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.
BY JEANNE GILLIAM FAIN
Reflecting on the 2020 NCBLA List, our seven-member committee believes in the influence of each individual book and the power of the books grouped together to offer another layer of meaning. After reviewing over 400 titles with 2019 copyright dates appropriate for readers in K-8th grade, the members of the 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Committee met online to decide upon our final list of 30 titles. We read books multiple times and learned from each other as we carefully considered the craft of each book.
In this post, I am going to highlight two picture book biographies from the 2020 NCBLA List: Soldier for Equality: Jose´de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War (2019) and Feed your mind: A story of August Wilson (2019).
Tonatiuh, D. (2019). Soldier for Equality: Jose´de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War. New York, NY: Abrams Books for Young Readers, unpaged.
Bryant, J. (2019). Feed your mind: A story of August Wilson. (C. Chapman, Illus.). New York, NY: Abrams Book for Young Readers, unpaged.
Golden Line Strategy & Flip Grid
Both picturebooks feature high-quality language and there are many golden lines, lines that really resonate with the reader, within these texts. The golden line strategy involves the reader choosing a specific line from the picture book biography that causes the reader to pause, ponder, reflect, and/or question the text.
The line should purposely connect with the reader. Readers can choose the golden line from the text and post responses on Flipgrid.
Using flipgrid, the reader can record the reading of the golden line. The teacher can post invitational questions on the flipgrid. Readers can create their own response or answer one of the invitational questions and post on flipgrid. Readers can listen to their peers' golden line responses and post a response back.
Meet the Notables Committee
Jeanne Gilliam Fain is s a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee and Chair of the 2020 Notables Committee.
BY MARY KATE SABLESKI & JACKIE ARNOLD
Why is this happening? What will happen next? When will this be over? Children and adults alike are asking these questions right now. But no one has certain answers. And keeping consistency and calm in place for our young people amidst constantly changing news is a challenge. Sharing a story can be a helpful hand for parents to help children process the closures and mandates that we are all struggling to understand. In this blog post, we share four books to read with children during these uncertain times.
All four of these books can be found on YouTube in a read aloud format. So, snuggle up with your loved ones, share a story, and, possibly, feel just a bit better about these uncertain times.
Mary Kate Sableski and Jackie Arnold are CLA Board Members and Master Class 2020 Co-Chairs.
Previously published in the Dayton Daily News (March 30, 2020)
Electronic Resources to Complement Contemporary Children’s Picture Books that Feature Mindfulness Elements
BY KATHRYN CAPRINO
Teachers have been thinking about how to incorporate mindfulness into the elementary school classroom for a bit now. During the fall semester, I completed a study about how children’s picture books that featured mindfulness affected preservice teachers’ mindfulness and how they were thinking about incorporating mindfulness into their classrooms.
And the recent global pandemic has only underscored the importance of having children’s picture books that feature mindfulness. We, as parents, teachers, and teacher educators, need them for ourselves. And we need them for our students.
In this post, I share a few contemporary picture books that feature mindfulness elements, and include electronic resources that complement each book - perfect during this time of remote learning. It is my hope that these titles might help us all get through these trying times and propel us into a more mindful approach to what normal looks like on the other side of all this.
Quick side note: I had the opportunity of seeing a traveling Carle exhibit in Norfolk, Virginia, last summer. With pieces from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art , the exhibit provided visitors with an opportunity to learn more about Carle’s artistic process and to see some of the most iconic images from his books. One of my favorites was one of his owls! I encourage all of you to visit the museum once things return to normal. You can ask your students to take a virtual tour of the museum.
Tomie dePaola's Quiet
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds' I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness
Mariam Gates' Good Morning Yoga
Kira Willey and Anni Betts' Breathe Like a Bear
- Intention relates to having a personal vision.
- Attention relates to focusing on moments in our lives.
- And attitude relates to the approach one takes to attention.
Shapiro, S. L. Carlson, L. E., Astin, J.A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness.
Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 373-388.
BY SELENA E. VAN HORN
Connecting with Picturebooks
“Dear little one,
…know you are wondrous.
A child of crescent moons,
a builder of mosques,
a descendant of brilliance,
an ancestor in training.”
This story is written as a letter from a father to a daughter celebrating their shared multiple, intersecting identities of race, language, and religion. He passes on his teaching and pride so that it will multiply for generations.
“Work hard...and remember to enjoy life…
And never forget your family”
Yaccarino tells his family’s history from his great-grandfather to his own children through the passing of a family heirloom (a little shovel). He shares the value of family relationships (near and far) and treasuring the little things in life.
inspired by a poem in her book Brown Girl Dreaming
“There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it's how you look or talk, or where you're from; maybe it's what you eat, or something just as random. It's not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.”
Woodson shares how the very things that may make us feel different are the things that make us special. While in some locations or groups we may be individual in our identities and traditions, in other spaces and groups, we may share how we look or talk, where we are from and/or what we eat. It is through our shared histories/storytelling that we learn the values of our families’/communities’ journeys and gain strength in sharing with others. When this happens and we decide to share, it is “The Day You Begin…”
Recording and Transcribing Oral Stories
- Students interviewing family members about their shared traditions and/or histories
- Students recording a podcast with their siblings about a shared memory they have
- Students engaged in an individual oral storytelling of their choosing
Oral histories/stories can be recorded and transcribed for multiple listening/reading opportunities. They can be shared with their teacher/class and shared with family/community as a treasure. Students might also consider starting their own podcast and/or oral journaling. Below are a few tools that offer free recording and transcription.
BY EVELYN B. FREEMAN
The Outstanding International Books List (OIB) is a wonderful resource for international children's and young adult books. Sponsored by The United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) annually since 2006, the OIB highlights excellence in books originally published outside of the United States and subsequently published in the U.S., as well as books published in another country that are regularly distributed in the U.S. Typically 39-42 books are named on the award list appropriate for grades preK-12. An article about the list appears in the February issue of School Library Journal. For information about the lists, a downloadable bookmark for each of the lists, and link to the SLJ articles, visit the OIB webpage.
When I served on the 2019 Outstanding International Books Committee, one book on the list was Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Kanika Nair (Karadi Tales, 2014; first U.S. printing 2018). Set in India, this humorous picture book recounts the disastrous trip Farmer Falgu makes to market with his oxen-pulled cart laden with food. Descriptive language introduces children to onomatopoeia. Farmer Falgu’s resourcefulness in turning his ruined cargo of goods into delicious omelets is a clever take on the moral: how to make lemonade out of lemons. With bold, vivid illustrations, this positive, upbeat, and funny story would be a joyful book to read aloud online to children.
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egnéus (Dial, 2019) is a beautiful picture book for primary and intermediate grades. The first page says, “Lubna’s best friend was a pebble. It was shiny and smooth and gray.” The illustrations depict Lubna’s huge eyes admiring her small pebble. All children will be able to relate to caring for an object—maybe a blanket or stuffed animal. Lubna found her pebble on the beach the night her family arrived at the world of tents. I used this particular book to demonstrate how to make connections and discuss visual literacy because all of the elements of art are easily found in the bright and colorful illustrations from texture, color, lines, perspective, and more.
A Sky Without Lines by Krystia Basil and Illustrated by Laura Borràs (minedition, 2019) is about a family that is separated by a border. Arturo and his mother live on one side and his father and brother live on the other side. The brothers dream about seeing and playing with each other again but the border makes this impossible. I used this picture book to demonstrate how to ask questions while reading, “Why do fences exist between countries?” “How do families who live between countries visit and see each other?” “Are there other types of fences, lines or borders?”
BY ASHLEY A. ATKINSON
One silver lining that has stemmed from COVID19 is the influx of resources provided by authors and illustrators to assist parents and teachers in engaging with literacy learning at home. I have seen several blog posts, including Lora M. Dewalt's Post on this blog @Instagram’s #KidLit Community, that highlight amazing opportunities to engage with authors. In today’s post, I am going to focus on the illustrators.
Visual images are an important aspect of meaning making for young children. Often in the classroom, we focus on the words authors pen and less on ways in which the illustrator is a crucial part of the story. Larry Sipe in his book, Storytime: Young Children's Literary Understanding in the Classroom, highlighted the interplay and interconnectedness between images and text, what he called synergy. The synergistic relationship of illustrations and text makes clear the greater impact when viewed together. Giving students a chance to engage and create both text and illustrations honors this relationship and expands the possibilities for how children make meaning.
A perfect example of this powerful union is Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat. This picturebook starts with panels where images begin the story. Throughout the story as the words and images collide, they both become more impactful and moving, highlighting their synergistic relationship. Watch the video to the right as Dan Santat shares his process for creating the art in this text.
Resources for Creation
Mo Lunch Doodles
You may be familiar with Mo Willems as the well-known author and illustrator of the Elephant and Piggie book series, but did you know he is also the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence at Home? In partnership with the Kennedy Center, he has created 15 episodes of Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. In his own words, Mo Willems says, “You might be isolated, but you’re not alone. You are an art maker. Let’s make some together.” The series offers downloadable activities that focus on his creative process as well as some “how to draw” activities. In an effort to isolate together, students can tag their artwork on social media with #MoLunchDoodles. What a great way for students to see how a single image can be the seed that grows into a whole picturebook!
Dav Pilkey at Home
Another great resource comes from Dav Pilkey, author and illustrator of Captain Underpants and Dog Man. He is working in conjunction with Scholastic and the Library of Congress to offer weekly video lessons that focus on a chance to read, to draw, to create, and to engage with other multimodal fun. What is great about this resource is that it offers a chance for families to have conversations around books and create art together.
Lastly, Debbie Ridpath Ohi offers daily creation challenges via her twitter that allows another way for students to work together while apart. Each day offers an art creation project that can be down with things around the house. Some recent challenges... broken crayon story/art, creating a dog character, and laundry art! Check out other children’s responses by searching for her tag #KidsDailyDebbieOhi.
These resources can offer entry into discussions of the images within picturebooks or a great springboard into students creating their own stories. They also create opportunities for students and families to engage with literacy in a new way. I hope you enjoy using these resources to help your students and families have a little fun as they imagine and create together.
BY ANGELA M. WISEMAN
COVID-19 has created stressful situations for many families - we may be concerned about many issues, including financial issues/job security, trying to meet professional obligations, and staying healthy. Children are experiencing general anxiety and stress, but also often experience negative feelings resulting from missing friends and family, adapting to changes in routines and activities, and fear of getting sick. In this post, I am going to suggest some ways to use children’s literature to start conversations about anxieties, sadness, and coping mechanisms. In addition, I share some resources for adults and children that might be helpful.
Books for talking about anxieties and fear
Here are two books that could cultivate conversations about anxiety and stress. I have used both of these texts with my colleagues in a trauma-informed family literacy program for parents who are in rehabilitation for substance use disorder to foster communication and build relationships. After describing the two books that could facilitate discussions, I provide some suggested ebooks about the CoronaVirus. Finally, I provide a few resources that could be helpful for families.
After the Fall by Dan Santat
This book is a variation on Humpty Dumpty and his great fall. The character in this text falls from a ledge while watching birds. After his recuperation, his fear of falling again affects the things he loves in life and his everyday tasks - from birdwatching to grocery shopping. In this book, we see how Humpty addresses his fears and “learned how to fly”.
While on the outset, this book may seem like an updated nursery rhyme, it is much more complex than that. After the Fall is Santat’s love letter to his wife, acknowledging her journey with anxiety and postpartum depression. You can learn more about the backstory at this Sharpread post. When my colleagues and I have used this book in our family literacy program, we have posed the following questions:
Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Weber
Ira is invited to his first sleepover, but he wonders...can he tell his friend Reggie that he needs his teddy bear? While his parents tell him it’s fine, his sister berates him and causes him to feel like his friend would make fun of his teddy bear’s name. Reggie initially decides not to bring him, but in the end, finds out that his friend has one too! So, he gets his own bear and can finally enjoy the sleepover.
While this book is older, it is infinitely relatable. First, we see how anxiety is affected by how others respond to us. Second, we can talk about the idea of security objects - things that make us feel better when we need them. This could be helpful during times of quarantine. One thing our family has done is talk about things that make us feel better when we are stressed. For instance, my sons are taking regular walks together and having time with their friends online.
In our family literacy program, we ask questions such as:
Books for talking about the Corona Virus with children
There are several ebooks that are free that are great resources to read with children to explain about COVID-19. Here are some we recommend:
The New York City School Library System recently published a list of free ebooks for children about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. The list includes several books in Spanish as well as books in other languages.
Additional Helpful Resources
BY ANGELA M. WISEMAN
In this blogpost, I want to start by addressing some of the anxiety, stress, and trauma that children might be facing during COVID-19. In a second blogpost on Thursday, April 30th, I will share some books that my colleagues and I have found helpful in talking with adults and children about trauma in hopes that these books can start facilitating conversations about feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams.
*Thanks to my friend and colleague Dr. Qiana Cryer-Coupet for sharing this visual. This comes from Dr. Erin Leyba’s page, which is a great resource for parents. Graphic posted with permission by Dr. Leyba.
Missing family - In addition to missing friends, many children miss their family. Families may find themselves separated from each other for many reasons, particularly if one family member is an essential worker. One mother shared that “my eight year old is staying with his bio dad/my ex-husband during the quarantine because my husband (his stepdad) is a nurse. He has been missing us terribly and we miss him so much, too!” One caring adult shared that she put together a care package for a child in their life with individual notes for them to open each day. They stated that “I hope this will let him know I’m thinking about him all the time!”
Missing Routines and Activities - Children miss their regular routines and activities that they do outside of school that have been shut down indefinitely, which could include sports and other activities they do with friends and on teams. One parent told me that, “My oldest son is a competitive rock climber, and he hasn’t been in the gym in over a month and really misses that physical outlet of climbing. He’s quite literally climbing the walls in this house.”
General feelings of anxiety - Finally, many children are sharing general feelings of anxiety that are not necessarily articulated to specific concerns. While it may be hard to pinpoint what the concerns are, these behaviors might show as sleeplessness, acting out, or tiredness. Children might not come out and say, "I'm worried about this!"
April 30, 2020 Update: Part II of post
Supporting PreK-12 and university teachers as they share children’s literature with their students in all classroom contexts.
The opinions and ideas posted in the individual entries are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of CLA or the Blog Editors.
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