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Posts tagged ‘English langauge arts’

5 Beautiful Picture Books About Artists

5 Artist Picture Books

Diego Diegoby Jeanette Winter

Written by Jeanette Winter, this book will captivate you with illustrations and the story of Diego Rivera (in Spanish and English). The story is informative for all ages and conveys Diego Rivera’s celebration of Mexican culture and the people of his country. The story serves as an excellent introduction to his artwork and life. Older students can continue their research to delve more into his childhood and later, his move to Paris and back to Mexico, especially as this influenced his artwork. Students will learn about his murals as well as his passion for social justice.

VivaFridaViva Frida

by Yuyi Morales

Frida Kahlo, Mexico’s celebrated artist and passionate woman is seen through vivid language and poetry – all accompanied by lush, vibrant and colorful illustrations. The poem is told in both English and Spanish, and celebrates Frida with strong verbs and a style that evokes Frida’s artwork. The author’s note includes insight and her own connection to Frida Kahlo. This book is a great jumping off point for learning more about Frida’s life and artwork. (For another great picture book that will teach you more about Frida’s life, check out Frida by Jonah Winter).

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri RousseauFantastic Jungles of Henri Matisse by Michelle Markel

The jungles are living and breathing in the work of Rousseau. This is the story of a self-taught artist who persevered and followed his dream, only beginning to paint at the age of forty. The text is engaging and aptly bring life to the colorful illustrations – which immerse the reader in art just as Rousseau became immersed in his own paintings.  Adults will also appreciate the myriad of historical figures who appear in the illustrations and add depth to the picture book for older readers. Those who know about Rousseau will likely still find new details about his life and work, and children will be inspired by his dedication, perseverance and determination.

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri MatisseThe Iridescence of Birds by Patricia Maclachlan

Matisse is celebrated with beautiful illustrations inspired by his hometown and the French countryside. The cold, gray village is juxtaposed with light, color, patterns, paint and a home filled with opportunity for art. Young Henri and older Henri are both found in this story, and the reader can see the life story of the artist through the beautiful illustrations. Matisse’s family had pigeons and he would observe the birds, paying close attention how the light would change their colors as they moved – the iridescence of birds. You will also find author’s and illustrator’s notes which bring insight and thought to the story of Henri Matisse and the writing of this picture book.

My Name is GeorgiaMy Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter

Flowers, nature, the American Southwest, sunset, the deserts of New Mexico. Georgia O’Keefe holds an important place as an American artist. This book appeals to readers of all ages, telling Georgia O’Keefe’s story in a first person narrative. Georgia, as a young girl, was unique in her dress, manners, and focus. At the age of twelve, she knew she would be an artist. With the support of her family she attended art school and forged her own path in the male-dominated art world. She painted the beauty of nature and landscape as she saw it, with her own unique perspective. The illustrations are lovely and will transport you to Georgia’s world. The biography is simple yet interesting. Readers will be intrigued and captivated by Georgia’s life and her intense passion for art.

Of course there are many wonderful picture biographies of artists – these are only five! What are your favorite picture books about artists?

Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst

Close reading.

Looking through titles of journal articles, professional development books and teacher training sessions, it seems that close reading is the buzz word of the year. And yes, I already overheard a parent ask, “Is it really something new? Weren’t we all reading texts and answering questions thirty years ago too? What changed?”close.reading

Actually, a lot has changed. We have so many people to thank for helping us understand how readers make sense of text and how meaning is created. (I’m just going to add one gigantic thank you to Louise Rosenblatt at this point!) And while students have been answering questions for many, many years, there is still more for teachers to learn on the subject of reading. Now when we talk about close reading, Notice and Note is the book that will become a turning point for teachers everywhere. I have no doubt that Kylene Beers & Bob Probst’s text will become the definitive text on the subject of close reading for narrative texts. And now I will add: Thank you Kylene and Bob!

What will you learn when you read this book? Topics that will keep your highlighter in use—-

  • What does literacy look like in the 21st century?
  • What are text dependent questions?
  • How are they part of the Common Core State Standards?
  • How can I create and use text dependent questions with the text I am teaching?

And of course, the signposts. What are signposts? Kylene and Bob have identified six signposts that we need to teach:

  • Aha Moment

    Using color with signposts

    Using color with signposts

  • Again & Again – Repetition
  • Words of the Wiser
  • Tough Questions
  • Compare & Contrast
  • Memory Moment

We know what good readers do when they read: they make connections, construct meaning, ask questions and try to answer them. They engage with the text. And we know that often, our struggling readers don’t do these things. They miss the cues for the important moments in the text. Teaching your students the signposts will bring about the “aha moment” – yep, and that is one of the signposts! It is the “wait – that was repetition. We read that phrase in the last chapter. I remember it. Why did the author repeat it? Why is it important?” And we stop, notice it and then take note. Then we build and make connections. So after you learn about the six signposts, you will be ready for anchor questions, reading logs and charts. You will be ready to build these concepts into your curriculum.

  • What are anchor questions?
  • How can I use anchor questions to help students further their analysis of complex texts?
  • How can I use a reading log in my classroom? How can I use signposts with independent reading?
Signpost Bookmark

Signpost Bookmark with color

You will also discover that many teachers are already sharing their signpost bookmarks, charts and reference materials. Check out pinterest boards and Teachers Pay Teachers for plenty of ideas (you will find not only bookmarks, but also posters, anchor charts, flip books, strategy cards, reading logs and more). I made a color coordinated signpost page (to use with colored post-its) and bookmark as well. The book will also give you some fabulous inspiration for creating signpost charts with your students for continued reference throughout the year. The appendix include reading log samples. You can also head to the Heinemann website and find the pdfs of the documents in the appendix, which is quite handy. (Check out the Companion Resources tab)

At the heart of this text is creating opportunity for student engagement with texts – and fostering meaningful, thoughtful engagement and conversations that will create new reading habits. This isn’t a text about how to teach a novel, but rather how to teach students to become better readers of all novels that they pick up, whether it is in the library or the classroom or at home.

Friends, this is a book you will want on a shelf in your classroom. Read. Annotate. Highlight. Start teaching the signposts. And drop me a line to let me know how your students are doing with their close reading!

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir told in poetry. BrownGirlDreamingThis book is ideal for upper elementary and middle school. And in a word, it will leave you breathless.

Not surprisingly, Brown Girl Dreaming was awarded the National Book Award and you will find this book on numerous lists of “top children’s books of 2014.” If you haven’t read Jacqueline Woodson before, this is the perfect introduction. And then you should start reading her other books — and with 3 Newbery Awards, 2 National Book Awards, a Coretta Scott King Award, 3 Coretta Scott King Honors, among other awards, she has many books that you simply MUST read.

Teaching this book includes so many possibilities. And today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. Perfect. This is what comes to mind after finishing the book….

Thematic Topics for Exploration

1963 and the Civil Rights Movement. Woodson was born in 1963 and throughout the book you will find mentions of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., peaceful protests, sit-ins, Ruby Bridges. The events of the Civil Rights Movement are very much a part of this book, which is an excellent opportunity for students to explore these moments in history. The possibilities are endless for learning and discussing Civil Rights as your students read Brown Girl Dreaming.

Setting. Ohio, South Carolina and New York. The author’s childhood, taking place in both the South and the North, is profoundly affected by place. The smell of her grandmother’s cooking, the dirt, the Southern small town where she walked with her siblings…and the North, the New York setting and also Ohio. Setting is an important piece of this story. Pairing this story with poetry that deals with setting (thinking of Nikki Giovanni’s “Knoxville, Tennessee”) and you have a great connection for your students to explore the importance of space and setting.

The Importance of Dreams. Certainly the American Dream is alive and present in Woodson’s memoir. This is a story of dreams and how one little girl keeps her both her dreams and her family history alive through writing and storytelling. The juxtaposition of dreams and history is fascinating, as Woodson looks to the past while she writes and dreams of the future.

Race and Identity in America. Woodson’s memoir of course deals with race and identity, particularly as it shaped her upbringing in South Carolina, Ohio and New York. As Woodson discusses in a recent interview, “My grandmother would always say to me, ‘You’re a pretty brown girl,’ ” she says. “There was something about ‘brown’ that felt more universal, and it was speaking to more people than myself.” (see National Public Radio interview) And in seeking to write more books about diversity, Woodson has given readers a book that speaks to more than her own individual experience. This is a book that will encourage students to think about their own identity and place.

Picture Books About the Civil Rights Movement

Some of my favorite picture books – ideal for introducing the Civil Rights movement and excellent for pairing with Brown Girl Dreaming. These books lend themselves well to class discussions and text sets.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodsonotherside

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

The School is Not White! A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Doreen Rappaport

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkey

Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights by Jo S. Kittenger

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carol Boston Weatherfordruby

More online resources for building a unit around Brown Girl Dreaming


Jacqueline Woodson’s website

National Public Radio interview

National Book Award video

New York Times piece by Jacqueline Woodson “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke”

Please share – have you read Brown Girl Dreaming? What are your thoughts about possibilities for the classroom?

What do you read and discuss for Martin Luther King Jr Day in your classroom?

Reading Strategies: What is a Text Set?

So what exactly is a text set? And can it be used in the secondary classroom?

I first encountered text sets while sitting in the classroom of my master teacher. It was my first year of teaching and needless to say, I was overwhelmed. The conversation was centered on my American Literature 11th grade English class. We were supposed to follow the textbook, in chronological order, meaning that we started the year with very challenging literature (Puritans! Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God! The Crucible! The Scarlet Letter! Oh my!) and many of my students were not ready for such difficult texts. At this point in time, I was definitely in the “consciously incompetent” phase of initial teaching – that is to say that I was fully aware of the fact that I did not have a clue how to teach these difficult texts. I distinctly remember my master teacher (a gifted teacher and reading specialist) asking me “What are the barriers for your students? What do they need to know in order to read this material?” And she gently guided me toward the idea of text sets. The first text set that I ever created was centered on the idea of the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism, to accompany our reading of The Crucible.

bookmagstackIn her book Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?, Cris Tovani writes about the importance of connecting students with accessible texts and how text sets can be used in the single subject classroom. Text sets are not new in the elementary world. But they are not as common in the secondary classroom, and Tovani points out that text sets are a great opportunity for several reasons. This textbook alternative connects students with a wide variety of texts, introduces different options for discovering new material, new viewpoints, creates as opportunity to connect with current events, and helps students build background knowledge. Tovani writes:  “Text sets are not designed to catch kids who aren’t reading. Text sets are designed to give reluctant readers a choice of interesting and accessible text. They provide opportunities for learning and practicing reading strategies.”

A good text set will include a variety of information and reading in different structures (informational, narrative, poetry, etc), different lengths, but will maintain a common theme or topic. The idea is to help your students get information, make valuable text connections, and achieve a deeper understanding of the selected topic or theme.

There are numerous ways to use a text set in your classroom. I have been in some elementary classrooms where the teachers have multiple text sets available to all students at all times and they are in constant motion! It’s amazing. Here are some ideas for how I like to use a text set in the secondary classroom. When creating a text set, there are several criteria that I like to keep in mind.

4-5 pieces of text. More than 5 pieces of text can be overwhelming for students. Keep this in mind as you will need to allow reading time in class for the text set. I think 4 is a good minimum as you want to include enough pieces to allow for multiple text-to-text connections. Of course these numbers are flexible and a lot depends on what you are including in your text set. If you have more than one visual piece, you may want to include 6 or 7 pieces. On the other hand, if you have a lot of text for students to read, you may want to stick with only 4 pieces of text. Or you may want to create multiple text sets (5 or 6 sets, each different with 20-30 different texts total) and rotate them through your class over a two week period. This could be especially practical and useful when tackling a subject such as World War II in a history class.

Visual. This may be a picture or a piece of artwork related to the theme or topic of your text set. This visual may speak to your student artists, who are able to make a connection and discuss the artwork. Another important point to including a visual in your text set is the absence of language. Asking the students to describe and discuss this visual will help them develop their own academic language. This process can be illuminating for students who have not previously thought about the possibility of analyzing and discussing art. It is one more way for students to make a connection.

Poetry. Can you find a poem on the same subject or theme of your text set? You may have some poets in your classroom who would love to read a poem. You may also have some students who are wary of poetry and discussing a poem is an intimidating idea. In both cases, it is important for students to have multiple exposures to poetry and yet another opportunity for discussion and connections.

A short, simple narrative. This may be achieved by including a picture book or short story. A narrative structure can be very important. I think this is especially important if you are asking students to read a significant amount of informational text. If you are a content area teaching who is creating a text set on a topic that will complement your primary textbook, this may be especially important for a successful text set. Reading a challenging chapter in a biology book is intimidating for many students. Reading a simple story of a virus may give them just the right window to make a connection and help them understand some of the academic language used to discuss viruses in their high school level textbook. Remember, a good text set includes reading at a variety of levels. This isn’t meant to take away from your challenging reading or “dumb down” your curriculum; this is meant to enhance your topic and give your students information at multiple levels so they can engage with the reading. (Curious about more picture books for text sets? Read more about Picture Books, Not Just for Kids!)

Possibilities for text sets:

  • Poetry
  • Short Stories
  • Vignettes
  • Magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Picture books
  • Biographical information/short biographies
  • Maps
  • Photos
  • Artwork/Paintings
  • Song lyrics
  • Journals or letters
  • Brochures
  • Charts or graphs
  • Almanacs

Another question that I hear from teachers is “can I use a text set if I’m not an English teacher?” The answer is yes, absolutely! I have seen text sets used in high school science classrooms, history, home economics, business, computers, foreign languages, even math – the possibilities are endless! In working with content area teachers and English language arts teachers, I have read teacher-created text sets on a wide array of topics and themes, including

  • Ancient Greece
  • Marketing
  • Civil War
  • Japanese Internment Camps (to accompany reading of Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne & James Houston)
  • Homelessness and mental health (to accompany reading of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls)
  • Solar System
  • Inventions of Mesopotamia
  • Roman Gladiators and the Colosseum
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Race and identity
  • Ecology of rainforests

As you can see, the possibilities truly are endless. Text sets can be used to help students connect with accessible texts and so much more. It is possible to use text sets as jumping off points for reading a new novel, group projects, essay assignments, journal writing, presentations – be creative in your classroom! How can you use a text set?

Have you used a text set in your secondary classroom? Please share!

A Teacher’s Twitter List: 12 Folks that I Follow (and why)

I started using Twitter about a year ago. A friend told me I would love it. Admittedly, I was skeptical, twitterbut she was right. Twitter is a great way to connect with people with the same interests and it is an excellent resource for teachers. I follow a lot of people on twitter and it helps me find interesting articles, lesson plans and ideas. Here is a list of 12 folks that I follow regularly!

Alice Keeler.  @alicekeeler  All things Google! So I am NOT a tech teacher. I can easily become baffled and confused when attempting to say, load videos on my blog or figure out how to use slides with Google. I was recently in a friend’s classroom watching her students work on laptops and I immediately thought wow, could I use a classroom full of laptops to their fullest potential? Not on my own. So that’s why I read Alice Keeler. She has awesome tweets (and blog posts) and I actually learn something from every one that I read. If you have a tech question in the classroom, search Alice’s blog posts and tweets!

Todd Whitaker. @ToddWhitaker  Todd is an educator, author and speaker. He posts about leadership, education reform and inspiring quotes. Often found under #edchat.

Dave Burgess  @burgessdave  Teach Like A Pirate. Need I say more? Dave is passionate, interesting and tweets regularly with relevant and inspiring information for teachers. Pirate!

Erin Klein. @KleinErin  First off I love the pictures of her classroom on her blog (I think that’s how I found her actually). Her tweets are relevant and interesting. She has a healthy mix of technology in the classroom as well as reading and curriculum tweets. She is a teacher in Michigan and she blogs regularly as well.

We Are Teachers. @WeAreTeachers  Someone told me this is like Facebook for teachers. I don’t know exactly how accurate that it, since it might be that We Are Teachers is actually more interesting! I like the WAT posts and they often have give-a-ways for teachers. Who doesn’t like winning free stuff?

Kylene Beers. @KyleneBeers  (I am a huge fan of Notice & Note: Close Reading Strategies). If you are interested in reading, English language arts, comprehension strategies, then Kylene Beers is someone you need to follow. She chats on twitter and posts interesting links. Someday I am determined to make it to NCTE and see Kylene present – until then, I follow her on twitter and read everything she writes!

John Gunnell  @gunnellAP  John Gunnell is a middle school principal. I like his tweets because they are always focused on students and how we can all work toward a better education system for our students. Find him under #edchat regularly.

Carol Jago. @CarolJago  I first heard Carol Jago speak at a CATE conference about 14 years ago and I still remember it. Carol is an amazing speaker and it is inspiring to listen to her discuss curriculum. I love her book With Rigor for All. And her book on teaching Nikki Giovanni. And Alice Walker too. Her books are practical and interesting. If Carol’s name is on the text or the tweet, it’s worth reading. Done.

Siobhan Curious. @siobhancurious  Teachers are People Too. I like the byline, so that says something right there. Siobhan (a pseudonym) is a teacher in Canada in a CEGEP program, similar to a junior college. What I like about her posts is that they are both honest and funny. She is a teacher who cares about students and writes about all the ups and downs of teaching English, writing, and yes, spending hours grading essays. She also posts a Top Ten Books of the Year (I LOVE book lists!). Worth reading her tweets and her blog posts.

Dr. Justin Tarte  @justintarte  I like reading Dr. Tarte’s tweets, always focused on teaching, educating, keeping students’ best interests at heart, and looking for ways to improve education for all. You can often find his tweets under #edchat and #unionrxi

Kristen Swanson. @kristenswanson  Another educator who knows so much more than I do about technology! She is part of Edcamp (definitely worth checking out) and posts regularly about technology, leadership, learning, and teacher education. You will learn something from her tweets!

Kevin English. @KevinMEnglish  So I stumbled across this twitter handle and I’m glad that I did. Kevin is a third year English teacher in Michigan, an avid reader, and his posts are interesting and thoughtful. You can also check out his blog at englishseducation (I recently added it to my blogroll).

 Who do you follow on twitter? Please share! I love looking for new, interesting tweets!

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