is your closing argument like in a court case. Connect to a bigger issue. Address implications.

 

Need more ideas? Find several resources to help teach argument writing on the Annenberg Learner website:

REFERENCES:

Franklin, T. & Harmelan, M. van (2007). Web 2.0 for content for learning and teaching in higher education. York, UK: Franklin Consulting.

CCSS website: www.corestandards.org

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.

 

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.

MultiCultLit_reed

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?

References

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?

TeachingMath_6

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

Mathematics:
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:
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.