Provocative Nonfiction about the Birth of Our Nation

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

I used to think that nonfiction was not my thing. But I’m a librarian, so I have to make it my thing in order to best serve my students and staff. Still, I often felt like I was twisting my own arm while reading nonfiction.

But then, as I often tell reluctant readers, after a few missteps with the wrong books at the wrong times, I started to find exciting, narrative nonfiction that was as captivating and readable as my favorite fiction pieces.

I was reading unbelievable stories about mutinies, revolutions, sports stars, and even corpses, and they were true! Not only did I have a great tale to tempt my students with, but every event actually happened.

People are enchanted by dynamic, true stories even more so than by fiction because they engage our child-like curiosity about the many events and topics that have previously eluded us. Yes, we have been in school (or out of school) for years, but we haven’t yet learned it all. I recently finished reading In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives, by Kenneth C. Davis (a 2017 YALSA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction finalist) and found myself alight with all that I had learned and wanted to share with others.

The Story

In the Shadow of Liberty tells the true stories of five African-Americans who were enslaved by four of the country’s founding fathers. We learn about Billy Lee, Washington’s right-hand man on and off the battlefield; and Ona Judge, Washington’s house maid who escaped and was fervently hunted by both George and Martha Washington.

We hear about Paul Jennings, who grew up playing with Dolly Madison’s oldest son, though Jennings was already enslaved to the family. And we learn of Isaac Granger, who was enslaved to Thomas Jefferson after Jefferson wrote a law ending slave trading to America.

Finally, we read about Alfred Jackson. Jackson lived his entire life at Andrew Jackson’s “Hermitage,” watching as Andrew ordered enslaved workers to be whipped savagely–but then doled out vast sums to provide defense lawyers for enslaved men on trial for involvement in a slave rebellion.

Kenneth C. Davis writes about the full scope of the labor that these five people were expected to perform. He describes the way that they were treated, and most especially, the roles that they played in the major accomplishments of their owners.

Why It’s Worth Reading

We spend a great deal of time learning about the Founding Fathers and the way that they helped develop the country and institute democracy. But like all famous figures, these men did not work alone.

There were many people, including hundreds of enslaved people, who fought in the wars, managed the meetings, and built famous structures, like the White House. Billy Lee went everywhere with George Washington, fought alongside him, and carried his most precious items and documents. He is one of the most famous enslaved people in U.S. history, yet no one knows when he died or where he is buried. He never even knew his own birthday.

The thing that stands out to me most about this book is a great historical paradox. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson were all deeply involved in battles related to rights and liberties, but each of them failed to consider, at least initially, that enslaving others was a direct contradiction to their fights for freedom.

This book will make you think about American history in a completely new way. It’s a fabulous text to work into a history or sociology class, and I can see it as an engaging title for students who are interested in current civil rights issues. In the Shadow of Liberty could turn anyone into a nonfiction convert.

Book Details:
Title: In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives
Author: Kenneth C. Davis
Reading Level: AR = 8.2
ISBN: 9781627793117
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Awards/Accolades: 2017 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist and at least 3 starred reviews

Bethany Bratney (@nhslibrarylady) is a National Board Certified School Librarian at Novi High School and was the recipient of the 2015 Michigan School Librarian of the Year Award.  She reviews YA materials for School Library Connection magazine and for the LIBRES review group.  She is an active member of the Oakland Schools Library Media Leadership Consortium as well as the Michigan Association of Media in Education.  She received her BA in English from Michigan State University and her Masters of Library & Information Science from Wayne State University.

Organically Integrating Vocabulary into the Secondary Classroom with Sarah Brown Wessling

If there’s been a vocabulary program out there, I’ve probably tried it. If there’s a vocabulary program I’ve tried, then I probably couldn’t make it work. After years of frustration and feeling like I kept taking students further away from words with lists and definitions and quizzes, I stopped. Then I decided to pay attention to how readers acquire language, how my students adopted it, and under what circumstances they were most likely to make new words a part of their lexicon. And we started to walk toward words instead of away from them. This webinar is focused on classroom practices that keep language and vocabulary essential to the classroom, but embed the instruction within an integrated approach to literacy.

Sarah Brown Wessling is a 17-year veteran of the high school English classroom. While a member of the faculty at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa she has taught courses ranging from at-risk to Advanced Placement and has served the department and district in a variety of leadership roles. Sarah is a National Board Certified Teacher since 2005 and in 2010 was selected as the National Teacher of the Year. In that capacity she worked as an ambassador for education, giving over 250 talks and workshops in 39 different states as well as internationally. Currently she maintains a hybrid teaching position which keeps her in the classroom and allows her to write, speak and work on teacher leadership initiatives around the country. Sarah is Laureate Emeritus for the non-profit Teaching Channel. She is an author of Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards and has launched her own blog, Open Teaching, at sarahbrownwessling.com.

This webinar is part of the Word Study, Vocabulary, & Grammar: the Toughest Nuts to Crack series.

Filling in Context Gaps

Notes from the Classroom

The other day, my eight year old was brimming with questions about the Revolutionary War. As I went through each, I found myself using vocabulary that he needed me to explain, like alliance–after which he quickly said, “Oh, I get it! My buddy is my alliance on the playground.”

My son is lucky that I majored in history in college. Yet, as teachers, we need to recognize that many of our kids do not have these experiences when they’re young. This opportunity gap explains why some students arrive to high school prepared to grapple with text complexity, while others continually struggle.

The Common Core State Standards state that ninth graders must be able to “[c]ite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1). This ability to infer depends greatly on the student’s prior knowledge.

So how do we play ten years of catch-up in four years of high school?

Teach Kids to be Resourceful

As an academic interventionist, I’ve learned that many students who struggle to understand the course content are also struggling to read the textbook.

Many students simply read the text without paying any mind to the accompanying images, graphs, charts, and summary boxes. In Text and Lessons for Content Area Reading, by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Nancy Steineke, the authors explain that reading is easier when “the text makes ample use of pictures, charts, and other visual and text features that support and add meaning.”

When I work with underperforming students, I first show them how to use these features. I show them how to preview the text, by modeling an image walk, observing headings and bolded words, and reading the end-of-the-chapter summary before actually beginning the reading. This helps build context for students who may be unfamiliar with the content.

Create a Collaborative Culture

Context in any subject area often begins informally through conversation. Creating a classroom based on discussion, then, effectively engages struggling learners by giving them an entry point. When I taught English 9, I incorporated frequent, low-stakes discussion opportunities. When students discuss content, they make their thinking visible, and teachers see what gaps need to be filled.

Early on in the school year, I introduced my students to the “think-pair-share” protocol. My students could anticipate and prepare to verbally discuss ideas, and soon this routine was normalized.

Some teachers may feel hesitant to put an underperforming reader on the spot, but there are ways to scaffold discussion:

  • I often had students spend a few moments writing down their ideas on paper before sharing with a partner.
  • I arranged my room in either pairs or quads, so that turning and talking was natural.
  • My students also needed processing time, in which they could ask questions and grapple with the content.

Authentic context is built upon multiple sources–not merely upon the teacher quickly rattling through facts. Having this time to discuss with peers and think aloud was important for resistant readers.

Model Strategic Reading

This year, I have worked closely with U.S. History students to engage with the content. Many of them tell me things like, “I can read this, but I don’t get it” or “I just can’t pay attention.”

I began to notice a difference in how my students were performing on tests when I taught them how to text code. This strategy, also from Daniels and Steineke, instructs students to label details of the text with symbols, engaging in an abbreviated reader response. Daniels and Steineke offer a general list of text codes that students can use to monitor comprehension, and I adapted this strategy to text code for content-specific details.

I worked with U.S. History students studying America’s entry into the first World War, for instance, and helped them develop the text codes (N and DW) shown here:

chart
As students went through the text, they used these codes, and categorized the actions leading up to the U.S. entry into WWI.

Text coding provides students with a framework, which is especially important for those who lack prior knowledge. It also serves as a scaffold to show students which details matter, helping them to pay better attention to the text and prepare them to annotate independently.

Moving Forward

Teachers can’t turn back time. But they can establish routines and norms that create growth for underperforming readers.

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for students who lack contextual knowledge. Still, by teaching students to read strategically and collaboratively with others, we include–rather than exclude–developing readers in the secondary classroom.

lauren nizolLauren Nizol (@CoachNizol) is an MTSS Student Support Coach and Interventionist at Novi High School. She has eleven years of classroom experience, teaching English, IB Theory of Knowledge and English Lab. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree in History, English and Secondary Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and her Masters in English Education from Eastern Michigan University. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project and an advocate for underperforming students and literacy interventions.

Growing Reading Practice

Notes from the Classroom

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I became an English teacher because I loved to read. My days would be filled studying the works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald–determining the link between a text’s historical setting and its plot, studying symbolism. I was so excited.

But with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and my training in reading and writing workshops, I realized something. With the CCSS, I was not a teacher of literature; I was a teacher of skills to read literature. I’d like to share two experiences that helped me develop this realization.

More than Summaries

In my first experience, I was several days into an introductory unit on personal narratives. My teaching partner and I chose a Nick Adams story as the text of study. After three days reading the story together as a class (insert groan here), students wrote summaries of the stories.

But these summaries restated words I had used in class to explain key scenes. They did not reference the actual text, and they had no feeling. Each summary was dry in word choice, and the structure was repeated over and over again, across the 120 students who wrote it. It was clear that kids did not engage in the text, nor did I ask them to.

I realized that kids should and can do more with a text than just name its main idea. Second, a better teaching move would have been to model for kids how to read this text to find a main idea.  

Observing a Writer’s Craft

The next experience involved a literacy consultant who brought some texts that were so interesting in content and structure, that I had to find a place to use them in my classroom. The consultant shared these texts as mentor texts for middle school informational reading. The texts were news articles and introductions to books, on The New York Times.

As a teacher who has always taught without a textbook, these texts opened my mind to authentic genres and dynamic texts that were rigorous for my grade level. They were also the complete opposite of the dry, formulaic informational essays that I had been reading.

Now I knew that I had texts that were worth reading beyond the main ideas. They had a beauty of language and unique structures that related to the development of their main ideas. I needed to model for kids, then, how to read these texts–to appreciate the word choices, craft decisions, and structures.

Close Reading

I currently work with teachers, and help them choose texts with the rigor expected in the CCSS. These are real-life texts that students can later use as mentor texts for writing.

51AsrMeYOxL._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_I teach close reading strategies for fiction and informational reading. According to Fisher and Frey, “Close reading is an instructional routine in which students are guided in their understanding of complex texts” (2015, p. 1). As an instructional coordinator, I love that Fisher and Frey’s text is offered for grades K-5 and 6-12. Key ideas from the 6-12 text that I have used in classrooms:

  • 1st read: What does the text say? By underlining key ideas and details, develop an understanding of the central idea of the text.
  • 2nd read: How does the text work? By taking note of vocabulary, craft, and structure, understand why an author uses these moves to enhance the main idea.
  • 3rd read: What does the text mean? Consider the bias and purpose of the writing to determine how a reader receives this text.
  • 4th read: What does the text inspire you to do? Evaluate the action you will take, having read this text, such as writing or debating.

Reading can be relevant and exciting for students. At the same time, I can teach reading skills, like noticing an author’s craft, and the impact these things have on my reading experience.

A Farewell to Arms may still be my favorite book of all time, and I may read it everyday before I go to bed. But my job as a teacher of English is to help kids learn how to access meaning from any text that they may encounter in their lives.

pic 2Amy Gurney (@agurney_amy) is an ELA and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Walled Lake Schools. She has a Master’s degree from Michigan State University in Educational Administration and is currently pursuing an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership at Oakland University. She is a current Galileo Leader. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.

Webinar – Who is Using the Vocabulary?: Engaging Students in Active Practice with New and Important Words with Dr. Dianna Townsend

When students, or any of us, learn new words, they need opportunities to practice with and personalize those words. This is especially true if those words are essential to something they are reading or if they need to use them in their own writing. This interactive webinar will share approaches and strategies that encourage students’ active practice with important words to support reading comprehension and writing. Additionally, this webinar will share instructional and environmental resources that teachers can easily integrate into their classrooms to support all students, and especially those who are struggling with vocabulary learning, reading, and writing. Finally, this webinar will include suggestions for identifying whether or not a vocabulary strategy is a good fit for a specific learning objective, as well as some vocabulary assessment tools that can be adapted to any word list or lesson.

Dr. Dianna Townsend is an Associate Professor of Literacy Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate literacy courses and serves as the Graduate Program Director for the Master’s Degree in Literacy Studies. Dr. Townsend is a co-author of Vocabulary Their Way: Word Study with Middle and Secondary Students, and her research has been published in, among other journals, Reading Research Quarterly, The Elementary School Journal, and Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Dr. Townsend facilitates regular professional development workshops on vocabulary instruction, reading in the disciplines, and academic language. Prior to becoming a professor, Dr. Townsend taught high school English and psychology in Massachusetts.

This webinar is part of the Word Study, Vocabulary, & Grammar: the Toughest Nuts to Crack series.

Selling Reading to Kids Who Hate It

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_307383305Strong words, right? Whenever I see the words hate and reading this close together, my skin crawls.

And yet, I have known many students who have resisted reading with a vengeance. But instead of throwing my hands up, I learned how to strategically market books to students who fought the process.

Give Books Street Cred

“Wait-wait. He read this? He read a book?”

This was a student’s response when I book-talked Boy 21, by Matthew Quick, to him. I ended my spiel saying how much his friend and fellow “non-reader” liked it.

The student was shocked that a.) his friend had read a book and b.) he had actually liked it. That conversation did more for the student than my simply telling him that Boy 21 was one of my favorite books from that summer. Of course I love books. I’m the English teacher. But a resistant reader, reading the book while he was home sick–instead of watching Netflix?

Books need street cred.

Talk a Lot About Books

More than ever, resistant readers need exposure to new books. They also need repeated invitations to read.

When I taught seniors, I made it my point to talk about a new book every day for the first unit. I wanted kids to see my genuine interest, engagement, and happiness that a book gave me. Even though some kids’ eyes glazed over, others were quietly taking note of my recommendations.

In fact, in his final reading reflection, one student described how my daily book talks unexpectedly piqued his interest. This student had struggled to find a book to hold his interest. Add this to frequent absences, and it was easy to view him as a disengaged student.

But by the middle of the semester, he ended up selecting Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to read. Talking freely about a wide range of books opened a door for membership into the reading community–for a student who did not see himself as a reader.

Let Them Hear Other Resistant Voices

Penny Kittle's interviews of high school students. Click to view on YouTube.

Penny Kittle’s interviews of high school students. Click to view the interviews on YouTube.

Every semester, I introduced independent reading to my classes using Penny Kittle’s interviews of resistant readers. Kittle’s interviews are raw, and students freely share their disdain for books.

At one point, a boy confesses to all the fake reading he had done over his schooling. Kittle follows it with simple empathy: “Has reading always been hard for you?”

I always loved watching kids react to this clip. First, it was interesting to watch many nod their heads when the student began talking about the fake reading he had done. But most of all, I noticed how freeing it was for students to watch another be vulnerable about his reading baggage. I would watch relief cross their faces as they realized that they are not alone in their vulnerability.

If I say reading is hard for me, kids don’t buy it. But if they hear others say so, it has a deep resonance. And then when they hear that same voice share a book they love: it’s magic.

Let Them Quit

The worst thing teachers can do for a resistant reader is force them to read a book they hate. The main reason kids tell me that they don’t read: “’cause it’s boring.” What they really mean is that they don’t like to read boring books.

When students quit, it is key to have another book waiting in the wings. Recently, I book-talked Twisted to a student who admitted he doesn’t read alongside his classmates at the daily read. One of my big selling points was that he could quit if he disliked it. We set a deal: if he read three chapters and disliked it, he could come back for another book. When he left, he assured me that he’d give it a try.

Kids who struggle to read often need to experience a book that makes them feel successful. Repeated invitations to read, exposure to a wide variety of books, and reading autonomy are empowering ways to position non-readers as readers.

lauren nizolLauren Nizol (@CoachNizol) is an MTSS Student Support Coach and Interventionist at Novi High School. She has eleven years of classroom experience, teaching English, IB Theory of Knowledge and English Lab. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree in History, English and Secondary Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and her Masters in English Education from Eastern Michigan University. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project and an advocate for underperforming students and literacy interventions.

Webinar – Cracking the Vocabulary Nut Requires Rich, Interactive Instruction with Dr. Margaret McKeown

Effective vocabulary instruction calls for providing students with a variety of encounters with words and interactive experiences in which students think about and use the words. The research base for effective vocabulary learning will be presented along with ample examples of interactions and ideas for the classroom. Discussion of how to select words for instruction will also be included.

Margaret G. McKeown is a Senior Scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center and Clinical Professor in the School of Education, University of Pittsburgh. Dr. McKeown’s work covers the areas of learning, instruction, and teacher professional development in vocabulary and reading comprehension. She is the co-developer, with Isabel Beck, of robust vocabulary instruction, and Questioning the Author, a discussion approach to comprehension instruction. Before her career in research, she taught reading and language arts in elementary school.

This webinar is part of the Word Study, Vocabulary, & Grammar: the Toughest Nuts to Crack series.

Webinar – From Texting to Teaching: Teaching Grammar Beyond the Screen with Dr. Troy Hicks & Jeremy Hyler

Grammar instruction continues to be more important than ever when we look at the digital landscape our students belong to today. Experts Constance Weaver and Jeff Anderson offer us wonderful ways to infuse grammar into our everyday writing lessons. However, as educators, we need to address how students write in digital spaces. We need to teach them to differentiate between the writing they do in their digital spaces and their non-digital spaces. In this interactive session, teachers and educators will learn effective strategies using Google Slides along with social media, that can help students to differentiate between formal and informal writing while learning new grammar skills.

Dr. Troy Hicks, an associate professor at Central Michigan
University, teaches pre-service writing methods classes and facilitates professional development on the teaching of writing, writing across the curriculum, and writing with technology. In his research, he collaborates with K-16 teachers and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms.  He also serves as the Director of the
Chippewa River Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project at CMU. His publications include The Digital Writing Workshop (Heinemann, 2009) and Because Digital Writing Matters(Jossey-Bass, 2010). Twitter ID:@hickstro

Jeremy Hyler is a 7th/8th grade English teacher at Fulton Middle School in Middleton, Michigan. In addition, he is a co-director for the Chippewa River Writing Project. He co-authored Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools. He is also a contributing author to Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely. He is currently working on his second book about teaching grammar in the digital age. Jeremy has presented both statewide and nationally on the importance of integrating technology effectively and with purpose into the language arts classroom. He is always interested in helping teachers find new, productive and meaningful ways to implement technology into their classrooms. Jeremy can be found on Twitter @jeremybballer and his website is jeremyhyler.wikispaces.com.

This webinar is part of the Word Study, Vocabulary, & Grammar: the Toughest Nuts to Crack series.

Webinar – Cracking the Code of Early Literacy: What Is Phonemic Awareness and Why Does It Matter? with Dr. Laura Tortorelli

In this session, we will explore an important, often-discussed, and often-misunderstood building block of early literacy: phonemic awareness. What is phonemic awareness exactly, and why is it so important for children’s reading development? How is it different from phonological awareness and phonics? To answer these questions, we will discuss research on the role of phonemic awareness in learning to read, how phonological awareness and phonemic awareness develop over time, and the reasons that both children AND teachers often struggle with phonemic awareness in the classroom. In the context of the Michigan state ELA standards, we will discuss how to assess phonemic awareness and key instructional activities that build phonemic awareness.

Laura Tortorelli received her Ph.D. in reading education from the University of Virginia in 2015 and is currently an assistant professor in the Teacher Education department at Michigan State University. Her research examines the context in which children develop into proficient readers and writers in the early elementary grades, with a focus on how word recognition and writing skills develop from Prekindergarten to 3rd grade. She draws on developmental perspectives (Chall, 1986; Ehri, 2005; Sharp, Sinatra, & Reynolds, 2008) and the RAND model (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002) of reading comprehension to highlight how reader, text, and task factors interact in an iterative process that shapes reading development over time. She has recently been named the 2016-2017 Jeanne S. Chall Visiting Researcher by Harvard School of Education and an Emerging Scholars Fellow by the Hall of Reading Fame. Her current projects analyze writing in Prekindergarten, alphabet knowledge in kindergarten, and interactions between reading fluency and text complexity in second grade. In addition, Dr. Tortorelli is beginning a year-long collaboration with teachers in the Flint Community Schools to support their early literacy instruction.

This webinar is part of the Word Study, Vocabulary & Grammar: the Toughest Nuts to Crack series.

Webinar – Grammar in Theory; Grammar in Practice: Language Use in Culture, Society, and Our Classrooms with Dr. Jonathan Bush

This session will explore the ways grammar is positioned in contemporary and historical language use, consider how such grammars can be discussed, implemented, and assessed in student writing instruction, and how such grammatical stances can enrich current writing projects and inspire new ones. Drawing on the work of Constance Weaver, and incorporating the lessons learned from Grammar Alive (Haussamen et al), and other contemporary grammar and language practitioners and theorists, this session will provide tools for teachers of all levels to enrich their discussions of genre, language use, writing, and revision in their classrooms.

Dr. Jonathan Bush is a professor of English at Western Michigan University, where he teaches courses in English education, writing pedagogy, and rhetoric and writing studies. He also directs the Third Coast Writing Project and coordinates the developmental writing program. He is the co-developer of the first-year writing intensive initiative, a program that remediates failing first-year students and gives them additional opportunities to success.

This webinar is part of the Word Study, Vocabulary & Grammar: the Hardest Nuts to Crack series.