Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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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.

 

Exploring African-American Culture Through Slavery’s Sorrow Songs

AmPass_7_sorrowsongs_blogBlack History Month is a great time to celebrate the achievements of African-American writers, artists, musicians, scientists, and religious and political leaders. It’s also a great time to learn about and reflect on the historical and cultural contexts from which these achievements emerged. One way is to take a journey into the rich and vibrant culture that developed in African-American slave communities in the face of horrific oppression and adversity.

For example, a close look at slave spirituals called Sorrow Songs reveals an awe-inspiring story of hope, collaboration, ingenuity, and an unstoppable hunger for freedom.

The Sorrow Songs are not the songs played by slave musicians at an owner’s social gathering and they’re not the hymns sung during formal church services. Nor are they the great slave narratives of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Jacobs, written to galvanize the abolitionist cause. Most slaves would not have been able to read the narratives even if they had access to them.

Instead, the Sorrow Songs were created collaboratively by the slave community for the slave community. They were current events bulletins and teaching tools. How did the community know that many escaped slaves were crossing into the Union? “Many Thousands Gone.How did a runaway avoid being detected by dogs? “Wade in the Water.” How did the word get out about a secret meeting? “Steal Away to Jesus. The songs connected European Christian imagery with the slaves’ spiritual values. They poked fun at the masters and eased labor. In other words, in a depraved world where humans were allowed to own humans, the slaves created beauty and meaning that they alone owned. “Slavery and Freedom,” unit 7 of American Passages: A Literary Survey,  provides context and content for this exploration.

Find ideas for connecting this remarkable story to other aspects of slave community culture or to the emergence of gospel and jazz music in the unit’s Author Activities page. Students could try collaborating on music and lyrics for a Sorrow Song of their own or revise an existing song to reflect a current event. Students may also make connections to how other oppressed groups have used music or other arts to subvert oppressors.

What stories from Black History will you be exploring with your students this month?

Black History Month 2012: We Celebrate Women Writers

During Black History Month,  we pause and reflect on the contributions of great African Americans. This year the theme is “Black Women in American Culture and History.” In this space, we provide resources to help you teach about women who have made significant contributions to African-American literature. American Passages features several writers who have contributed to and commented on American culture and history.

Read the remarkable stories of educated enslaved woman such as Phillis Wheatley and Harriet Jacobs.  Phillis Wheatley became a published poet writing about Christianity and liberty. Unit 4, “Spirit of Nationalism,” tells how Wheatley’s mistress recognized her intelligence and oversaw her education. Harriet Jacobs, another enslaved woman who was taught to read, escaped from the plantation and eventually fled to the North. She wrote about her own experiences of exploitation and escape in order to bring awareness to the mistreatment of enslaved women. Read about her in unit 7, “Slavery and Freedom.”

Provide your students with different perspectives of the black experience in America by introducing them to writer Zora Neale Hurston. Much to the dismay of her peers such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, who wrote about the oppression and degradation of black people, Hurston wrote to promote a vision of “racial health – a sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings.” See unit 13, “Southern Renaissance.”

Develop your students’ critical thinking skills using the Author Questions for Gwendolyn Brooks. You can find questions such as “What do Brooks’s poems suggest about the special challenges of being an African-American poet in a time when many other genres and media compete for attention?” and additional activities for this author in American Passages, unit 14, “Becoming Visible.”

Alice Walker meaningfully uses images of quilts in several of her works, including “The Color Purple” and “Everyday Use.” After examining the literary purposes of this household object in Walker’s work, guide students in their own search for identity using activities that discuss family heirlooms. For information on Walker, read American Passages, unit 16, “Search for Identity.” Click on Author Activities to find activities for teaching about Walker and her story “Everyday Use.”
Hear a reading and discussion of her poem “Revolutionary Petunias” in Conversations in Literature, workshop 6, Objectifying the Text” (35:08 minutes in).

In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize. Read about Morrison’s work in American Passages, unit 16, “Search for Identity.” Use activities and discussion questions provided to teach her short story, Recitatif, which challenges the human urge to categorize people.

The program In Search of the Novel, “Ten Novelists,” provides links to biographical information about Morrison.