Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Webs We Weave

Monday Myra posted about graphical literacy, using Sea Turtle Scientist as her example, yesterday Mary Ann weighed on on Horse Shoe Crabs -- I like the (entirely unplanned) way those two posts begin to build a week-long unit. I'll join in here -- not on sea shore and amphibious animals but, again, on the weave of art and text in nonfiction.
      We do not do enough to train our eyes for how text and image can and should work in nonfiction. Most professionals who work with younger readers receive some training in -- or at least have a decent amount of life experience with -- 32 page picture books. They understand that art, text, and page turn can an should add up to a lived experience where the child performs the magic of opening the door -- crossing the Cumberland Gap -- by turning a page and arriving at the next spread. [Martha Parravano has written wonderfully about this in A Family of Readers (Candlewick, 2010)]. But that attention to layout and design is not as widely shared in nonfiction.
      In my view, the best illustrated nonfiction is expressly not Art + Text, such that if I write "apple" in the text the reader may expect to see an image of an "apple" on the facing page. Rather, nonfiction can and should provide an immersive experience in which the selection and placement of visual elements brings the reader into the lived world the author is exploring. In Jim Murphy's multiple award winning American Plague, for example, the chapter openers do not "illustrate" anything in the running text. Rather they are artifacts that place you into the mental world of 1793 Philadelphia. In Tanya Stone's also multi-award-winning Almost Astronauts, the images change from black and white to color when women, finally, rocket into space as astronauts.
      Of course the CC standards ask students to read across media, to develop visual literacy, and, in turn, to write papers in various formats. One way to help students sharpen their eyes is to look carefully at any nonfiction book to examine how it uses text, image, and page turn to narrate. The question is not just whether there are nice captions or good sources. Rather it is one of design -- what choices has the author and/or the art director made to influence how you experience this book through the interplay of words and images? Perhaps in one of these blogs I'll at a spread or two with all of you showing the decisions I made -- or see -- in it. What book(s) would you like to discuss?

Marc Aronson

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Horshoe Crabs and Red Knots, Boys and Girls

The prehistoric horseshoe crab is in danger. Yes, the prehistoric horseshoe crab, a creature that has managed to survive since the age of the dinosaurs, is now in jeopardy. The Red Knot populations on the East Coast are also in jeopardy. Why? Because during their annual spring migration, they and many other shorebirds rely on a steady supply of horseshoe crab eggs, available along the coast from Florida to Canada, but particularly along the shores of the vast Chesapeake Bay.

This is yet another teachable moment when news stories converge on a topic that is fascinating for young people (and the rest of us!) and allow us to showcase an excellent nonfiction picture book and meet a whole bunch of science, math, and ELA standards as well. Victoria Crenson's Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Food Web (2003; 2009) is a beautifully written narrative about spring along the Chesapeake Bay, and the interconnectedness of the crab and shorebird life cycles. I have been a strong advocate of this book since its publication, and the teachers whom I teach have consistently seen its teaching potential not just for the science content, but for the powerful imagery, vivid verbs, and beautiful figurative language. Anne Cannon's watercolor illustrations are the icing on the cake.

If you would like to utilize this teachable moment during the spring migration, whether or not you live near the coast, you might find these other resources useful: 
As a follow-up to my post from last week on teaching about the intersection of gender, work, and income inequality, you should know that today's "Upshot" article in The New York Times discusses new research about gender and school performance. It's essentially about  the force multiplier of girlhood in the context of academic success and the "boy problem," which really means it's about much, much more. There is a great deal to unpack in this article, about the need for male teachers, about changing how we do school, etc. One of my take-aways is the desperate need to provide all children, but particularly boys, with inquiry-oriented, hands-on investigative explorations at the elementary level, where it has seemingly disappeared. Another great reason to infuse more nonfiction into the curriculum.   

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Thinking About Graphical Literacy

Ever since reading an article on graphical literacy last year, the topic has stuck with me. I think about it when looking at books. I have included it in my graduate courses. I even prepare activities for children with graphical literacy in mind. Here's a citation to the article that first started me on this path:

Roberts, K. L., Norman, R. R., Duke, N. K., Morsink, P, Martin, N. M., & Knight, J. A.
     (2013). Diagrams, timelines, and tables--Oh, my! Reading Teacher, 57(1), 12-23.

According to the authors, graphical literacy is the ability to comprehend graphical devices such as captioned graphics, diagrams, flowcharts, graphs, insets, maps, tables and timelines. As we all know, this material is abundantly present in nonfiction, and it is quite informative IF you know how to use it. Unfortunately, many children do not. They don't learn about graphics all at once either. In fact, not all concepts related to graphics are even learned by the end of third grade.

Fortunately, the article cited above has a dozen ideas for teaching graphical literacy that teachers will find useful.  Check it out. This material is urgently needed, since graphical literacy is necessary for effective reading comprehension. To put it bluntly, if we don't stop and look at graphics, we miss a lot of information that isn't in the written text. That's a huge loss for us.

Being aware of graphics is making me read in a more wide-awake way. I stop and ask myself these questions: What new information is this graphic teaching me? Is it extending the text? How? Why did the author choose this graphic? What if another type of graphic were used? How would the message be different? My reading is richer for this.

Here's an example. Right now I am reading Stephen R. Swinburne's Sea Turtle Scientist, a part of the "Scientists in the Field" series. This book details the work of Dr. Kimberly Stewart, a scientist who is working on the island of St. Kitts, trying to save the leatherback turtle from extinction. As I am reading, I am asking myself questions: What does the map of St. Kitts  show me about the setting of Dr. Stewart's work? What can I learn from the labeled diagram of an adult leatherback sea turtle? What does that table of sea turtle species show me? I am slowing down to see how graphics and text work together. I think I am becoming a better reader for it, and this is something I can share with my students. And believe me, I am!

Try it for yourself: Think about the graphics you encounter in your reading. And, in addition, consider reading Sea Turtle Scientist. It's clearly written, abundantly illustrated, appealingly formatted, and just plain interesting. It gives you a close look at what a scientist actually does and how she works with members of the community. It's inspiring.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Common Core Lens: Core Out Your Informational Text

Yesterday, I presented at our statewide School Librarian Conference in Syracuse, NY. 

Our acronyms are SSL/NYLA.  Section of School Librarians/New York Library Association.  

I introduced a new web-based evaluation tool that we developed with an IMLS grant. 
(IMLS – Institute of Museum and Library Services).
Common Core Len (CCL) is a new web-based evaluation tool to evaluate and identify how a piece of informational text/nonfiction will work with the Common Core Learning Standards. It helps you identify the deeper meaning of informational text/nonfiction and gain insight into how the qualitative measures, quantitative measures and considerations for reader and task as identified in Appendix A: Research Supporting Key Elements of the Standards work in concert to establish the educational value of informational text/nonfiction. 

CCL provides an opportunity for anyone – a librarian, a publisher, a teacher, or a student to put nonfiction through a rigorous electronic evaluation. 

Take a few moments register and evaluate some nonfiction.   
One tip when using CCL. -Don’t forget you can “mouse over” any of the check box choices  to see a definition of that word or phrase.



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Compare & Contrast

I did a workshop yesterday at the Rockland County BOCES for K-6 librarians and other literacy types on pairing books for the Common Core.  The ELA Anchor Standard 9 is "Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take."  The specific standard varies by grade, of course, and is different for fiction and nonfiction.  But the basic idea is one of the best ways to start analyzing books.  Participants in the workshop paired up, with each pair reading two short biographies of the same person.  
First as a group, we looked at Jane O'Connor's Drawing with Scissors, illustrated by Jessie Hartland, and Jeanette Winter's Henri's Scissors, both about Matisse.  We'd talked about aspects of picture book biographies that kids might compare: illustrations, structure, tone, content, scope, point of view, vocabulary, uses, etc.  I provided everyone with a simple compare/contrast graphic organizer in which books could be contrasted by a few categories like those.  The O'Connor biography uses a frame of a student writing a paper on Matisse, and includes photographs, reproductions of Matisse's artwork, and some childlike drawings from the student narrator.  The artwork in Winter's book echoes Matisse's but doesn't include reproductions or photographs.  The O'Connor tone is upbeat and informative; Winter's text is shorter and more lyrical.  

 In looking at other biographies, some of the pairs of participants found one better for reading aloud, while the other worked for independent reading.  Some biographies focused on one part of the person's life while many cover the whole life in brief.  Some participanats found the two books complemented each other while others found they provided pretty much the same information.  The goal was to try an exercise to do with students, and the response was enthusiastic.  Middle school librarians felt that it would even work well with their students, short as the biographies were.  For younger students, a Venn diagram might be a better way for them to organize similarities and differences.
Sometimes it's easier to see a book's features in comparison to another book.  For example, we tend to assume biographies will be chronological, as most are.  So when a student reads What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz, the structure may seem insignificant.  But if the student then reads, Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta, the differences in the structures jump out. Both books supply a lot of information about Franklin's life but Now & Ben does it through looking at his inventions and innovations and their influences on the present. The discussion topic is then, "Why did the author do it this way?" and "How well does it work?"

The Compare-Contrast graphic organizer we used can be found here:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This Friday I am speaking at the New York State School Library
Association, then, the following Thursday at the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association -- with a trip to the Washington (DC) Science & Engineering Festival, and a school visit in between (aside from the usual full time teaching load). Busy. But good busy. If you were to read the headlines, you would see how Common Core is a "wedge issue" that some hope will give a grass roots boost to conservatives. Or, about parents holding their children back from being tested. Or teachers and librarians angry about assessments. All of these are true. But the reality I see on the ground, in the many talks I give, is engagement, work: rolled up sleeves. Almost universally I find professionals who understand the need for the Common Core standards (or whatever the slightly modified standards are called in their state) and want to find ways to help implement them.

Here is yet one more headline -- to add to the links Mary Ann offered, and the CC-grumbling I just mentioned: Upshot As many of you must have seen, the Times is launching its new "upshot" feature with an analysis that shows how the middle and lower classes in the US are falling behind peers in other parts of the world. We can -- we should -- debate why this is so (an apt CC exercise). But it is a perfect response to the CC-resistance. It is one thing to say the standards are imperfect, the roll out uneven or botched, the assessments poorly designed, the overlap between student assessment and the judging of professionals an ill-considered mixing of apples and oranges. It is another to say that we need to prepare our students so that 1) they can fight for a society in which they have their best chance of success 2) they are best prepared to flourish in a global environment. Going back to what we had before CCSS makes no sense. Hoping that some non-existent structure of new standards would magically make everyone happy is, just that: magical thinking. So we are left with the standards we have, improving them, implementing them, working together.

And that is the other note I am seeing: teachers more willing, even eager, to hear from librarians. Librarians who recognize the need to show what they can do. A busy time -- but good. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lean In? Recline? The Classroom Materials Are All Around Us

As a woman, a working mother, an educator working in a historically female profession, and as the mother of one daughter and the aunt to four girls, I have had a range of personal responses to the different discussions about the status of women in the workforce in America that have surfaced over the past few months. Should we Lean In and Ban Bossy? Should we "Recline" instead? Do we have a "Confidence Gap," as Katty Kay and Claire Shipman suggest in the latest issue of The Atlantic? What are the ways in which women in particular, and families in general, are impacted by growing income inequality and the shrinking middle class? How has the opportunity to telecommute changed family and workplace dynamics? The threaded discussions in the Facebook feed, around the dining room table, and at work have been fascinating.

But what I think about these issues is not really important. I want to know what teenagers, male and female, think of these conversations. This constellation of articles and news stories is ideal for creating classroom conversations that matter to young people. As educators, our job is not to tell young people what to think. Our job to teach them how to think. To expect them to think. To give them the opportunity to think.

Back in January, Myra and I wrote about ways of exploring work and identity in high school social studies. The conversation about women and work, about how women work, and the intersection of social, cultural, and political forces that occurs in each of our lives is an important one. I would love to know how high school teachers are harnessing this national dialogue, which seems to represent much of the spirit behind the Common Core State Standards regarding perspective, point-of-view, evidence and information, and argumentation.  Just consider these questions alone:
  • What is happening to women in the white collar workforce? Blue collar? What's the evidence? 
  • Who is writing about women in the workforce, and why? 
  • What is the cause of income stagnation in the United States? Are women and men impacted equally by this?
  • What causes income inequality? Why is the gap between the top income earners and everyone else growing wider and wider?
Meeting the Common Core State Standards does not require spending lots of money. Sometimes, the  materials we need are all around us. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Clearing Our Heads and Finding a Focus: Putting Thoughtful Engagement with Content in the Forefront

Have we forgotten the depth vs. coverage arguments? I thought this was settled: Depth of understanding is better for students than racing across the curriculum. That is, teachers need to allow students the opportunity to build in-depth knowledge, not settle for bits and pieces of unconnected facts. And yet, once again, this issue is upon us.

Here is what is becoming ever more apparent to me. When covering standards is our focus, it becomes a race to the finish line. Content flies out the window. It becomes secondary to process. Our students become secondary, too. And that is what is being reflected in educational journals. Here’s an example. In the March 2014 issue of Language Arts, the editors wrote about first grade teachers who were teaching folktales and tall tales about Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, Annie Oakley, and Davy Crockett. This is part of the first grade social studies curriculum, and the teachers were also connecting this curriculum to the ELA standards for reading and writing. However, they also wanted to include tales that represented the students’ cultural and ethnic backgrounds, but there wasn’t enough time to build this more relevant curriculum.

Think about this. Think deeply. There wasn’t enough time in first grade to stop and make the curriculum relevant to the students. There was, instead, a pacing calendar that provided the teachers with their marching orders—“Move on!” As I continued to read articles in Language Arts, I continued to see authors voicing this same concern again and again. When covering standards is our goal, we neglect the reason we are in school in the first place—to teach our students, to nurture their curiosity, to help them appreciate, question, and investigate the world.

Trust me, this is leading someplace. When thoughtful engagement with content is our focus, we can embed the standards in our teaching. We can have it all—content and process. One place to begin thoughtful engagement with curriculum is with nonfiction literature that itself reflects meaningful learning. So today, I want to focus on one book that does this as an example. That book is The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science by Marc Aronson. (Yes, Marc is one of the bloggers on this website, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is the type of book we need.)

Why do we need this type of book? We need this type of book because it shows someone engaged in thinking. In this case, Adrienne Mayor was thinking about the links between myths and fossils. She was thinking that our ancestors’ stories were based on observations in the natural world. And, over the course of years, she showed that this was so. This was not simply an overnight “aha!” moment. Adrienne Mayor’s discoveries involved years of reading, speaking to scientists, traveling to archaeological sites, and sometimes making mistakes. And, importantly, this work continues. As our students read about Adrienne Mayor and discuss her work, it’s easy to embed CCSS standards into what we are doing. This is important too. But let’s think about why we are doing what we are doing. Are we sharing exciting stories about thinking? Are we inviting students to think too? In my opinion, this comes first. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Renewal

Re-visiting Our New Year’s Resolutions

May is right around the corner and I think it is a great time to take out your list of New Year’s resolutions and see how you are doing.  Now if I were in charge of these resolutions, I would have made it very easy for you.  One simple resolution: read more nonfiction.  You can start today!  It is never too late to update a resolution list.  Spring is a great time for action – tax season is over for most of us so why not celebrate with some great nonfiction? 

Set aside your favorite fiction and just pick up some great nonfiction.  Don’t worry; your fiction will still be there.  I know – I do this all the time.  Why do this?  Reading nonfiction adds a balance and experience to your life that you will appreciate.  I hear some exasperation right now, but seriously – don’t you want to know what really happened? Or learn how to follow directions? Or what foods can provide better nutrition? (Blueberries of course!) One mystery solved and millions more to go.

Guess What? Reading nonfiction doesn’t always need to be a book.  The Internet is full of ripe and ready articles to satisfy any reading taste you might have. 

My recommendation today is about a medical mystery that caused many deaths until a group of dedicated professionals solved it. 

 Red Madness:                                                         

How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat

By Gail Jarrow Calkins Creek/Boyds Mill Press, April 1, 2014

It just hit the book stores this month.  I picked up the ARC of this book at ALA Mid-Winter in Philly and fell asleep reading it every night during the conference trying to read as fast as I could.  The pacing, the intrigue, the idea that we had this mystery illness killing children and adults in the early part of the 20th Century.  Why?  I won’t give away what the cause of this illness was.  What I will say is the use of photos to convey the gruesome symptoms and death of so many was just heartbreaking, but it was very compelling to read on to find out why it happened and then how it was solved. A perfect example of cause and effect reading experience. 

The narrative text layout with font changes to cue the reader to the local vignettes describing the many tragedies is riveting.  Source notes, author comments and all the text features put together a compiling story.   Recommended Ages 10 and up.  Starred Review from Kirkus – well deserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Glad to be back here with the team. I am blogging about our starting this up again in my SLJ blog. One thing that I am seeing -- and would love to hear about from all of you -- is the many, many different CCres. That is, the implementation, who is doing the work (school and/or public librarians; teachers; literacy coaches; admins; parents), the nature of the challenge, the assessments, vary from state to state. So while the standards are the same and many aspects of the CC are the same, the experience on the ground varies widely. While I hear about states bowing out, resistance, parents opting out of tests, I am seeing a lot "can do," "give me suggestions," "how can I help" spirit.

So might be nice to build a kind of state by state grid -- what is going on in each state. What information sources are librarians using -- their own? Ideas from other states? Which? That way we can start to see who can help whom, and how.