Friday, September 27, 2013

14 Cows for America

There are days that I REALLY miss teaching in the classroom. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my job as a librarian, but I miss that cool connection that you get with students in the classroom. So I was thrilled when Mrs. Williams asked me to come into her classroom to share 14 Cows for America, a moving, powerful picture book by Carmen Agra Deedy (978-1-56145-490-7). 

This lesson exemplifies the beauty of true collaboration and co-teaching. Mrs. Williams and I talked about some of the problems her struggling readers were having, and we identified that asking questions while reading was one of the areas that needed improvement. It's ironic that educators sometimes stifle the natural questioning ability in students. Think of any 3-5 year old you know, and I bet that kid asks a million questions. Will that same curious kid ask as many questions as he/she gets older? Probably not. Is it because school often programs students to ANSWER the questions rather than ASK them? That's my theory, and maybe the topic of another blog post... So we decided that we would model the kinds of questions that go through our heads while we read a text. 

Mrs. Williams started the class with a journal entry: "What do you know about 9-11, Africa, and cows?" This started their basic K-W-L chart, accessed their schema, and piqued their interest. It's a small victory when a group of teens WANTS you to read the book to them because they are curious. I then introduced the lesson and pointed out that good readers ask questions in their heads while they read. I shared the book, making sure to show the pictures and talk about "illustrator's purpose," which is a great way to scaffold kids into author's purpose. Mrs. Williams wrote the questions down under the "W" for things we wanted to know as I read, and we modeled these questions together. I just have to say that the kids were ENGAGED in the book, and they even threw out terms like "symbol" and "theme." It made my former English teacher heart happy.

There was a third teacher involved in this collaboration: Matt Nichols, the technology facilitator and iPad guru on our campus. He helped Mrs. Williams integrate the iPads into this lesson, and he took a pic and tweeted it while I was reading:

After we finished the book and students found out that this was a TRUE story, their questions became even more relevant: Where are these cows today? Why did the Maasai do this? Who are the Maasai? Students used the iPads to research one question that interested them. They used this website that is referred to in the back of the book: We used QR codes to help the students get to the website. It's a HUGE victory when teens WANT to research something that they are curious about, and it proves that picture books can be used as a springboard for research!

This is when the power of collaboration really kicked in: During the first class, we tried to have the student do too much with the iPads. We wanted them to make their KWL chart on "Tools for Students" app, then find three facts to answer their question, and create a Skitch to present their information. We did not have enough time to do this during the first class, so we decided to just have them make their KWL chart on the iPad and submit it to Edmodo for the other two classes. This worked MUCH better, and we will use Skitch in the future as the kids get used to using the iPads.

Even though the students weren't creating anything really "cool" in Skitch, they still were truly engaged in completing their KWL charts on the iPad. It just shows that using technology can turn something ordinary into something cool:

Using Skitch to present his 3 facts about the Maasai Tribe

Typing his KWL chart
Helping a fellow student submit to Edmodo

Overall, this lesson with three different classes was a great success because of our ability to monitor and adjust to make it work. It was fun to co-teach with these great educators, and I hope to do it again and again. This picture says it all:
You're never too old for a good picture book, especially when you get to use an iPad! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Gilded Age

My U.S. History teachers wanted my help getting students to understand the Gilded Age and specifically child labor and labor unions. In the past, students have had a difficult time understanding and making connections with these topics because they live in an age of governmental regulations in the job market. My goal was to find a book that spoke to one of these topics and could be used to connect to the next major topic as well.

My choice was Kid Blink Beats THE WORLD by Don Brown. This picture book tells the story of the newsies' strike in 1899 and their negotiations with the owners of two of the largest papers printed in New York City during that time period.

The students had just had an activity lesson on assembly lines and were about to begin the topic on child labor issues. After reading the book, the kids made a foldable T-Chart comparing and contrasting the working conditions of the assembly line workers and the newsies. Students had to infer their answers for the newsies because very little was explained in the book reading.

Once we had the charts filled out, we openly discussed their lists and made them justify their answers if the ones given were too vague. Then each table worked together to write down ways they could improve the conditions of each group. The teacher and I then discussed how being a part of an organization (like a teacher's organization) would work on behalf of it's members and negotiate for better work environments. Using the lists the students gave us, we showed how they could negotiate on behalf of the assembly line workers or newsies, and that they would be discussing child labor and labor unions in the classroom.

The teachers were happy with the lesson and students seemed to enjoy the book and activity.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Geometry and Angles

My geometry teachers came to me and wanted to try the picture books out on their classes. One of the teachers had used the math adventures of Sir Circumference by Cindy Neuschwander the year before on her own, but was looking for something simpler and faster that could be shared between teachers.

We looked at their topic schedule for the semester and came up with three ideas we wanted to use with the picture books (angles, reasoning, and triangles). Our first lesson was an introduction to angles, and I used Hamster Champs by Stuart J. Murphy.

This is a very silly, cheesy story about three hamsters that outsmart the family cat with car stunts and ramp angles. It was a quick, fun read and the students enjoyed it.

After the reading, we used a simple Angles Chart from Scholastic and had the students get up out of their seats and use pipe cleaners to find acute, obtuse and right angles within the classroom. It wasn't as easy as you might think...the obtuse angles were the most difficult to find. The entire activity took about 15-20 minutes and the students had a quick intro to the next week's lesson.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Press Here

As a former elementary librarian, one book was the HIT last year because it captivated all ages--squirmy kinders, apathetic sixth graders, and grown-up teachers alike. It doesn't matter the age, Press Here (ISBN 8857002527) is magical for everyone!

So I was curious to see how ninth graders would react to it. I told our reading teacher about this book and the inference lesson that I did with elementary students last year (Click here to read my elementary blog about it). Because her students are struggling with the process of making an inference in this class that is designed for freshmen who were not successful on the 8th grade reading STAAR, I thought a different approach might help them "get it." Rather than me go into her classroom to share the book, she wanted to try it on her own. Although I LOVE to go into classrooms and share books with students, I would never tell a teacher "NO, I have to be the one to do it." The fact that this teacher is already buying into the concept of using picture books with high school kids proves that half the battle is already won. So I checked the book out to her, and we collaborated about the lesson. A few days later, she sent me this email:

My A-Day reading classes LOVED the Press Here book. It took them a couple pages to get into it, but afterward, they wanted me to read it again. By the end, they were all saying the definition for inference. Thank you for the great idea!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Let me just say...I am TIRED! I forgot what it's like to teach six classes in a row (three one period)! It wears you out! was so GOOD!

So here's how it went -- The teachers introduced why the class was in the library and how I was going to connect their prior day's learning to what we did today. Then I took over and asked the kids to define "e pluribus unum" and then gave some examples. I told them that during the American Revolution, there were certain jobs and ideas that were kept from women, but that Mercy Otis Warren was not typical of her time.

I read the story (referenced in my earlier post) aloud while the students looked at photographs of the pages on the large screen. When I was done, the teacher reminded them of another topic they had discussed: the appeals of persuasion logos, ethos, and pathos. I explained that I had just learned these as well and asked the students to define them for me. We made some connections about the persuasive nature of war and political writings and then broke the students into groups to read excerpts from Mercy's writings (taken from the book).

Taken from Page 11 of Write On, Mercy! by Gretchen Woelfle
Each group had three minutes to read the quote, discuss and decide which persuasive appeal was used, and write down any vocabulary that helped them draw their conclusions. We explained that they might not understand the quotes as a whole because of the "proper English" of the time, but that they could use the vocabulary they DID know to work through the writings. After several rotations through the quotes, we returned to our large group setting and discussed aloud which appeals went with which quote. In most cases, the students were able to defend their choice of logos, ethos, and pathos even though the class as a whole might not have chosen the same appeal.

When we were finished, the teachers took the students back to the room to read and work with other types of American Revolutionary text before the students begin their persuasive papers later in the six week period. We reiterated that the students would be reading more texts like the ones Mercy wrote and to remember how we deciphered her appeals in the library.

The kids were engaged and seems to enjoy my reading to them! It's been awhile since my elementary library days of reading aloud over and over again. I'm going to have to get my sea legs back and practice my reading voice!
I've got five more classes tomorrow! Wish me luck! :)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Have a Dream

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's speech, I shared I Have a Dream (ISBN 978-0-375-85887-1), which includes a CD with original audio from the amazing speech and Kadir Nelson's breathtaking illustrations to accompany the text.

Mesquite High School is starting a new initiative this year called IGNITE. This is an accelerated academic program in a non-traditional setting that targets sophomore and juniors who have not had much success in a traditional classroom (i.e. they are on the verge of dropping out). These 70 students will be able to do a self-paced credit recovery computer program that accompanies project-based learning with the help of four core-area teachers. My librarian partner, Mrs. Harman, and I look forward to working closely with this special group of teachers and students.

We were invited into the IGNITE classroom on Friday afternoon to share this book with all 70 students. Before we started, I did a quick schpeel to explain that picture books are NOT just for little kids; they are for EVERYONE. Before sharing picture books with secondary students, it's important to set a tone with them--to honor their maturity and intelligence. After this introduction, I asked the students for some synonyms of the word dream. They came up with vision, view, goal.  We listened to Dr. King's powerful voice as I showed the pictures. The majority of the students were fully engaged and took Dr. King's message very seriously. Mrs. Harman noticed that many of them mouthed the words as if they had them memorized.

We even got a shout-out via Twitter!
After the book was finished, I used these questions to guide our discussion:

1. What is the "American Dream?"
2. Why do you think Nelson drew doves on the last page? What do they stand for?
3. Do you think Dr. King's "dream" has come true? Are we better off today than we were in 1963?

This last question brought about an interesting response. I asked the students to THINK about their answers before they responded, which was hard for them to do. Even after asking them to think first and speak second, many of them still blurted out "No, we are not better off." Mrs. Harman was able to be a "primary source" since she remembers the 60s (but that doesn't make her "old"!) , and she was able to share her own personal experiences of growing up in this era to illustrate to students that things are better legally although racism still unfortunately exists today. I concluded the lesson by asking students to reflect on their own "dream."

Next time we share a book with this class, I would like for them to write before they speak to give everyone a chance to think about their responses before blurting them out. This will take some time to build up to because many of these students have a negative reaction to writing, but this is my goal--to eventually incorporate more writing into these lessons.

As we were leaving, a student named Andres came up to me and shared this:

Andres: "Miss, this wise old man told me this one time. There are three kinds of people in the world: people who make it happen; people who watch it happen; people who have no idea what's happening."

Me: "So which one are you?"

Andres: "I'm going to make it happen just like Dr. King."

And with the help of IGNITE, I have no doubt that Andres will do just that.

Overall, this lesson was a great success. Considering that these are not your "typical" high school kids, the fact that they were engaged in this lesson proves that picture books can work with ANYONE.