Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Pearl Harbor Remembrance

BioofAm_22_wwii_screenOn December 7, 1941, a Japanese air armada attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, leading the United States to officially enter World War II the next day. The war ended in August 1945 after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Historians discuss the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath in A Biography of America, program 22, “World War II.” This program also asks you to consider whether or not the wartime internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans was appropriate.

Writer Lawson Fusao Inada, featured in The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, session 8, writes about his experiences in the wartime internment.  Read an interview with Inada, and listen to the author read poetry from Drawing the Line that explores themes of dislocation and American identity.

U.S. Thanksgiving Day: Historical Perspective

quakersimagenovupdateThe first Thanksgiving was celebrated by Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors and allies in 1621. While the holiday is often depicted as emblematic of the American experience, historical records tell a different story about relations between native peoples and European settlers.

The first theme in America’s History in the Making, unit 3, “Colonial Designs,” delves into the period between the 1580s and 1680s when European nations and trading companies competed to establish colonies in North America and define colonists’ relations with Native American tribes.

Learn about the early American settlers, including Puritans and Quakers, and their optimistic plans to create utopian societies in the New World in the video for American Passages, unit 3, “Utopian Promise.”

To spark discussion, questions about conflicting early views and persistent stereotypes of Native Americans can be found in the Context Activities section of this unit.

Authors covered in this unit include William Penn, William Bradford, and Anne Bradstreet.

Make Reading A Part of Every Day

VLH get caught photo“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” ~Groucho Marx

There is nothing better in life than reading books with my dog, Woody! Reading in the Hagan house is a special time. My husband and I read for at least 20 minutes a day. No matter how busy we think we are, we always take the time to read a good book. (A family that reads together, stays together.) Give me a book, my dog, and a small corner of the world!

Do you remember SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) and/or DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time? Teachers give students an opportunity to independently read in class. This is sacred time. I remember this being my favorite part of the school day. I carefully selected books. I forgot about my to-do list. I escaped into the pages. Most importantly, I relished in being a member of a community of readers.

In the name of test preparation and/or “instructional minutes,” sometimes teachers have had to sacrifice this reading time. I’d like to reiterate the importance of providing our students time to read, with us. If we are to develop lifelong readers, we need to make sure students see adults and peers reading. Students need time to practice their reading skills. They need to build a love for reading.

To encourage students and their families to read, I suggest creating a “Get Caught Reading” calendar with your class. May is “Get Caught Reading” month, but really any month is a good month to read. According to the “Get Caught Reading” website, this initiative is a “national campaign to remind people of all ages how much fun it is to read.” During the month of May (or June, or whenever), take pictures of your students reading during SSR or DEAR time. Have students take pictures of their family members reading. Encourage a community around reading – and document it!

I recently got caught reading The Tale of Genji. Watch Invitation to World Literature‘s program on “The Tale of Genji,” and be inspired to read this great book as well.

Remember – When you get caught reading, make sure you are reading something you want to get caught reading. P.J. O’Rourke said, “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” Just something to think about. :)

What are you reading with your students?

Caught Reading: The Soul of an Octopus

Jenny Get Caught photoThree years ago on a family car trip I started reading a magazine article about octopuses out loud to my husband and daughters, who then were 14 and 10 years old. It held everyone’s attention for more than 20 miles. In the article Sy Montgomery, an award-winning science and nature writer, described meeting a sweet-tempered octopus named Athena at the New England Aquarium and learning about how amazingly intelligent these creatures are. My girls shrieked with laughter as Montgomery described octopuses escaping from laboratory tanks and evading college students who tried to catch them.

Now Montgomery has expanded her encounter with octopuses into a book that’s packed with amazing facts about these alien but engaging creatures. Did you know that octopuses can taste with their skin? That they’re deft and curious enough to take apart a Mr. Potato Head toy for fun? That they’re extremely social with people, and will hold onto a trusted person’s hands and arms for hours? Or that these shape-shifters can squeeze through tiny holes and transform their bodies, changing their skin’s color, pattern, and texture in less than a second?

The Soul of an Octopus is also full of behind-the-scenes stories about the New England Aquarium, where Montgomery spent many hours getting to know cephalopods (the class of marine mollusks that includes octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish). She recounts how keepers tackle challenges like luring reclusive electric eels out from hiding so visitors can see them, and describes the many practical roles that slime plays in the ocean. Her writing is deceptively clear and simple. Here’s how she explains that octopuses clearly have “theory of mind” – the ability to perceive what another creature is thinking:

“An octopus must convince many species of predators and prey that it is really something else. Look! I’m a blob of ink. No, I’m a coral. No, I’m a rock! The octopus must assess whether the other animal believes its ruse or not, and if not, try something different.”

May 2015 is Get Caught Reading Month. If you want to engage middle or high school science students, pick this book up, crack it open to any chapter, and start reading aloud.

Caught Reading: The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649

Lori_GetCRead15What must it be like to go to a place you have never seen, or even heard reliable reports of, and rebuild your whole world from scratch? That’s the challenge the first Puritan settlers in today’s Massachusetts faced in 1630. As you can imagine, the amount of trial and error in their project to build a Godly commonwealth in America was huge. Without the leadership of John Winthrop, I’d say it would have failed—a dozen times.

Winthrop’s Journal is his day-to-day account of events huge, large, medium, small, and tiny. No member of the company was too small or insignificant for him to notice and have concern for. In December 1630, the first winter, he noted not only that the frozen rivers made it impossible for the people of Charleston to sail across to attend church in Boston, but that “many of our sheep and goats were forced to be still abroad for want of houses”.

Winthrop was not above a little moralizing (during the tough days of that first winter, he claims that “those that fell into discontent” and homesickness for England died while others who did not survived), but overall the man who comes through to us in his Journal is one who put justice, peace, and love above all else, humbly accepting criticism when it came to him, and gently refusing high honors that would single him out from the rest of his company. His passionate devotion to the little commonwealth created in Massachusetts was strong enough to lead him to prepare the colony for war with England if King Charles I tried to impose a royally appointed governor (instead of an elected governor). Winthrop recounts how, at an emergency meeting in January 1635, he led the government and ministers in deciding “what we ought to do if a General Governor should be sent out of England… they all agreed that if a General Governor were sent we ought not to accept him but defend our lawful possessions (if we were able); otherwise to avoid or protract.” This is a striking declaration of independence that is never taught in high school American history classrooms.

Winthrop wrote in the third-person because he planned on publishing his Journal as an official history of the colony’s founding. It stands today as a wonderful glimpse into the life and energy of early Massachusetts, and as a tribute to its governor.

Learn more about Winthrop in the video and on his biography page for American Passages, unit 3, “Utopian Promise.”

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.

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:


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

Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands Hosts a Meeting Between East and West

Home_MainImage_SunnylandsThis week U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Estate Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California.  The estate was the winter home of Ambassador Walter and Leonore Annenberg and has recently been re-established as a retreat for high-level meetings such as this one.

What will the two leaders talk about?  The press suggests that cyber security will be high on the list of topics, as well as global international hot spots.  But before the two men get to those subjects, they will no doubt spend time admiring the beauty of the estate, its gardens, and the numerous works of art that the Annenbergs had collected over the years. 

They might admire the Annenbergs’ collection of Chinese porcelain. See an example here. View a museum quality porcelain plate from the Tang dynasty and learn how the Chinese artisans made porcelain that was copied worldwide but never equaled in our online resource Art Through Time: A Global View.

No doubt Presidents Obama and Xi will discuss global as well as domestic economic matters.  In discussions of this sort it is helpful to have a grasp of similar issues both countries face.  The Power of Place: Geography for the 21st Century provides a case study of two Chinese cities on the physical and cultural frontiers of the country: Lanzhou and Shenyang. This case study turns up familiar themes from cities in transition — an influx of foreigners, urbanization, and industrialization.

When it is time to relax, the leaders might enjoy watching the antics of a classic and beloved Chinese cultural figure: the Monkey King, depicted in the tale Journey to the West, which was regarded in China as one of the great masterpieces of its era, according to Harvard Professor of Comparative Literature David Damrosch.  They can watch a video on the work that is part of the series Invitation to World Literature and hear from some of the foremost scholars and artists on the story’s longevity and influence through the ages.

Since security will be tight at the meeting, you can visit Learner.org and immerse yourself in Chinese art, literature, and geography and savor the parts of the historic meeting that didn’t make the headlines.

A Jazz Festival in Your Classroom

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

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

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

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

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


Langston Hughes in Focus

LangstonHughes_Teaching Multicultural Lit_6

Writer Langston Hughes believed that art should be accessible to all. He used his poetic voice to speak to all Americans about racial, political, and economic justice. Biographer Arnold Rampersad wrote of Hughes, “His art was firmly rooted in race pride and race feeling, even as he cherished his freedom as an artist…” Use the following resources to introduce students to Hughes’ life and works, and to inspire students to use poetry and art as a means to both explore their heritage and call for public attention to larger issues within their communities.

  • See Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 6, “Historical and Cultural Context – Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore.” Stanlee Brimberg’s 7th graders learn about the experiences of African slaves in early New York, examine texts by Hughes, and create postage stamps to commemorate the African Burial Ground Memorial.
  • View the hour-long video on Langston Hughes in Voices & Visions.  Interviews, music, and dance performances convey his work and influence, discussed by James Baldwin and biographer Arnold Rampersad.
  • Hughes is a featured poet in the video for American Passages, unit 10, “Rhythms in Poetry.” Discover more about the author’s life and work and find teaching tips and questions for classroom study of Hughes’ poetry.

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