The coronavirus crisis has prompted rapid intervention by schools, and long distance learning has challenged educators and teacher librarians to develop meaningful instruction and learning activities. One key concern is how to stay connected with students and engage them in learning beyond fill-in-the blank worksheets. Librarians are resource experts: our websites and LibGuides organize collections of ebooks, audiobooks, databases, and recommended websites. Finding information is easy; engaging with the information and making personal connections is the real challenge for student learning.
One of our national treasures, The Smithsonian Institution, is encouraging students to explore art, artifacts, and videos to build connections and deepen learning through thoughtful conversations. The Smithsonian Learning Lab’s new GoGlobal modules highlight items from the Smithsonian’s collections; these modules were developed by educators for a variety of subject areas and grade levels. To support student inquiry, the learning activities incorporate Visible Thinking routines and Global Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero.
How can looking closely at Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night reveal ideas about the science of stars? Explore Sandra Vilevac’s Grade 4 Beliefs Unit that uses Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night to launch a discussion on how the night sky has influenced belief systems. Using a thinking routine called Beauty and Truth, students ponder how beauty (art) can reveal truths or, at times, conceal truth. It is surprising how accurately Vincent’s turbulent, glowing sky depicts images from the Hubble telescope. This learning module provides additional activities, such as animated video stories of the origins of stars from belief systems of the Mohawk, “The Never Ending Bear Hunt,” and Chippewa, “The Fox and the Stars.” For example, students might ponder Beauty and Truth in the story of “The Fox and the Stars”; this story describes why the stars have the appearance of being scattered in the sky and yet one can also detect patterns of star formations.
How can environmental artwork prompt us to social action? Aleah Myers’s GoGlobal learning module, Environmental Advocacy through Art, provides many art forms for students to examine and then challenges students to create their own artwork that will encourage society to protect the environment. Students might view the riveting environmental artwork, El Antusi’s sculpture Erosion, to evaluate perspectives with Step In, Step Out, Step Back thinking routine:
1. Develop empathy with an artist’s message (Step In) 2. Clarify what you might need to investigate to understand the message better (Step Out) 3. Reflect on your own perspective and “what it takes to take somebody else’s (perspective)” (Step Back)
Students can then watch the Smithsonian video that discusses the layers of meaning in this sculpture Erosion.
These are just a few examples of the GoGlobal learning modules that encompass art, music, culture, science, history, and social action. These resources and thinking routines may spark ideas to connect your students in engaging discussions. Whether your distance learning takes the structure of embedded content in library websites, screencasts, school discussion boards, shared Googledocs, GoogleMeet, or Flipgrid, consider exploring some of the thought-provoking collections of the Smithsonian with the goal of guiding students in discussions that deepen inquiry through Visible Thinking and Global Thinking routines.
Who doesn’t love a mystery? The adrenaline rush of following a trail of clues and the surprising detours of red herrings (I didn’t see that coming!) all combine into a final sense of satisfaction as the pieces of the puzzle start to assemble. And, some of the most memorable mysteries contain an ambiguous ending that lead you to continue to ponder a series of new questions.
Captivating historians are like good mystery writers, and our school’s upcoming writing workshop with author and historian Candace Fleming provided an opportunity to introduce “History Mysteries” to sixth graders using Fleming’s book about Earhart’s disappearance. In Amelia Lost, author Fleming presents some of the lingering questions about Earhart’s disappearance during her flight in 1937 to circumnavigate the globe. Fred Noonan was Earhart’s navigator in this flight, and it is assumed that Earhart’s plane crashed when she lost communication and the plane ran out of gas. Theories regarding her fate abound, and I set up a “Tug for Truth” activity for students to weigh the evidence of one of the theories: Earhart and Noonan were rescued by the Japanese and imprisoned.
Setting the Stage for a Mystery Using a large globe, I asked students to suggest why this type of flight, circumnavigating the globe, was particularly risky. Students mentioned flying over large stretches of water and the risk of running out of gas. Showing the communications log of Earhart’s last flight, students read aloud her fateful message to the ship Itasca that was sailing near her flight path: “Itasca we must be on you but cannot see U…but gas is running low been unable to reach you…flying at 1000 feet.” This was a chilling moment for students as they empathized with Earhart’s distress.
Tug for Truth Students were told that they would be evaluating a claim (theory of Earhart’s disappearance) by gathering evidence and sorting the evidence on a “Tug for Truth” line. “Tug for Truth” is a Visible Thinking routine that challenges students to weigh the merits of evidence. The essential question for this activity: Does the evidence support the claim as TRUE or NOT TRUE? White boards and flippable writing tables were set up with a tug-o-war line and this essential question. Students were given a red post-it note to write the CLAIM (Earhart and Noonan were rescued by the Japanese and imprisoned) and green post-it notes to write EVIDENCE statements as we examined primary source photos and articles from NYTimes and CNN. After students considered the evidence and wrote a brief statement, each student group decided where on the line to place the evidence.
Mysterious Photo At the heart of this claim that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese is a mysterious photo taken at a Marshall Islands dock. The small seated figure on the dock is suggested to be Earhart and the tall figure standing at extreme left is said to be Noonan (see the CNN article for an enlargement of the photo). Students circled these two figures in the photo and made factual statements about what they saw: 1) one seated figure with short hair appears to be a white woman and 2) one standing figure appears to be a white man. Most students placed this evidence note near mid-center on the line–not definitively proving the claim as either true or false. They also wrote an evidence note that the photo was hard to see (blurry) and placed this evidence toward the middle of the line.
The range of evidence notes got more interesting as students read the article from NYTimes. Where would you place these pieces of evidence on the Not True–True line?
In 1981 an investigator interviewed a crew member about their ship’s role in a search effort for Earhart. Crew member reported no trace was found of her. The ship’s log also did not mention Earhart.
In 1937, the year of Earhart’s disappearance, America was not at war with Japan.
In 1960s a journalist initiated several investigations in Saipan to try to find evidence to support the claim of the photo as picturing Earhart. No evidence was found, but the journalist remains adamant that Earhart is pictured in the photo.
The “Tug for Truth” activity promotes critical thinking as students evaluate various factors, and it encourages lively discussion among groups as they support their reasoning for placement of evidence on the True or Not True area of the line. For instance, one student said that an interview of a person many years after the event took place could be suspect because the person’s memory might be colored by more recent events or by a faulty memory. Other students pointed out that the ship’s log might be a more reliable piece of evidence (unless absence of Earhart’s name in the log was a deliberate effort to conceal evidence). As you can see, students began to realize how sorting out truth can be complex and that many factors are involved in evaluating credibility. One of my favorite aspects of this activity was to ask students to select their strongest piece of evidence and place it at the end of the line (as you would place your strongest person at the end of a tug-o-war line). This encouraged further debates as groups justified their reasoning.
Extension Ideas This CNN article was read at the close of the activity. I don’t want to spoil your mystery–but read this surprising article to decide if recent evidence has debunked this photo’s role in explaining Earhart’s disappearance.
Several other theories persist about Amelia Earhart. Students could explore the Bevington photo and discuss evidence found in a recent exploration by Dr. Ballard, as discussed in this NYTimes article.
I encourage you to discover a “History Mystery” and immerse students in their own tug-for-truth discussion. Puzzling events engage students’ curiosity and promote opportunities for critical thinking and discussions.
Works Cited Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight. 1937. National Archives, www.archives.gov/news/topics/earhart. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.
Butler, Susan. “Searching for Amelia Earhart.” New York Times, 14 Oct. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/opinion/amelia-earhart-photograph.html?searchResultPosition=4. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.
Cohn, Julie. “The Amelia Earhart Mystery Stays Down in the Deep.” New York Times, 14 Oct. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/10/14/science/amelia-earhart-robert-ballard.html?searchResultPosition=2. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.
“A New Clue in the Earhart Mystery.” The Earhart Project, Tighar, 12 Apr. 2010, tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Research/Bulletins/57_Bevingtonphoto/57_HidinginSight.htm. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.
Radio Log of the Last Communications of Amelia Earhart. 1937. National Archives, catalog.archives.gov/id/6210268. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.
Wakatsuki, Yoko, and Ben Westcott. “Amelia Earhart Mystery: Photo Appears Taken 2 Years before Pilot Vanished.” CNN, 13 July 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/07/12/asia/amelia-earhart-photo-japan/index.html. Accessed 17 Jan. 2020.
An earlier AISL blog, “Engage to Prevent Plagiarism,” discussed resources and strategies to prevent plagiarism. Encouraging students to engage with their topics and add their own voice was suggested by several authors as a method to prevent plagiarism (DeSena; Gilmore). One of my library objectives for this school year was to address the issue of plagiarism by guiding students to develop strategies and skills while also making the activities engaging for students and relevant to the curriculum. The following Preventing Plagiarism activity was a first step in helping students to make connections with ideas of others and to allow their own voices to be heard.
Engage with a Controversial News Story
Rather than confront students with a lecture on plagiarism, I collaborated with classroom teachers to connect a topical news story to their curriculum so that students could practice effective note taking and paraphrasing and be challenged to put their own spin on controversial topics. Eighth graders in US History explored the Harriet Tubman $20 bill controversy.
Seventh grade ELA students examined an article on cloning (“Barbra Streisand Explains Why I Cloned My Dogs”) and compared motivations with ethical issues in their class novel The House of the Scorpion. (Streisand used a Texas company for the cloning procedure, so this made the news story more pertinent with our Texas students.)
Reasons and Examples of Plagiarism
After explaining that students would use the news story to practice paraphrasing to glean important ideas, we discussed the definition of plagiarism and the importance of respecting the words and ideas of others. In groups, students used “Think — Pair — Share” to identify the top three reasons students plagiarize.
Reasons most frequently identified included laziness, procrastination, concern over grades, and confusion about how to paraphrase and how to cite. This student brainstormed list was compared with a “Top Ten” list from Barry Gilmore’s book, Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students (Heinemann 2009). Two items on Gilmore’s list that were missing in our students’ brainstorming were noteworthy: Student Culture and School Culture. We discussed the importance of creating a culture of learning in which ethical behavior is promoted and valued (both by students and educators/administrators) and the importance of students adding their own voices to the scholarly dialogue.
In order to show how the consequences of plagiarism and unethical behavior can escalate, we discussed that cases of plagiarism result in 1) teacher/parent conferencing and re-doing a project in the middle school; 2) impacting grades in high school; and 3) possible expulsion in college if a student is found to have plagiarized. In the business world, plagiarism could mean the loss of career. An example of a college student accused of plagiarizing is Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan, whose novel was accused of having plagiarized passages from another YA author’s novel; Kaavya lost a $500,000.00 two-book contract and movie deal. Jayson Blair is an example of a plagiarist in the business world; this New York Times journalist resigned after being accused of inventing interviews and posting over 37 plagiarized stories. (One of Blair’s fabricated interviews concerned a Texas family grieving their soldier son, so this struck a chord with our Texas students.)
To transition to the Preventing Plagiarism activity, students viewed the video Citation: A Very Brief Introduction (Library of North Carolina State University). The video animation illustrates how ideas build upon multiple sources: entering into a dialogue with multiple ideas allows students to make their own connections.
Make Connections with Multiple Viewpoints
The Preventing Plagiarism activity to evaluate the controversial news stories was adapted from a “Paraphrase Practice” activity in Barry Gilmore’s book, Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students. During this activity, students
used the first two paragraphs of the new story to write a general summary;
looked closely to identify an important sentence;
circled three to four important words to write a paraphrased sentence.
and located one more important quote in the article to practice introducing a direct quote and citing with an in-text citation.
As eighth grade students read the NYT article to select their quote, they weighed multiple viewpoints. Was the decision to delay the Tubman $20 bill driven by 1) anti-counterfeiting safeguards (viewpoint of treasury secretary); 2) race and culture (viewpoint of Democratic Senator); or political correctness (viewpoint of President Donald Trump)? Students worked in groups of two so that they could talk aloud and tweak their paraphrased sentences (making sure the sentences were in their own words). Eighth graders shared their sentences aloud, and we noted how individual student voices were evident in the results.
Seventh grade students followed the same paraphrase activity as eighth grade, but they used the NYT article about Streisand’s decision to clone her dog. Students then were challenged to look closely at quotes from a chapter in The House of the Scorpion to write a comparison/contrast paragraph discussing motivations of the character El Patron for cloning the boy, Matt. Sentence stems were provided to aid students’ discussion:
Reflection on the Preventing Plagiarism Activity
As a short introduction to strategies for paraphrasing and citing sources, this lesson was successful. This forty-five minute class did not allow for additional activities, but eighth graders could be challenged to research further the historical background of Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson as they weigh the question of “What do we value as we decide who is featured on U.S. currency?” The seventh grade teacher suggested a Socratic discussion could be a follow-up activity as students discuss further the character motivations and ethics of cloning. This Preventing Plagiarism activity promoted interesting insights from students and provided an opportunity for students to listen to their peers and appreciate how each used a similar source of information and added their own voice.
Barry, Dan, et al. “Correcting the Record: Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception.” New York Times, 11 May 2003, www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/us/correcting-the-record-times-reporter-who-resigned-leaves-long-trail-of-deception.html. Accessed 26 Aug. 2019.
“Citation: A Very Brief Introduction.” YouTube, uploaded by Libncsu, North Carolina State University, 23 July 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMhMuVvXCVw. Accessed 25 Aug. 2019.
DeSena, Laura Hennessey. Preventing Plagiarism. National Council of Teachers of English, 2007.
Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004.
Gilmore, Barry. Preventing Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students. Heinemann, 2009.
To me, history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn’t just part of our civic responsibility. To me, it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.”
David McCullough, author, NEH 2003 Jefferson Lecturer interview
This past July I joined 34 educators in Washington, D,C. for a week-long teaching seminar sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. Denver Brunsman, associate professor of history, George Washington University, led the seminar, The Making of America: From the Founding Era through the Civil War. Mary Huffman, 5th grade teacher and Master Teacher for Gilder Lehrman, assisted in afternoon sessions that demonstrated how to engage students in explorations of primary sources. The seminar lectures and activities were informative and eye-opening, and attendees enriched the experience with spirited discussions of the topics and shared experiences of teaching history in their K-8 classrooms. In the afternoons, the educators and instructors set off on field trips to museum and archives, and exploring these national treasures was a highlight of the seminar.
Librarians know how crucial primary sources are to the research process: these sources can spur student curiosity, build empathy, foster essential questions, provide evidence to support claims, and grow an understanding of historical persons and events. During the seminar field trips, attendees viewed firsthand an exciting array of primary sources: a 1692 petition for bail from those accused as witches; Alexander Hamilton’s final letter to his wife, Eiliza, before his famous 1804 duel with Aaron Burr; Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 letter to Charles Sumner advocating for fair and equal treatment of black soldiers’ dependents; an 1881 illustration of the Battle of Little Bighorn by Red Horse, Lakota Indian; Orville Wright’s 1903 telegram announcing the first successful powered flight; a 1940s women’s baseball uniform; Susan B. Anthony’s inscription in a book telling the life of Sojourner Truth.
However, learning how to access these resources for our students was even more exhilarating. Each seminar attendee received a resource book from Gilder Lehrman that contained primary sources and suggested activities, and the good news is that Gilder Lehrman, as well as the museums and archives we visited in D.C., provide digital access and lesson plans for many of their items. Following are a few examples of the riches to be explored in our national treasures, the museums and archives of Washington, D.C.
As you explore these sites, you will discover your own favorite treasures.
Docs Teach(The National Archives) provides online documents and tools for educators to create interactive digital lessons for students. Here is an example lesson I created with National Archives resources: Women’s Suffrage (*You will need to create a free account to view lessons and create your own.)
Yes, that is George Washington in a toga and sandals! This sculpture is on display at the National Museum of American History.
National Museum of African American History and Culture. I was fascinated by how the design of this museum becomes a stirring experience as you move from floor to floor to view the history. Read more on the building design in this Smithsonian article. The architect David Adjaye describes the feeling as “praise”: “When I say praise, I envision it as a human posture. It’s the idea that you come from the ground up, rather than crouching down or leaning. The form of the building suggests a very upward mobility. It’s a ziggurat that moves upward into the sky, rather than downward into the ground. And it hovers above the ground.”
Engagement is about a sense of purpose and a desire to explore. Plagiarism is a perfect example of no student engagement.
Patti Ezell, Instructional Coach for Annunciation Orthodox School
Plagiarism is a topic too often addressed after the fact, when uncomfortable conversations between faculty, students, and parents puzzle over the issue of what went wrong. This summer I am curating resources to support discussions with faculty and students about how to prevent plagiarism. Increasing student engagement may be one of the keys to promoting thoughtful scholarship, integrity, and ethical use of information. Below is an annotated list of books, articles, and videos that may spark ideas for you on the topic of preventing plagiarism. I invite you to add to this list and share strategies that have proved helpful at your schools.
BOOKS Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques by Laura Hennessey DeSena (National Council of Teachers of English, 2007). I became aware of DeSena’s book through an NCTE webinar, and I was immediately drawn to her approach that emphasizes student interaction with primary sources first in the research process. For literature teachers, the primary source would be the text itself (novel, poem, etc); for history teachers, primary sources can be a range of artifacts, photos, and documents of the time period. DeSena encourages student exploration of ideas in free writing and notes from the primary source text before any secondary scholarly criticism is read. Students develop an authentic voice as they discover their own wonderings, puzzlements, and insights that can be supported by the primary source itself and later expanded upon by secondary sources. (See chapter 4 of this book for a discussion of engaging students in the research process.)
Plagiarism: Why It Happens, How to Prevent It by Barry Gilmore (Heinemann, 2008) Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students by Barry Gilmore (Heinemann, 2009) Both of these books present examples of student and teacher comments on the topic of plagiarism, examples of plagiarized writing that can be used to prompt discussions, and Top Ten tips from student and educator perspectives on how to prevent plagiarism. On one Top Ten list, Gilmore echoes the importance of student voice and ownership: “Make the assignment personal. Try to make the assignments important to you…(by putting) your own spin on them” (Plagiarism: Why It Happens, viii). In addition, in chapter 6 of this book Gilmore suggests that teachers should examine the types of assignment and assessments to promote student analysis and original writing rather than summarizing or information telling.
ARTICLES “Power Lesson: Note-Taking Stations” by Peg Grafwallner and Abby Felten (Cult of Pedagogy.com, December 16, 2018) Instructional coach Grafwallner and a high school chemistry teacher Felten used the classroom textbook as an opportunity for students to practice note-taking. Students cycled through 15 min. stations and followed templates to practice Cornell notes, graphic organizer, concept map, and annotation. Student feedback was positive on these brief station immersions in note taking, and Felten discovered that students continued to use the note-taking styles in later class assignments, often discerning which note-taking style would work best for the type of information.
“How One Professor Made Her Assignments More Relevant” by Beckie Supiano (The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 21, 2019) Tanya Martini, professor of psychology at Brock University, Ontario, described how she broke through student apathy and pushback by making more explicit for the students the types of real-world skills they could develop through the assignments.
VIDEOSand PRESENTATIONS This is Not a Chair (The Chipstone Foundation) This video demonstrates how primary sources (chairs from various time periods) can prompt close looking and analysis and can encourage student reflections and starting points for further research on topics as various as culture, societal structures, environment, and slavery.
How to Spot a Liar (Pamela Meyer) Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, demonstrates in this TED talk how persons telling lies can be spotted, but also stresses that “lying is a cooperative act.” It is important that we have the “difficult conversations” with those who lie so that we can emphasize, “Hey, my world, our world, it’s going to be an honest one. My world is going to be one where truth is strengthened and falsehood is recognized and marginalized.”
“Research: An Exciting Quest or a Labor of Hercules?” (Joan Lange) The first few slides of this presentation that I created in 2011 contains a “research-style quiz” themed to matching your style to Greek Heroes or Monsters. Work habits can lead to plagiarism. Remainder of presentation offers some suggestions to avoid plagiarism.
“Summer slump” is an oppressive-sounding term, describing loss of learning during the summer when reading can stagnate. How do you avoid the summer reading doldrums and learning loss? A recent Harvard study stresses the importance of teachers personalizing the reading experience for students, shaping “lessons and activities” to support the reading experience. One way that our school is personalizing reading is through the Teacher Favorites program. Teachers sponsor books, allowing a wide variety of choice for students, and each book has a plus factor, suggested videos, websites, and art/writing activities that can enhance the experience of reading the book. (A big nod to McCallie School which shared their plus factor reading program through our AISL listserv.)
Whether students and teachers are blogging “what if” scenarios about a Harry Potter book or visiting online Holocaust museums as they read The Diary of a Young Girl, student engagement in the activities can enhance the reading of the book and enliven the small group book discussion with teachers and students in August. View our school’s suggested books and activities: Teacher Favorites 7/8 and Teacher Favorites 5/6.
Families can also build excitement for summer reading by placing an importance on reading habits in their home. This suggested Reading Inventory provides ideas to start conversations about the enjoyment of reading and how books can be an important part of the summer routine. Below is a checklist to jumpstart how families can infuse a reading climate in the home and include the reading habit alongside the demands of summer activities.
Step One: Make a Shelfie. What were the books that ignited you as a young reader? Arrange those books for a “Shelfie” photo and share with your child the meaning books had for you. If you no longer have the books, capture screenshots of book covers or use GoogleSlides to arrange your Shelfie stack. Interesting conversations about books can arise as you share the types of books you loved to read and how your reading grew or changed. Modeling your love of reading and your reading habits is a powerful message to children.
Step Two: Create Book Reading Corners. Where are the prime locations for Book Reading Corners in your home? Do you have a basket of books by a favorite reading chair, bedside table, and even magazines or books in the bathroom? All of these are prime locations to make reading opportunities readily available and enjoyable, and these reading corners are a visible reminder of the value your family places on reading. Encourage your child to personalize and develop their own favorite reading corner.
Step Three: Read Poetry, Aloud. My mother loved to share a large volume of children’s poetry, and she dramatized, sang, and engaged us in choral reading of the poems. She even (gasp!) invited us to write our initials next to our favorite poems and color in the line drawing illustrations. This poetry book became a living, breathing reflection of our time shared in enjoying poetry. Discover your own poetry anthology such as those by poets Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, J. Patrick Lewis, Paul Fleischman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Margarita Engle, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jacqueline Woodson, and Nikki Grimes. Poetry anthologies are also themed to experiencing art (Hopkin’s Make the World New: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum) and even objects (The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selected by Paul B. Janeczko).
And, poetry is not just for young children. Poetry connects to tweens and teens in dynamic ways that reflect their own voices and concerns. Poetry can transport the reader through a historic moment (such as the sinking of the Titanic in The Watch that Ends the Night) and personal crisis (such as Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down), or celebrate heroes (such as Margarita Engle’s Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics) and feature voices of hope (such as Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners). Encourage your tween or teen to perform a Poetry Slam of a favorite poem. Poems spoken aloud allow us to savor the sounds and rhythms of words and connect powerfully to emotions.
Step Four. Read Aloud. Reading aloud creates moments of bonding with your child as you share the mutual love of a book. Dive in and do the voices, and invite the child to chime in on favorite lines or read a page in the story. You can read aloud a chapter book that is above the reading level of your child, thereby building vocabulary and encouraging empathetic listening. Many children’s books have cliff-hanger chapters and cause children to beg for the next chapter to be read. For an extensive list of read-aloud books for all ages and genres, see Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease stresses that reading aloud not only increases I.Q., but also H.Q.(the heart quotient). Award-winning children’s books from ALA and books for young adults from YALSA are another way to select excellent writing from diverse voices.
Step Five: Books on the Road. Summers are busy with family road trips and commutes to activities such as swimming lessons and ball games–perfect opportunities for stretches of time to enjoy books. Encourage your child to pack favorite books in the car (I always traveled with collections of fairy tales) or take advantage of wonderful audio performances of books to enjoy as a family. Many public libraries have audiobook collections, and our own school library is showcasing new audiobooks through Overdrive this summer. For quick free browsing and sampling, you can search a book title in Amazon Audible and listen to a few minutes of a book. Listening to audiobooks can be a delightful way to fill long car commutes, and children can read along to reinforce the experience of the book.
Illustrated books, nonfiction informational books, and short story collections travel well because these books invite browsing, lingering over illustrations and short text boxes, and short chapter reading. Author Melissa Stewart’s Celebrate Science website has wonderful recommendations for informational books and activities. Graphic novels, magazines, and comics can also be good choices for books on the road. Classic Comics were my first exposure to the “classics,” and new graphic novels adaptations include Anne Frank’s Diary, the Graphic Adaptation, The Giver, Manga Classics, and Shakespeare, Poe, and The Odyssey adaptations by graphic artist Gareth Hinds, not to mention the hilarious Hazardous Tales history series by Nathan Hale.
This five-step Reading Inventory may help families re-evaluate the importance of reading and reading habits in the home. See also the National Education Association, which features research on preventing the “summer slump” and provides tips to encourage reading. Spark enthusiasm with families for reading this summer!
The power of storytelling…it dramatizes, delights, and immerses us in an experience so that we can step back into the world, ready to face challenges with a little more confidence and understanding.
At AOS, seventh and eighth grade students participate in the “History as Story” writing workshop with visiting authors who are experts in the power of storytelling. The goal of the writing workshop is to connect students with themes of history as the students themselves craft a small work of historical fiction. The historical fiction piece engages students more deeply with topics they have been researching, topics that will be developed later in a more formal research essay.
This year the “History as Story” writing workshop was led by poet and author Allan Wolf, who paints a picture of history through various viewpoints in books-in-verse, such as New Found Land (Lewis and Clark expedition) and The Watch that Ends the Night (sinking of the Titanic). Allan Wolf suggested that students develop their historical fiction piece by using CAST: Characters, Action, Setting, and Truth.
The following sample pieces show how students used CAST to connect with a Truth about their historical topics and re-imagined a moment in history.
American Reformers: “Be the Change” Seventh graders researched American reformers of the late 1700s-1800s in a “Be the Change” research project. The opening paragraph of the research paper is a historical vignette that immerses the reader in a dramatic moment of their American reformer.
One student, Ella Piper, envisioned how Mother Ann Lee, leader of the Shaker church in New York, made the treacherous sea voyage from England to New York. Her characters are the zealous Ann Lee and an exasperated ship captain. The action is a dangerous storm at sea, and the setting is the ship’s deck, where Ann Lee is dancing to seek God’s intervention while the Captain and shipmates are furiously battling a sinking ship. Below is an excerpt:
It was the middle of the night. A yellow moon and its pale, waxy light slowly disappeared under ominous storm clouds, and the skies opened up. The ship was low in rations, and the bodies of the passengers, frail from malnutrition, hardly caused a tip in the hardy vessel, the Mariah, as they began worship. It didn’t bother Ann. Her light hair grew steadily darker in the rain, and, as on all nights, she began to spin. Uncontrolled, sporadic movements overtook her body, mimicking the crashing of the tumultuous sea. “Praise God,” she whispered, and the ship erupted in a soulful, oscillating waltz.
And the rain persisted. The rain came down and the captain came up to handle it and through it all she continued to dance. After all, they were alive and God was with them and that trumped a squall any day. Even though they were ordered back to their rooms. Even though the wind whipped her hair and cut at her face.
“Below deck!” The captain screamed. “Or it’s overboard for the lot of ya!” His voice was hoarse from shouting at the crew. His patience with Ann and her followers, never in abundant supply, was rapidly wearing thin. “That shaking of yours will be put to a stop, whether its by my hand or God’s when we die in this bloody monsoon!” He jerked on the wheel.
The truth is revealed later in final words by Ann Lee as the storm dissipates:
Abruptly, the largest wave so far, one of Brobdingnagian proportions, drew close to the ship. Captain Nelson swore. Baker began to say his prayers. Ann danced. And, as if guided by the hand of God himself, the wave carried the board back into place. The Mariah began to rise.
Ann danced. She smiled. “It is my belief that a true act of God is finding peace in chaos, the eye of the hurricane. Wouldn’t you say so, Captain?”
It was the middle of the night. A yellow moon and its pale, waxy light shone through retreating storm clouds.
US Defining Moments Eighth graders researched defining moments in US history and iconic persons who influenced those events. As part of their research, students located a primary source photo and used the Library of Congress Analysis Tool to examine how the photo revealed insights into their historical event or person. In the writing workshop, these photos were used to develop descriptive, narrative poems (ekphrastic poetry). Here is an example of how one student, Emma, used the CAST technique with her photograph to reveal insights about the Texas Western 1966 NCAA Championship.
Emma’s primary source photo depicts the Texas Western team posing with their trophy for the 1966 NCAA championship. (View photo in this El Paso newspaper article.) The characters for the poem are the basketball team, “blacks and whites stand side by side,” and the “small white coach (who) does his best to stay hidden.” Emma also created a fictional character, the photographer, as her point of view to describe this victorious moment. The action is the photographer setting up to take the photo, “As I steady my camera to take a legendary picture,” and the poem ends with the “flash” of the camera. Though the setting is not described, a sense of place is suggested as the players stand shoulder to shoulder, a “colorful canvas” as “blacks and whites stand side by side.” The truth, or moment of insight about this historical moment is revealed in several lines. The poem alludes to the Civil Rights struggle–“Challenges and the races/They had to win to make their statement”–as well as the unity of the team–the coach “treating each and all like an equal son” and the team “connected in more than just great pride.”
Texas Western 3, 2, 1 Scattered smiles and serious faces In the Miners I see the traces Of all the challenges and the races They had to win to make their statement.
The small, white coach does his best to stay hidden He takes no credit for all they have done Treating each and all like an equal son
As I steady my camera to take a legendary picture I see the significance of this colorful canvas Blacks and whites stand side by side Connected in more than just great pride. Flash!
This poem by Emma prompts a final reflection about what is history. Historians often stress the importance of examining the historical context and purpose of the primary source that is being evaluated: meaning is constructed. Literally, what is the historical lens that the photographer of Emma’s poem uses to help viewers see this moment of victory in the Civil Rights struggle? Questions for future research might be the following:
“What were the challenges that the Texas Western team faced?” “Were the team players really united?” “What was the coach’s role in this struggle and did he avoid the limelight?” “Did this championship win change attitudes of society?”
The “History as Story” writing workshop is an exciting opportunity for students to add their voice as they shape an understanding of history. I encourage you to find a moment in history that fascinates you and, through the power of storytelling, look closely and think deeply about truths that have shaped our Nation.
The Humber River Arch Bridge in Toronto. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. quest.eb.com/search/167_4034014/1/167_4034014/cite. Accessed 12 Nov 2018.
Librarians as engineers? Not a great leap when you consider that librarians help students to build bridges from information to insights, making connections that add meaning to the research process. Making connections is a powerful thinking strategy that engages students in active and meaningful learning. In a recent publication by The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, “Supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development: Research Implications for Educators,” the authors state that “students need new concepts to link in some way to things they already know, or they will not have the mental maps that their brains need to process the material;” building connections that reflect students’ interests or goals deepens the learning (Allensworth et al 10-11).
Tapping into several Visible Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero, I worked closely with Sara Schultz, the fifth grade Geography teacher, to immerse students in the process of making connections. Following are a few examples:
Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate Generate: Students mentally pictured the type of signs they might see in National Parks and brainstormed the reason for the signs. “Do Not Feed the Bears” personal danger from close contact with bears and
making bears dependent on food (losing ability to fend for themselves) “Stay on the Trail”
might get lost, or dangerous/slippery/unstable land or
might damage native plants, ground cover
For a dramatic example of deterioration of a National park, students also viewed an interactive graphic of Salt Lake Water Woes (earthobservatory.nasa.gov) and brainstormed cause for the drastic depletion of water.
Sort: Students pointed out which of the reasons were Human Factors that might harm the National Park, such as making bears dependent on human food or damaging native plants or water use and irrigation for agriculture depleting the Great Salt Lake.
Connect: Several articles from the New York Times modeled for students how to connect cause to several effects, such as this article about Burmese Pythons in the Florida Everglades:
As students researched, they organized information on Concept maps. In the example below, Gracie made connections between “Native Species — Bark Beetle — Killing Trees — Easier to Burn Down” and then draws a line to connect concept of Fire to concept of Native Species. This student also added yellow exclamation symbols to those concepts she felt were important or needed further investigation, such as “Grizzly Bears recently removed from endangered lists now being shot in Wyoming.”
Circle of Viewpoints This thinking routine was useful in showing connections between conflicting viewpoints: 1) brainstorm a list of perspectives; 2) assume a perspective; and 3) generate questions or concerns from that viewpoint. Students viewed several New York Times articles about Bears Ears National Monument and assumed conflicting perspectives over land use:
Trump (open lands for development, such as mining, farming)
Patagonia (wilderness outfitter company– wants to protect recreational use of land)
Native Americans (who wish to protect lands as sacred sites)
This process of modeling strategies and guiding students to make connections has been exciting. I challenge librarians to put on your hard hat, pick up a Visible Thinking tool, and experiment with building your own bridge to knowledge.
In an NPR video series on Billy Collins, the poet laureate was asked how young poets could get started writing poetry. Billy Collins responded, “it’s such dull advice, there’s really no key to it, you just have to read, read poetry for 10,000 hours.”
Immersing young writers in models of fine writing was an idea echoed during a 2017 NCTE conference session on literary magazines. This session was a wonderful brain trust for individuals new to sponsoring a school’s literary magazine. In addition to bringing back copies of other schools’ literary magazines, I brought back the advice repeatedly heard: provide student writers with models of good writing and read, read, read.
In an earlier AISL blog, “Inspire Writing with Memorials,” I mentioned that our library and student LitMag editors are sponsoring a writing contest. Our LitMag editors were challenged to make promotional posters that not only advertised the contest, but also featured a poem example reflecting the contest theme of memorials or collections. As our LitMag editors searched for models of well-crafted poems, the library poetry book shelves became a cornucopia of inspirational ideas.
Below are two examples of poetry books that sparked imaginations, along with students’ poem reflections and poster design decisions.
Bravo! by Margarita Engle.
Margarita Engle, named in 2017 as the Young People’s Poet Laureate, celebrates the lives of Hispanic people from all walks of life in this collection of poems.
LitMag editor, Sebastian, chose the poem “Life on Horseback”and explained, “this poem is a memorial to a Mexican-American cowboy named Arnold Rojas (1898-1988). Due to lack of job opportunities for immigrants, he worked as a farmworker. He leaves that job for a more exciting life as a cowboy. This poem emphasizes that you must take pride in your work and if you don’t, you should search for a more meaningful job.”
Design principle for poster: Symmetry.
Silhouetted horse heads face each other on the poster and displayed below are flags of Mexico and the United States of America, indicating the duel heritage of cowboy Arnold Rojas.
Maya Angelou (Poetry for Young People).
This collection of poems by Maya Angelou display her emotional connection with struggles
and triumphs of African Americans, including the struggle from oppression to attaining
lives of dignity.
LitMag Editor, Alex, chose the poem “One More Round” and observed, “this poem shows a man who loves to work and believes his work is much more than slavery: ‘I was born to work but I ain’t no mule.’”
Design Principle for poster: Repetition.
An intricate assembly line shows miniature factory workers heaving, hoisting, and loading large flour bags onto automated belts. These bags of flour are being processed so another man, drawn above the assembly line, can enjoy a bowl of cereal. Alex reflected that his drawing shows “a man that’s just eating a bowl of cereal and is treating it like any other. Look further down on the poster and you can see the work that goes into making this bowl of cereal is worth a whole lot more than it looks.”
This process of selecting poems to model well-crafted writing was a creative stretch for our LitMag editors: an opportunity both for design thinking and personal reflection on how poems communicate to an audience. The finished posters are now displayed throughout the school, inspiring our young writers through reading poems by established poets.
For further exploration of how writers rely on models of good writing, see these books that celebrate famous poets:
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Margery Wentworth
Kwame and co-authors pay tribute to famous poets by imitating the poetic style or enkindling the emotional connection of these poets.
Boshblobberbosh: Runcible Poems for Edward Lear
by J. Patrick Lewis
Lewis, the 2011 Children’s Poet Laureate, writes poems in the style of Edward Lear to honor Lear’s whimsical language and playful use of the sounds of words.
To read more on how NCTE supports school literary magazines, see REALM Awards (Recognizing Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines).
Memorials promote powerful, personal encounters with moments in history. I recently created my own memorial to commemorate a time in which my newly married parents were separated during World War II.The assemblage of photos and letters documented the years 1942-1945, when my father, JJ, was setting up radio communications in Iceland while my mother, Wanda, worked in an ammunition plant and then, later, stayed at home raising a newborn son (my brother, Joe).
The centerpiece of the memorial was a newspaper clipping that featured a story about my mother’s drawing of my father holding his newborn son. The idea that prompted the drawing was that JJ had never seen or held the newborn. Wanda created the drawing by viewing a photo of her husband in uniform and then adding the baby in his arms. When Wanda sent this drawing in the mail, the army “censors” discovered the drawing; they then shared the drawing and story with the St. Louis newspaper. A photographer at the newspaper created a photo montage; using a photo of my father dressed in his army uniform, the photographer combined it with the baby’s photo.
The collaged photo appeared alongside my mother’s drawing. In the newspaper story, she explained, “You see, he has never seen, much less held his 11-month-old son. So, to fulfill his desires as best I could, I sketched this picture of him holding his own flesh and blood.” Wanda also added “We write each other every day and the mail arrives on an average of once a month, so, at times, I get as many as 30 letters in one day.”
In addition to this newspaper clipping, the memorial contains several letters that JJ wrote, including the letter that tipped off Wanda about his destination in the war. Before JJ left for army training, they discussed that letters would be censored (“Idle Gossip Sinks Ships” was stamped at the bottom of his army stationary). So my father devised a code: when he knew the location of his war assignment, the first word of that letter to my mother would indicate the country by the initial letter of the word. JJ’s letter dated on November 11, 1942 began “Incidentally, as you know all my letters in the future and as of now are subject to censor….” He intended to signal that he would be stationed in Iceland, but my mother in a panic thought the letter “I” stood for Italy and that JJ was headed to the fierce combat.
A final item that I included in the memorial was a harmonica. As the story goes, when my father arrived home to be welcomed by my mother and the 2 ½ year-old son, a son he had never seen in person, my young brother clung nervously to my mother’s dress, fearful of this tall, strange man with the booming voice. My father crouched down and dropped the duffle bag from his shoulder. As he unzipped the bag, he brought out a shiny harmonica, blew across it, and handed this magical, musical object to his son, winning him over.
This memorial was created as an example for a student writing contest that the library is sponsoring this fall, inviting students to create their own memorial or collection of things that have a special significance. Students will then be encouraged to write a short essay or poem about how this collection is meaningful to them or suggests a special moment in history. In creating my own memorial, I rediscovered the importance of the bonds of love in the face of separation, and I realized that creativity can defeat challenging hurdles. Memorials can help us connect to our shared humanity; as author and historian David McCullough often states, “history is about people, history is about being human.”