selective focus photography of a mailbox
3-5, Writing

The Pen Pal Project

If you are a teacher of students in grades 3-5 in the US, you might be interested in signing up for The Pen Pal Project sponsored by the United States Postal Service and We are Teachers. Participation is free and each class receives a Pen Pal Project kit. Sign-ups end on December 12, 2021, so be sure to visit the site right away if you want to be included. Although stamps will not be part of the kit, envelopes and stationery will be provided. You can find more information here.

students writing on their notebooks
Photo by Norma Mortenson on Pexels.com
6-12, Anti-Racism, Teaching Tools

Bias

Today is Juneteenth.  155 years ago,  Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.  This was two years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  Unfortunately, the slow delivery of this official notice was indicative of the years that followed.  Some Americans apparently still haven’t received the message.

As promised a few weeks ago, I am continuing to post weekly about anti-racism.  As I learn more about my own complicity in our nation’s reluctance to face the problems of bias and racism, I want to share resources that have helped me, as well as ones that can be used with students.

In the last month, I have read two great books that I received through the Next Big Idea Book Club.  These books arrived long before the recent protests, but they were perfectly relevant – which is a sad commentary on how far we haven’t come.  I would recommend these books to those of you who are interested in scientific evidence that explains why we continue to make the same mistakes in our culture.  The first is, Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell uses multiple stories (including the death of Sandra Bland) and scientific investigations to explain how our misconceptions and inherent biases lead us to believe we can “read” people we don’t know when we really are making poor assumptions. Biased, by Jennifer Eberhardt, is an intriguing look at our neurological tendencies to stereotype.  Eberhardt, a professor of Psychology at Stanford, shares the results of several fascinating studies that reveal how our brains find it easy to embrace bias – and gives some suggestions for how we can overcome this.  (By the way, these book links are to “The Dock” independent bookstore in Ft. Worth, Texas, an African-American owned store, through Bookshop.org.)

While spending a lot of time reflecting about bias, including my own, I was going through the Anti-Racism Live Binder that Joy Kirr had kindly shared with me back when I first posted about my anger regarding George Floyd’s murder.  I found this post under the, “For IN Class” tab.  “Confronting Bias with Fifth Graders: Using the Draw-A-Scientist Experiment and the Covers of Picture Books To Help Students Recognize the Biases They Hold” is by Jessica Lifshitz.  There are several lessons and links to resources in this post that could definitely be used with students who are 10 and up.  I’ve used the “Draw-A-Scientist” lesson that is at the beginning of their journey, but I never took it to the level that Lifshitz did.  Teachers who are thinking about how to confront bias and racism in the classroom should definitely take a look at this post.

Happy Juneteenth.  I hope that, a year from now, we can celebrate some real positive changes in these areas.

Hands Together
Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

 

3-12, Anti-Racism, Language Arts, Social Studies, Teaching Tools, Websites

Texts for Talking About Race

As I continue to educate myself on anti-racism, I have vowed to devote a weekly post to this cause.  I have been curating resources for this at a rate that is impossible to sustain, and it has been a bit overwhelming.  I don’t want to dump a lot of links on you because you can basically get any list that you want from social media.  Following the tradition of this blog, I will attempt to share no more than a few quality resources with each post.

Today’s very useful resource is brought to you by CommonLit.  I’ve written about CommonLit a couple of times on this blog, and it is heartening to see that this website has continued to improve.  Provided by a non-profit, CommonLit also has remained free for teachers.  As you know, (and I mentioned in yesterday’s post), quality ed tech tools are difficult to find, and sometimes don’t last very long.

CommonLit has compiled 59 texts for talking about race.  It appears that the grade range is from 4th-12th.  Here is an example of a poem called, “The Child,” by J. Patrick Lewis, that is suitable for 4th grade and up.  As you can see on the right-hand side, activities are provided to go along with the text, including questions and discussion suggestions.  Students who are logged in on a computer (not a mobile device at this time) can also annotate the text.  They can have the computer read it out loud, or translate to another language.

At the top of the page, you will see tabs for paired texts, related media, and parent/teacher guides to go along with the specific text.  You must be logged in for some of these resources – but remember it is free to register!

If school is already out in your neck of the woods, be sure to bookmark this resource for next school year.  Parents, you don’t need to wait, since there are guides for you to use if you want to start the discussion now.

Stop Racism
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

3-12, Creative Thinking, Language Arts, Teaching Tools, Writing

Storytelling School with the Moth

UPDATE 1/19/2021: You can still use the lessons from Storytelling School (there are 32 total), but The Moth has a new project for 2021 that I describe in this post.)

The Moth is a program that promotes storytelling.  You can listen to stories that have been curated from The Moth’s live shows on “The Moth Radio Hour”, and there are also a few books of story compilations that have been published.

Like many entities during this time of widespread distance learning, The Moth has decided to offer some activities that can be done at home.  The stories and activities, offered bi-weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays, have been chosen specifically for school-age children, and include videos of the original storytellers.

The first “Storytelling School” assignment is “The Bad Haircut” by Alfonso Lacayo.  This tale is probably quite relevant right now as many of us are questioning the best course of action for maintaining hair styles with most salons being closed.

In the second installment from “Storytelling School,” Aleeza Kazmi narrates her experience creating a self-portrait in first grade, and her eventual realizations about herself and others that came from that event.

“The Care Package” is the third assignment, and a welcome, feel-good story that demonstrates that distance can never truly separate those who love each other.

The most recent “Storytelling School” assignment is “Mushroom Turned Bear,” and it’s one that anyone can relate to if they have tried to follow a YouTube tutorial and it spectacularly failed.  There are other accessible themes in the story that make it universally appealing as well.

So far, there are only the four assignments (the latest one was from today, 4/10/2020), but you can keep up with news of more by going to this link.  Also, if you are a teacher, be sure to check out the education link on the top menu for other ways that you can bring The Moth into your classroom.  For anyone who needs a laugh right now, which I suspect may be many of us, here is a link to their recent “Laugh Break” playlist. (Note: I haven’t listened to this yet, so definitely screen these before you share them with students.)

priscilla-du-preez-Q7wGvnbuwj0-unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

3-12, Creative Thinking, Education, Language Arts, Writing

ELA 12 Days of Christmas

Last Thursday, Richard Byrne shared an absolute treasure trove of Google Drive templates created and shared by Darren Maltais.  You can click the link above to read Richard’s post.  One of the templates that you may want to consider using in the near future is “ELA 12 Days of Christmas,” which offers 12 different creative writing ideas, along with examples. Whether you plan to use some or all of these, you should definitely make a copy of this to help you and your students make it through this occasionally overwhelming time of year!  (I particularly like the Facebook example with comments from Buddy the Elf and Rudolph!) By the way, if you would like math activities for the 12 Days of Christmas, you can try this.

12_days_melody.png
image from Wikimedia

 

6-12, Critical Thinking, Education, Language Arts, Teaching Tools, Websites

LitCharts

If you teach middle or high school literature classes, you really need to check out LitCharts.  This tool can really help your students analyze a text with a multitude of interactive infographics that can enrich their understanding of a novel in a unique way.

I came across LitCharts while I was looking for different way for my students to discuss the themes in The Giver.  My students are 5th grade gifted students, and the resources are a little advanced for them.  However, there were definitely some pieces I could use with my class.

One of my favorite tools is the “Theme Tracker.”  This page describes the major themes in the novel.  What is unique is that it not only describes the theme and its usage by the author, but it offers an interactive chart for each theme.  The chart allows the user to see immediately which chapters relate to the theme more than others. If you don’t remember the chapter very well, you can click on it to go the chapter page, which gives text evidence supporting the themes.  All of the themes are color coded, so you can see how certain passages support more than one theme.

LitCharts also gives breakdowns regarding symbols, characters, and quotes.  While you are browsing the site, be sure to look at the “Chart Board” for your favorite book, one of the most powerful infographics I’ve ever seen.

Because some of the books included happen to cover somewhat adult topics, be sure to thoroughly check out the LitChart coverage of the book before assigning it to your students.

I suppose some teachers might view this as a high tech cheat sheet, but savvy teachers will find many ways to use this to enrich the learning of their students.

example of a LitChart entry for one of the themes in The Giver - on the actual page, you can click on any chapter number to find out more
example of a LitChart entry for one of the themes in The Giver – on the actual page, you can click on any chapter number to find out more