Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Share How You Are Teaching About Refugees and Immigration


How are you teaching about the topics of refugees, displacement, and immigration? Are your students discussing current events? Are they undertaking research to understand and debate causes and solutions? Are they thinking about how these issues affect their local and larger communities, and what it means to be a global citizen?

It isn’t always easy to discuss current events with students. There are many different feelings and approaches to bringing potentially controversial topics to the classroom. We are interested in hearing about this from you, and sharing your insights and ideas with other teachers. Submit your writing to blog@learner.org for consideration, and check back often to read, support, and comment on posts by other teachers.

What Can I Write About?

Here are some ideas for topics for your blog posts, but you are not limited to these topics. We recommend the posts stay between 250 and 600 words.

  1. Describe a lesson plan or activity that you implemented in your classroom about refugees or immigration that went well.
  2. What is an activity you tried that resulted in unexpected or rich student conversations or personal insights?
  3. How do you address community concerns (whether from parents, students, or administrators) and support multiple points of view?
  4. How do you talk about current events, such as a refugee crisis, with elementary students?
  5. How have you taught students about the differences between migrants and refugees?

Some additional requests and notes:

  • Don’t forget to proofread your submissions, and include links to resources if any are mentioned.
  • It is helpful but not necessary to submit a photo to go along with your post. If you submit a photo of students from your classroom, please confirm that you have asked and received permission from their parents/guardians to post the photo on the Learner.org blog site. (We will not post their names or the name of their school.)
  • We reserve the right to edit posts for clarity and length.
  • We will let you know if your post is selected for publication on our blog via email.
  • Please include the following information with your materials:
  1. Your name
  2. Title for your post
  3. Subject/Class
  4. Grade level
  5. School location (city or state)

We look forward to hearing from you!

Image copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

National Poetry Month: Grab Your Quills and Start Writing

POETRY123rfIt’s Poetry Month! Grab your quills (or laptops) and start writing. When the Academy of American Poets started National Poetry Month in 1996, one of their goals was to assist teachers in bringing poetry to their classrooms. Find activities and resources on the Poets.org site.

Start laying the foundation for young writers by encouraging them to keep a writer’s notebook. Students learn to record their thoughts about their experiences and choose the formats (including poems) to deliver those thoughts. See Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5, workshop 2, “Reasons for Writing.”

Teach students to distinguish between poetry and prose. One way to do this is to have students write in layers of drafts until a poem starts to emerge. Find this 5th-grade lesson plan in Write in the Middle, workshop 3, “Teaching Poetry.”

Use poetry to help students connect personal experiences and feelings to themes they are reading about. In a technique called “copy-change,” students follow the form of a published poem, and insert their own words, ideas, and emotions. View the lesson in this classroom video for Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane.’

In program 12, “A Sense of Place: Setting and Character in Poetry,” of Literary Visions, hear readings and discussions of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, and listen to Maxine Kumin discuss capturing New England landscapes in her poetry.

Emily Dickinson used her science training to write poetic observations of nature. Her life and work are discussed in Voices & Visions.

Students can compare how poets use images of a city to describe the human condition. See question 5 in American Passages, Context Activities for unit 10, “Rhythms in Poetry:” How do Eliot’s London, Sandburg’s Chicago, and Hughes’s Harlem all represent particular interpretations of the city and the modern condition?

For additional poetry resources:

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, session 1, “Reader Response: Pat Mora and James Welch

Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5, program 3, “Starting Out

Image Copyright: pixelsaway / 123RF Stock Photo

Using Poetry to Facilitate Discussions


Poet Nikki Grimes talks with students. Click on this picture to watch the classroom video in Teaching Multicultural Literature.

If you present poetry as if it were castor oil, no one will be interested. Instead, teachers can approach it as something fun, and also explore poetry that connects to the students and their lives (as opposed to choosing poetry that they feel “should” be studied).” – Nikki Grimes, in Teaching Multicultural Literature

Poetry is a type of genre with which many students have a hard time engaging. In fact, it’s also a genre that many teachers struggle to teach, as a result of its complexity and form. I, for one, am one of those teachers. Helping students to decipher lines, tropes, and the meaning of poems, while at the same time keeping the lesson engaging was a struggle for me. Consequently, I was a little worried before the start of a poetry unit that my students would be disengaged from the lesson. As a result, I decided to ask students to bring songs, lyrics, or poems that they enjoyed and that conveyed a special message or meaning to them.

To my great surprise, while many students opted to bring song lyrics, a large number of them shared poems that they liked and that resonated with them. One particular student shared Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” As she read it, she started tearing up making for a very emotional read.

I asked her about what made her tear up. She answered me with the following, and I will never forget it:

“We’re always put down by society, men, and sometimes those who love us. It’s why I have this on my mirror, it gives me strength every day to walk into the world as a black woman.”

Maya Angelou’s poem resonated with my student and many students who heard it that day, because it touched on what it means to be a woman of colour in society. The poem challenges traditional notions of beauty constructed by society and elevates the beauty of a woman to which we can all relate.

For this lesson I learned three things.

  1. Never underestimate the interest of students in a certain subject area. It might not be a popular subject or theme or unit, but what students might share may allow us to get to know them and understand them.
  2. Poetry, just like literature, has the power to start an open conversation about issues that students care about and that directly touch students’ lives.
  3. By giving students a choice to bring their own examples, I opened room for discussions about topics that are relevant to them. Our particular conversation taught my students about what feminism means and that everyone, not just women, shares a responsibility in advocating for women’s rights.

Facilitating a conversation by teaching poetry began with sharing selections and samples. To help my students start the conversations, I asked them: Why did you choose the piece? What was so special about it? What resonated with you? From there on it’s crucial to build on that conversation through more questioning, inquiry, analysis, and reflections.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 2, “Engagement and Dialogue,” read an interview with writer Nikki Grimes about teaching poetry to students. Also explore methods of teaching poetry to help students engage in the work. Find strategies for helping students to connect with the texts they read, and instructions for how to host an open mic event with students.

The most important thing to remember is to enjoy the experience of teaching poetry and learning with and from students.

Where is the Water: California and Beyond


The expansion of agriculture contributes to the threat against irreplaceable resources like water in many parts of the globe. Learn more in The Habitable Planet.

California has been facing a major water shortage, but that shortage is not just a problem for the state alone. Much of our produce in grocery stores across the country comes from California farms and orchards that depend on this much-needed resource. While officials debate ways to regulate water use, everyone hopes for rain. (If you’re wondering about how much of a drought your own state is in, click on the Drought Monitor.)

Understand California’s current drought by viewing three side-by-side photos, taken by NASA February 2011, 2013, and 2014, showing the decreasing water table around Lake Tahoe in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. This compiled image is part of a larger unit, “Earth, Climate, and Change: Observing Human Impact,” for middle and high school classrooms. View all unit materials here.

This isn’t California’s first time feeling thirsty. One of the worst droughts occurred in 1975. In Economics U$A: 21st Century Edition, unit 3, “Supply and Demand,” economics analyst Richard Gill explains what the experience of water shortages teaches us about the nature of consumer demand.

Oregon: A Fight for Water, the first case study in The Power of Place, unit 10, “Regions and Economies,” examines the environmental costs of technology developed to harness scarce water resources to support agricultural production.

Consider the issue globally. The Habitable Planet, unit 8, “Water Resources,” discusses what drives the world’s demand for water and what happens when groundwater is depleted. Also see informative animations from the video on this topic.

Multicultural Literature Helps Middle Schoolers with Search for Identity

TeachMultiLitAs immigration reform is debated in the halls of Congress and in communities across the nation, now is a good time to shine a spotlight on the contributions that immigrants are making to American culture and commerce. Annenberg Learner offers dozens of resources for teaching and learning about immigrant experiences, but in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, I’m going to hone in on some strategies for teaching multicultural literature. The workshop series Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades demonstrates how teachers across the country are using literature to engage students in reading and responding to the work of writers such as Gish Jen, Tina Yun Lee and Lemsey Namioka.

The works that you will see students exploring in Workshop 1, for example, focus on the theme of dual-identity and the challenges of trying to fit into a new culture while honoring family heritage. These themes are a perfect fit for middle grade students who are often struggling to form and express their own identities.

For example, students will relate warmly to Gish Gen’s character Mona Chang from the story “What Means Switch” who was “ad-libbing [her] way through eighth grade.” As teacher Carol O’Donnell points out, “Junior high school students are really travelers between worlds. On one hand, they’re very young children who need a lot of nurturing and support and encouragement. On the other hand, they’re young adults who really need an incredible amount of challenge and independence and pushing.”

O’Donnell uses poetry, short stories and biography to give students insight into the authors’ experiences with being perceived as “other.” The literature also serves as a springboard to discussion of their own experiences with identity issues, bias, and self-discovery. O’Donnell uses structured Peer Facilitation Circles as a strategy to help students make deep explorations of the readings and appreciate these authors’ voices as part of the American story. In the Workshop 1 video, you will see students who take responsibility for their own learning and show genuine respect for their peers’ thoughts and opinions.

The work of many Asian-Pacific American writers is featured throughout the eight Teaching Multicultural Literature workshops. You’ll find content and strategies that fit your students’ interests and needs. When you introduce these writers to your students, some will see mirror images of themselves; some will see worlds they didn’t know existed. How do you use the richness of multicultural literature to engage your students?


Effective Teachers (post by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory)

CfA effective teachers blog post

A new study shows that teachers who are familiar with misconceptions about science as well as the science itself have students who are much more successful in learning.
Credit: SAO SED

Originally posted Friday, May 03, 2013 by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory*

Everybody wants teachers to be knowledgeable, but there is little agreement on what kinds of knowledge are the most important. Should a teacher have a deep knowledge of the subject matter, or is it better if the teacher has an understanding of what students think? Is there some optimal combination of different types of knowledge? Discussions of such issues rarely make use of data but instead are based on indirect methods of gauging teacher knowledge. The answer is important: Beliefs about teacher knowledge shape both the policies regulating how teachers are prepared, certified, hired, and evaluated as well as programs that provide ongoing professional development for practicing teachers.

CfA scientists and science educators Phil Sadler, Gerhard Sonnert, Harold Coyle, Nancy Cook-Smith, and Jaime Miller have published a study that quantifies several aspects of teacher knowledge and their relevance to teacher effectiveness. The team finds that one key factor in improving student performance in science understanding is teacher familiarity with the popular science misconceptions. The students of those teachers who both knew the material and understood the reasons for misconceptions improved in their test scores significantly, more than twice as much as students of teachers who only knew the material. The study, which included a sample of 9556 students and 181 teachers, is an important step in evaluating how to train better teachers.

For additional information on this topic, check out the following links:

Science Daily, “Understanding Student Weaknesses”

Education Week, “Knowing Student Misconceptions Key to Science Teaching, Study Finds”

American Education Research Journal, “The Influence of Teachers’ Knowledge on Student Learning in Middle School Physical Science Classrooms”

Learner Express, “A Student Tries to Explain Why There Are Seashells on Top of Mount Everest and the Formation of the Himalayan Mountains”

A Private Universe

Learner Log, “Are you smarter than a Harvard graduate?”


*reposted with permission from Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory site with additional links added