BY MARY ANN CAPPIELLO on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
As we approach the final quarter of 2020, fires rage along the West Coast. Many regions of the United States face drought conditions. Gulf communities are inundated by Hurricane Sally while a string of storms line up in the Atlantic, waiting their turn. The impact of climate change is evident.
COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our lives, our health. We bear witness to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minoritized groups, including Black and Latinx communities, Native Americans, and the elderly.
Across America, Black Lives Matter protests carry on, demanding that our nation invest in the essential work necessary to achieve a more perfect union through racial justice.
In 2020, we remember moments of historic change, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
The intensity of this moment can’t be denied. It’s demanding. It’s exhausting. Whether you are a teacher, librarian, or university faculty member, you are likely teaching in multiple new formats and modalities, facing daily logistical challenges. Caregivers also face new hurdles in supporting young people’s learning.
How do you meet the needs of students and the needs of this moment in history? How do you find hope in literature?
Perhaps one way is to turn to the people of the past and the present who are working on the edges of scientific knowledge. Or, to turn to the people of the past and the present who have acted as champions of social justice. Their life stories offer young people models of agency and action, blueprints for change.
To that end, The Biography Clearinghouse shares 20 biographies for 2020, a list of recent picturebook and collected biographies to connect with the challenges of the moment. This list is not comprehensive. It is simply a starting place. We hope these recently published biographies of diverse changemakers can become part of your curriculum or part of your read aloud calendar, in-person or over video conferencing software.
Biographies About Scientists
Biographies About Champions for Change
If you have any picture book or chapter-length biographies or collected biographies for young people that you would like to recommend, please email us at email@example.com. We’re also interested in hearing more about how you’re using life stories in the classroom this year.
Mary Ann Cappiello teaches courses in children’s literature and literacy methods at Lesley University, blogs about teaching with children’s literature at The Classroom Bookshelf, a School Library Journal blog, and is a former chair of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8.
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NCTE Member Gatherings
A series of member-exclusive online gatherings. Each event "fosters conversation, brings new ideas, and builds relationships with your fellow NCTE members during the isolating time of COVID-19."
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NCTE Learning on Demand Web Seminars
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ILA Digital Events
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BY LIZ THACKERAY NELSON & MARGARET OSGOOD OPATZ
As former teachers, we are familiar with our students’ common refrain: “What does this book have to do with me?” Helping our students connect to what we teach in meaningful ways increases motivation, engagement, and overall learning (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). In this blog post we want to explore how creating and sequencing text sets to foster student background knowledge helps students make meaningful connections and increases reading engagement.
The importance of readers’ background knowledge has been acknowledged for decades (Anderson, Reynolds, Schallert, & Goetz, 1977; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Reynolds, Taylor, Steffensen, Shirley, & Anderson, 1982), yet in schools throughout our country readers are placed in texts that are decontextualized and reflect a lived experience very different from their own, making it challenging to construct meaning from the text and ultimately learn from it (Fleming, Catapano, Thompson, & Ruvalcaba Carrillo, 2015). This is particularly true when it comes to the informational content presented in science. To support readers in comprehending and learning from texts, teachers can reshape the curriculum by beginning with students’ lived experiences in mind. Reshaping the curriculum includes the use of high-quality literature sequenced in a way that begins with familiar content and contexts and then moves further from students’ lived experiences to the expected or mainstream curriculum.
Learning about Animal Adaptations in an Urban Setting
For example, when addressing science standards to teach about how animals adapt to their environment, many units of study focus on exotic animals such as those found in the Amazon Rainforest, the Serengeti, or Australian Outback--using texts such as I See a Kookaburra! (Jenkins & Page, 2005) , Biggest, Strongest, Fastest (Jenkins, 1997), or What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? (Jenkins & Page, 2008). While it certainly isn’t bad to teach about exotic animals and their unique ecosystems, to help students first understand how animals function in their unique habitat, it can be beneficial to begin with animals that are closer to students’ lived experiences. Therefore, before moving to texts that showcase exotic animals, we suggest using texts such as Please, Puppy, Please (Lee & Lee, 2005), Animal Babies in Towns and Cities (Kingfisher, 2005), City Critters: Wildlife in the Urban Jungle (Read, 2012), or Urban Roosts: Where Birds Nest in the City (Bash, 1992). These texts allow you to focus on animals that students who live in urban settings can observe in their own environment.
Imagine students reading Urban Roosts: Where Birds Nest in the City (Bash, 1992), a book which illustrates several urban locations where birds live and nest (e.g., in a storefront light, under the awning of a building, on a statue that stands on a street corner, in a stoplight). Then, as students walk outside of their school building (or their homes if they are learning online right now), they start to notice the birds that roost on the building’s exterior doorways, creating firsthand experiences of animals adapting to their environments, and opportunities to talk about scientific content beyond the school texts and science class. When meeting as a class again, students discuss how the birds have adapted to and thrive in the urban environment. By situating school texts in familiar contexts, students are able to build background knowledge before being expected to grasp concepts in faraway, unfamiliar places. Because we live in an urban area, we would sequence our animal adaptation text set like this:
Based on the area where you live, you may want to change the order of the texts. For example, salamanders are very common in some parts of the United States, so teachers in that area may want to move Salamanders by Molly Kolpin closer to the beginning of the text set.
Explanation of Text Sequence
Creating & Sequencing Your Own Text Set
To create and sequence text sets that begin with students' lived experiences and progress outward, we propose 5 steps:
Anderson, R. C., Reynolds, R. E., Schallert, D. L., & Goetz, E. T. (1977). Frameworks for comprehending discourse. American Educational Research Journal, 14(4), 367-381.
Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1998). What reading does for the mind. American Educator, 22, 8-17.
Fleming, J., Catapano, S., Thompson, C. M., & Ruvalcaba Carrillo, S. (2015). More mirrors in the classroom: Using urban children’s literature to increase literacy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Guthrie, J.T., & Wigfield, A. (2000). Engagement and motivation in reading. In M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research: Volume III (pp. 403-422). New York: Erlbaum.
Reynolds, R.E., Taylor, M.A., Steffensen, M.S., Shirey, L.L., & Anderson, R.C. (1982). Cultural schemata and reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 353-366.
Liz Thackeray Nelson is a doctoral student at the University of Utah in Educational Psychology. Her research interests include writing, multiliteracies, and children's literature. She is currently serving as the chair for the CLA Membership Committee.
Margaret Osgood Opatz is a doctoral student at the University of Utah in Educational Psychology. Her studies include reading, literacy, and linguistics. She is a past recipient of the CLA Bonnie Campbell Hill National Literacy Leader Award.
By Jennifer Graff and Courtney Shimek on behalf of the Biography Clearinghouse
As shared in our initial Biography Clearinghouse post, we are committed to showcasing how biographies can help connect youths with each other and the world. Offering curricular possibilities that are easily adaptable to grade level, time, and other contexts and providing “behind-the-scenes” content from biography creators are central components of our commitment.
In the spirit of returning to school and the desire to amplify the historical achievements of Black people in the U.S., we showcase the story of someone committed to justice and equity her entire life. “A child of New York City’s striving class of Blacks in the mid-1800s" (p.5) whose ideals were to “Aim high! Stand tall! Be strong! -- and do!” (p.5); a girl whose mother was “an ace operator for the Underground Railroad” (p.21); and an educator who wrote, “I never forgot that I had to sue for a privilege which any but a colored girl could have without asking” (p.36). Thus, our first featured biography on the Biography Clearinghouse website is Tonya Bolden’s award-winning Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl.
Bolden felt compelled to write about Maritcha after coming across her memoir at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Bolden’s rich, descriptive language and use of primary and secondary sources illuminate the life and experiences of Maritcha Rémond Lyons and her family in New York City during the latter half of the 19th century. Readers discover what life for Blacks was like in New York City, witness the terror and violence of the Draft Riots in 1863, and experience the fight for education and equal treatment. Bolden’s discussion of her research and writing process in the front and back matter as well as Maritcha’s perseverance, determination, and legacy inspired us to interview Bolden and imagine how we could incorporate this powerful biography into our classrooms.
Operating within our Investigate, Explore, and Create model, we designed teaching ideas geared toward literacy and content area learning as well as opportunities for socio-emotional learning and strengthening community connections.
Getting to Know Your Community Leaders
Community networks were central to Maritcha’s story as well as her and her family’s accomplishments. The importance of community networks is still present today. But how often do we have opportunities to delve deeper into the community networks that help us survive, if not thrive?
By investigating biographers’ research and writing processes and connecting people and historical events to our modern lives, we hope to motivate change in how readers engage with biographies, each other, and the larger world. To see more classroom possibilities and helpful resources connected to Marticha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl, visit the Biography Clearinghouse. Additionally, we’d love to hear how the interview and these ideas inspired you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your connections, creations, questions, or comment below if you’re reading this on Twitter or Facebook.
Jennifer M. Graff is an associate professor at the University of Georgia, the current past-president of CLA, and a former committee member of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.
Courtney Shimek is an assistant professor at West Virginia University and has been a member of CLA since 2015.