Too many university supervisors and administrators criticize the absence of lesson closure, a dubious assessment practice likely caused by the improper use of Madeline Hunter’s lesson plan model (PDF) as a de facto checklist of eight mandatory teaching practices -- anticipatory set, objective and purpose, input, modeling, checking for understanding, guided practice, independent practice, and closure -- a custom that Hunter decried in 1985(PDF). Although it offers multiple benefits, please don't view closure as a professional must-do.
What Is Closure?
Closure is the activity that ends a lesson and creates a lasting impression, a phenomenon that Colorado State University professor Rod Lucero calls the recency effect.
Teachers use closure to:
Creative Closure Activities
1. SnowstormStudents write down what they learned on a piece of scratch paper and wad it up. Given a signal, they throw their paper snowballs in the air. Then each learner picks up a nearby response and reads it aloud.
2. High-Five HustleAsk students to stand up, raise their hands and high-five a peer -- their short-term hustle buddy. When there are no hands left, ask a question for them to discuss. Solicit answers. Then play "Do the Hustle" as a signal for them to raise their hands and high-five a different partner for the next question. (Source: Gretchen Bridgers)
3. Parent HotlineGive students an interesting question about the lesson without further discussion. Email their guardians the answer so that the topic can be discussed over dinner.
4. Two-Dollar SummaryKids write a two-dollar (or more) summary of the lesson. Each word is worth ten cents. For extra scaffolding, ask students to include specific words in their statement. (Source (PDF): Ann Lewis and Aleta Thompson)
5. Paper SlideOn paper, small groups sketch and write what they learned. Then team representatives line up and, one and a time, slide their work under a video camera while quickly summarizing what was learned. The camera doesn't stop recording until each representative has completed his or her summary.
6. DJ SummaryLearners write what they learned in the form of a favorite song. Offer extra praise if they sing.
7. Gallery WalkOn chart paper, small groups of students write and draw what they learned. After the completed works are attached to the classroom walls, others students affix Stickies to the posters to extend on the ideas, add questions, or offer praise.
8. Sequence ItStudents can quickly create timelines with Timetoast to represent the sequence of a plot or historical events.
9. Low-Stakes QuizzesGive a short quiz using technologies like Socrative, BubbleSheet, GoSoapBox, or Google Forms. Alternatively, have students write down three quiz questions (to ask at the beginning of the next class).
10. Cover ItHave kids sketch a book cover. The title is the class topic. The author is the student. A short celebrity endorsement or blurb should summarize and articulate the lesson's benefits.
11. Question StemsHave students write questions about the lesson on cards, using question stems framed around Bloom's Taxonomy. Have students exchange cards and answer the question they have acquired.
12. So What?Kids answer the following prompts:
14. Beat the ClockAsk a question. Give students ten seconds to confer with peers before you call on a random student to answer. Repeat.
15. Find a First-Grade StudentHave kids orally describe a concept, procedure, or skill in terms so simple that a child in first grade would get it.
16. Review ItDirect kids to raise their hands if they can answer your questions. Classmates agree (thumbs up) or disagree (thumbs down) with the response.
17. CliffsNotes, Jr.Have kids create a cheat sheet of information that would be useful for a quiz on the day's topic. (Source (PDF): Ann Sipe, "40 Ways to Leave a Lesson")
18. Students I Learned From the MostKids write notes to peers describing what they learned from them during class discussions.
19. Elevator PitchAsk students to summarize the main idea in under 60 seconds to another student acting as a well-known personality who works in your discipline. After summarizing, students should identify why the famous person might find the idea significant.
20. Simile MeHave students complete the following sentence: "The [concept, skill, word] is like _______ because _______."
21. Exit Ticket FolderAsk students to write their name, what they learned, and any lingering questions on a blank card or "ticket." Before they leave class, direct them to deposit their exit tickets in a folder or bin labeled either "Got It," "More Practice, Please," or "I Need Some Help!" -- whichever label best represents their relationship to the day's content. (Source: Erika Savage)
22. Out-the-Door ActivityAfter writing down the learning outcome, ask students to take a card, circle one of the following options, and return the card to you before they leave:
These 22 strategies can be effectively altered or blended. And they are great opportunities to correct, clarify, and celebrate.
Do you use a closure activity that's not on this list? Please share it in the comments.
Learn more HERE.
Editor's note: This piece was adapted from Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools by William H. Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge.
People in poverty are as diverse as people in any other socioeconomic class. They present, like other groups, a wide array of values, beliefs, dispositions, experiences, backgrounds, and life chances. As educators, in order to be responsive to the needs of our students, it is helpful to consider the constraints that poverty often places on people's lives, particularly children's, and how such conditions influence learning and academic achievement. Poverty affects intervening factors that, in turn, affect outcomes for people (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1997). These factors include students' health and well-being; literacy and language development; access to physical and material resources; and level of mobility.
Health and Well-BeingThese factors are interrelated, and one factor can compound another. For instance, substandard housing, inadequate medical care, and poor nutrition can affect the rate of childhood disease, premature births, and low birth weights, all of which affect a child's physical and cognitive development. Such factors influence students' ability to benefit from schooling. Living in daily economic hardship can also adversely affect students' mental health (Winters & Cowie, 2009), self-efficacy (Conrath, 1988, 2001), self-image (Ciaccio, 2000a, 2000b), and motivation to do well in school (Beegle, 2006).
Language and Literacy DevelopmentChildren who live in poverty often come to school behind their more affluent peers in terms of literacy and language development. In Educating the Other America, Susan Neuman (2008) states that more than 50 years of research indicate that "children who are poor hear a smaller number of words with more limited syntactic complexity and fewer conversation-eliciting questions, making it difficult for them to quickly acquire new words and to discriminate among words" (p. 5). A significant body of literature also points to differences in access to reading materials by students from low-income families in comparison to their more affluent peers (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2008).
Material ResourcesPoverty often places constraints on the family's ability to provide other material resources for their children as well. For example, they may have limited access to high-quality day care, limited access to before- or after-school care, and limited physical space in their homes to create private or quiet environments conducive to study. They may not own a computer or have the fiscal resources necessary to complete out-of-class projects.
MobilityPoverty often places another kind of constraint on families -- the ability to provide stable housing. Students often move from one location to another because their parents are in search of work or are dealing with other issues that require them to move. Frequent moves almost always have a negative academic and social impact on students.
Much is known about the far-reaching influences of poverty on a student's learning. An understanding of these factors provides invaluable knowledge to educators in their efforts to support and teach students who live in poverty. In high-poverty, high-performing schools, this knowledge does not result in lowered expectations for students living in poverty. To the contrary, it leads to empathy and an understanding of the differentiation, scaffolding, and support that students may need to meet high expectations. Like high-poverty, high-performing schools, any school that enrolls students who live in poverty should seek to acquire as much understanding as possible about the life circumstances of their students.
When children and adolescents know that their teachers care about them and are trying their best to relate to the realities of their lives, they become far more inclined to trust and actively engage in learning.
A neuroscientist explains how factors such as light and seating arrangements can affect students’ cognitive performance.
If you’ve ever attempted to clear your head by taking a walk outside or zoning out by a window as the clouds roll by, you’ve intuitively hit on something that scientists have been researching for years: Our natural and built environments seem to affect how we think and feel. Researchers have recently focused on determining how environmental factors can affect kids’ ability to learn. Studies show that a well-designed learning environment supplements evidence-based pedagogy and curriculum design. Let’s examine four environmental factors that can enhance or hinder learning.
Daytime Light Exposure Can Boost LearningLight does more than just allow us to see the world around us. When light enters our eyes, it also engages a non-visual system that affects the timing of our sleep-wake cycles and our cognitive performance. In fact, parts of our eyes connect directly to a part of our brain that secretes hormones influencing our levels of sleep (melatonin) or alertness (cortisol).
Even more importantly, all light is not the same. While the presence of any light can influence hormonal secretion via this non-visual system, blue light has the most powerful effect. People are more alert and less sleepy when exposed to blue light versus other wavelengths. Sunlight, full-spectrum LEDs, and most digital screens are rich in blue light.
One study of 21,000 U.S. elementary students showed that, over one school year, kids who were exposed to more sunlight during their school day displayed 26 percent higher reading outcomes and 20 percent higher math outcomes than kids in less sunny classrooms. However, even if your classroom has less natural light than you’d like, other studies have shown that replacing your artificial lighting with blue-enriched bulbs can improve students’ cognitive performance.
Daytime blue-light exposure may have a powerful effect on adolescents in particular. Biological changes during puberty delay the sleep-wake cycle by shifting melatonin secretion to later in the evening (making it harder for teens to fall asleep early) and later in the morning (making it harder for teens to wake up early). This means that teens often accumulate sleep debt during the week, which has negative effects on academic performance. First, it leaves them less alert and able to pay attention during the school day, and therefore less able to learn. Second, the quality and quantity of sleep are affected, interfering with the brain’s ability to store the day’s learning. Later school start times can help reduce these challenges, but blue-light exposure throughout the school day may also help. Light resets the body’s circadian rhythm, so exposing teens to light can increase their alertness and improve academic outcomes.
Nighttime Light Exposure Can Hinder LearningGiven that American teens spend an average of nine hours per day using digital media (not including media time for school or homework), there are growing concerns about the blue-light exposure from all of this screen time. If such exposure happens as kids are preparing for sleep, the blue light may be compounding the sleep disruptions caused by asynchrony between school start times and their delayed sleep-wake cycles.
By disrupting kids’ sleep patterns, blue-light exposure before bed also interferes with learning by leaving them sleepier and less able to learn the next day, as well as by disrupting the storage process of the day’s learning that occurs during sleep. In fact, one of the easiest ways to boost learning is to improve the quality and quantity of sleep (and by putting some sleep between studying and testing). Reducing pre-bed screen time can effectively maximize sleep’s benefit on learning.
Interaction With the Natural Environment Is Good for LearningThink your student is spacing out when she’s gazing out the window during class? She may be instinctively seeking a cognitive reset that will improve her ability to focus. Many studies have demonstrated the power of the natural environment -- whether real or simulated in video games -- on kids’ learning and well-being.
One study of over 10,000 fifth-grade students showed that kids in schools with unrestricted views of nature tested higher in reading, math, and language arts than students in schools with urban views (or no views at all). Other studies have shown that interaction with nature can be particularly helpful for kids with ADD and ADHD, and that the greener the child’s play spaces, the more reduced his or her attention deficit symptoms.
Again, don’t worry if your classroom or child’s bedroom lacks views of nature. In a 2009 study, researchers introduced leafy plants into the classroom and found a positive impact on students’ well-being and behavior, with fewer hours of sick leave and disciplinary events.
Classroom Design May Distract From LearningThe many factors that make up classroom design have been studied for their influence on learning. Factors that can interfere the most with learning are noise, temperature, and (surprisingly) seating arrangement.
1. Noise: The interfering effects of noise during learning -- particularly noise that includes voices (language) -- is quite profound in young children. The likely reason is that the brain systems which allow us to filter out distractions and focus on the task at hand (executive functioning) are still developing in children. Thus, children are particularly vulnerable to the acoustics of noise. Because noisy interference makes it difficult for kids to stay on task, it has widespread effects on learning. Noise has been shown to profoundly impact reading, writing, and comprehension skill learning, as well as overall academic performance.
2. Temperature: If the temperature of a classroom or home studying environment is outside of a comfortable range, it can be a source of distraction that interferes with learning. A review of studies investigating the relationship of temperature and learning outcomes revealed ideal thermal ranges for optimal learning: between 68 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 50 percent humidity.
3. Seating arrangement: Another source of distraction can be a classroom’s arrangement of desks and chairs. In a classic study, researchers tested three seating models with different levels of independent versus interactive arrangements. They showed that elementary school students were least on task when desks were arranged in rows, better on task when arranged in clusters, and best on task when in a semicircle. Another study, however, suggests that the best arrangement should be determined by matching it with the task at hand: More interactive tasks benefit more from interactive arrangements (semicircle and clusters), and independent tasks from independent (rows) arrangements.
In sum, there are many things about the built and natural environments that can impact student learning, with some researchers suggesting that 10 to 15 percent of variance in academic outcomes is influenced by the environment.
Learn more HERE.
The arts are as important as academics, and they should be treated that way in school curriculum. This is what we believe and practice at New Mexico School for the Arts (NMSA). While the positive impact of the arts on academic achievement is worthwhile in itself, it's also the tip of the iceberg when looking at the whole child. Learning art goes beyond creating more successful students. We believe that it creates more successful human beings.
NMSA is built upon a dual arts and academic curriculum. Our teachers, students, and families all hold the belief that both arts and academics are equally important. Our goal is to prepare students for professional careers in the arts, while also equipping them with the skills and content knowledge necessary to succeed in college. From our personal experience (and research), here are five benefits of an arts education:
1. Growth MindsetThrough the arts, students develop skills like resilience, grit, and a growth mindset to help them master their craft, do well academically, and succeed in life after high school. (See Embracing Failure: Building a Growth Mindset Through the Arts and Mastering Self-Assessment: Deepening Independent Learning Through the Arts.) Ideally, this progression will happen naturally, but often it can be aided by the teacher. By setting clear expectations and goals for students and then drawing the correlation between the work done and the results, students can begin to shift their motivation, resulting in a much healthier and more sustainable learning environment.
For students to truly grow and progress, there has to be a point when intrinsic motivation comes into balance with extrinsic motivation. In the early stages of learning an art form, students engage with the activity because it's fun (intrinsic motivation). However, this motivation will allow them to progress only so far, and then their development begins to slow -- or even stop. At this point, lean on extrinsic motivation to continue your students' growth. This can take the form of auditions, tests, or other assessments. Like the impact of early intrinsic motivation, this kind of engagement will help your students grow and progress. While both types of motivation are helpful and productive, a hybrid of the two is most successful. Your students will study or practice not only for the external rewards, but also because of the self-enjoyment or satisfaction this gives them.
2. Self-ConfidenceA number of years ago, I had a student enter my band program who would not speak. When asked a question, she would simply look at me. She loved being in band, but she would not play. I wondered why she would choose to join an activity while refusing to actually do the activity. Slowly, through encouragement from her peers and myself, a wonderful young person came out from under her insecurities and began to play. And as she learned her instrument, I watched her transform into not only a self-confident young lady and an accomplished musician, but also a student leader. Through the act of making music, she overcame her insecurities and found her voice and place in life.
3. Improved CognitionResearch connects learning music to improved "verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, reading ability, and executive functions" in youth (Frontiers in Neuroscience). By immersing students in arts education, you draw them into an incredibly complex and multifaceted endeavor that combines many subject matters (like mathematics, history, language, and science) while being uniquely tied to culture.
For example, in order for a student to play in tune, he must have a scientific understanding of sound waves and other musical acoustics principles. Likewise, for a student to give an inspired performance of Shakespeare, she must understand social, cultural, and historical events of the time. The arts are valuable not only as stand-alone subject matter, but also as the perfect link between all subject matters -- and a great delivery system for these concepts, as well. You can see this in the correlation between drawing and geometry, or between meter and time signatures and math concepts such as fractions.
4. CommunicationOne can make an argument that communication may be the single most important aspect of existence. Our world is built through communication. Students learn a multitude of communication skills by studying the arts. Through the very process of being in a music ensemble, they must learn to verbally, physically, and emotionally communicate with their peers, conductor, and audience. Likewise, a cast member must not only communicate the spoken word to an audience, but also the more intangible underlying emotions of the script. The arts are a mode of expression that transforms thoughts and emotions into a unique form of communication -- art itself.
5. Deepening Cultural and Self-UnderstandingWhile many find the value of arts education to be the ways in which it impacts student learning, I feel the learning of art is itself a worthwhile endeavor. A culture without art isn’t possible. Art is at the very core of our identity as humans. I feel that the greatest gift we can give students -- and humanity -- is an understanding, appreciation, and ability to create art.
What are some of the benefits of an arts education that you have noticed with your students?
Learn more HERE.
The strongest anti-bullying campaigns include students, faculty, parents -- and the larger community as well.
Involving the whole community in bullying prevention ensures that not only the students and staff but also the parents and the larger community work toward shared goals of kindness, inclusion, and acceptance. This approach begins with parent education and moves to getting the community involved in the school. Finally, getting the school involved in the community promises a greater possibility for sustained change.
Parents FirstTo begin, educate parents along with staff and students to ensure that homes and the school are working together. Parents need to understand the school’s norms for behavior and inclusive values. They also need to be able to support their children in being safe at school, in not engaging in bullying behaviors, and in safely intervening or reporting bullying to an authority. Parents should be given information about how to listen to and communicate with their children, notice shifts in behavior that may be caused by bullying, and ensure that siblings do not bully one another. Parents can greatly support school-wide events and efforts to prevent bullying, maximizing impact.
Getting the Community Involved in the SchoolIf you don’t have strong community involvement in your school, you might start off with small steps like inviting a community leader to the school to speak about bullying prevention or seeking funding for anti-bullying activities from local businesses. Once you’re ready to expand your efforts, there are many ways to get the community involved in the school’s bullying prevention efforts. Here are a few ideas:
Students at Watchung Regional High School in New Jersey called their campaign a “white-out to erase the hate from bullying.” After garnering support from the superintendent, students began a massive outreach to civic leaders, school principals, and community groups in four nearby towns. They distributed posters, stickers, and a how-to guide to the 13 elementary and middle schools that fed into their high school. They also offered mini workshops to train students at those schools to lead activities. This has become a yearly event in their community.
On the edge of the Mojave Desert in California, a middle school counselor in the Westside School District in Lancaster initiated an anti-bullying program for several districts with over 35,000 students. Youth leaders raised funds from local businesses and organized activities including pledges, assemblies, and class presentations on campuses across the area. The program culminated with a citywide event that included the mayor.
Getting the School Involved in the CommunityGetting involved with the larger community can start small and grow. One way to begin is to have a table at a fair or farmers market. Members of an anti-bullying club can sponsor events in the community or join coalitions to create inclusion and respond to acts of bullying. They can also join leaders for an organized response when intolerance or hate occurs. Here are some examples:
● In Oak Ridge, Tennessee, members of an anti-bullying club marched with banners in a local parade. They also sponsored a Bullying Prevention Day in a park in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
● In Kentucky, a student leader went to the state legislature to promote anti-bullying legislation.
● In New Jersey, student leaders launched a Change.org petition to get the word upstander added to Oxford’s dictionaries.
● In Oakland, students partnered with the Golden State Warriors on an anti-bullying campaign.
All over the U.S., students have served as representatives in local coalitions against bullying and intolerance. They have worked within their schools and across their communities, contributing ideas, making their voices heard, and learning valuable skills for civic participation.
What have you done with anti-bullying activities that connect your school to the community?
Learn more HERE.
In today's world, lifelong learning is a survival skill if one hopes to successfully navigate the daily challenges and opportunities that present themselves. Yet students tend to see such skills as disconnected from what is taught in schools. Their real-world content begins after completing school assignments like a daily checklist, so that when they leave for the day, they can do what they want.
The irony is that most of the skills and concepts taught in schools can have authentic connections to students' lives and the world they live in. When content coverage is the focus, there is no time for authenticity. But when authenticity is a focus, students develop a deeper understanding of concepts and skills through real-world applications and practice -- which develops lifelong learners.
Developing authenticity can be easy just by following these three steps.
Foundation: Significant content is the core of the work
Skills and concepts are the foundation for what to learn and for having a real-world purpose. Whether it's a lesson or unit, students' time must be invested in achieving growth in the academic outcomes. Otherwise, the experience is in danger of being fluff and a loss of precious curriculum time. Identify the skills and concepts for learning at the expected level of complexity -- as described by Depths of Knowledge (illustrated in the NYC DOE's video) or the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy.
Level 1: Students apply content skills as used by related professions.Students need to practice the skills as used by professionals from the field. They need this context of skills to understand real-world usage, because without such connections, the learning outcomes become mere tasks to complete and are soon forgotten. Students who struggle with the abstract concepts will find greater purchase to understanding when they hear, see, and apply the skills in meaningful ways as done by professionals. Some examples include:
Students are not engaging and exchanging ideas with the actual people and organizations who deal with these issues. Instead, they're presenting to their peers and teacher. If this is all that happens, students eventually relate to scenarios as another level of the game called school. The solution is to recognize that a good scenario is one step from being a great real-world experience.
Level 2: Students address an authentic purpose for a community or client need.It's a game-changer when students must share their draft ideas, proposals, and solutions with someone from a professional field who actually understands the content. They discover that their voice matters as their ideas are considered based on the needs of a community or client. Here are three levels of rich authentic experiences:
1. Listen to experts from the field.Experts serve as a resource for data and partners in helping students understand concepts and skills. They might say things similar to what the teacher says, but because they are experts from the field, students will accept the ideas as truly practical. Experts help students build context for the content that they're learning.
2. Engage students in collegial conversations with the experts.Where listening to experts gives students the passive experience of receiving information, we must also challenge them to research and craft questions that will engage experts for feedback and clarifying concepts. Students share their ideas and proposals for feedback. The results continue the inquiry experience as students do follow-up research and revisions of work based on the dialog. A motivating factor is that the expert or informed client will listen to their ideas and evaluate the final products.
3. Address the needs of a community or client.Student voice is a powerful component of lifelong learning. Provide students with an authentic purpose for the tasks by having them share the results with a community or client who can benefit from the ideas. Publish the final work to an audience beyond the school. At lower grades, parents can be a focus, but so can museum curators, zoo staff, and new families with young children. For older students, the potential clientele is endless-- they might submit essays to publications or send the resolutions from the Model UN to the appropriate governmental and advocacy organization contacts.
Use video conferencing tools to bring in experts and clients who can participate at any of these levels. They are more likely to participate virtually because coming in person is time consuming and expensive. With tools like these, video conferencing eliminates distance and time:Student voices matter, and they do not want to let down their authentic clients.
Learn more HERE.
We love impactful books that make us think. So we recently reached out to our teacher community to ask them for recommendations on just that, especially powerful books that stuck with them and forever altered the way they see things. The responses were fantastic! We received lots of suggestions for classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, Kite Runner,The Giver, and Lord of the Flies. These should definitely make the must-read list for you and your students, along with the following 17 favorites.
1. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I was in my first year of university when I read this novel. I had never heard about apartheid until our discussions about this book. I was mortified and began to realize how sheltered I was growing up in Canada. I definitely began to view the world much differently. –Carol M.
2. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. In the book, Earth is slowly slowing its rotation and everything is affected. It was enlightening. –Stacy B.
3. The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. This book discusses globalization and how opportunity in the age of the Internet has made an equal playing field wherever you are in the world. Eye-opening. –Sue T.
4. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I read it at a perfect age, as a sophomore in high school. It helped me make a lot of moral choices that I still carry with me today. –NaShea R.
5. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. This was my first ever mystery, which I read covertly in the library at school. I don’t think the nuns would have approved. –Brenda S.
6. One Child by Torey Hayden. I read it when I was 16, and it was the first time I really thought about special needs and abused children. It taught me that the power of one person, particularly a teacher, can change lives. –Tatum P.
7. George by Alex Gino. As a parent, I found that this book really made me stop and think about how important it is to really listen to your kids. –Jennifer H.
8. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. It’s the only book I’ve ever thrown across a room. –Courtney S.
9. All Things Bright and Beautiful series by James Herriot. His writing helped me see another part of the world and its beauty. The serenity of farm life and the amazing animals in the world! –Charmaine P.
10. The Promethea series of graphic novels by Alan Moore. They are utterly delirious and maddening and wonderful in equal measure. They made me realize that imaginative worlds are often as important as the real one. –Alexander D
11. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. I read it around the age of 10, and it had a huge affect on my view of race relations from a very young age. I recommend it to anyone—child or adult. –Cicely G.
12. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. It made me realize the world was big and could change very rapidly. I was fascinated with the evolution of people shown through the characters of the book. –Pea Z.
13. 1984 by George Orwell. This book changed everything for me. Everything. It’s still a huge influence on my thinking. –Kevin N.
14. Wonder by R. J. Palacio. It was written for upper elementary students, but I think it holds a life-changing message for everyone. –Lisa S.
15. The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas. I was 10 and bored, so I picked it up. It made me fall in love with reading. It’s a beautiful book. –Nanci N.
16. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The movie doesn’t come close to expressing even half of the beautiful ideas and sentiments in the book. –Rebecca H.
17. Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. Every time I read it, I take something new from it. –Mike C.
Learn more HERE.
© Laura Bradley
“No! Oh, my god, NO! Don’t do it! They will run screaming from the classroom! They will sob and cry and refuse! I beg of you, do not do this!”
What could possibly cause such a vehemently negative reaction from a creative, seasoned teacher? I was chatting with this respected colleague about a project that I thought my 8th grade students would enjoy. As you can see, he didn’t exactly agree.
“You know there will be some kids who will love this - you can always find a creative writer or two in every class - but to assign this to all your students? Crazy. Impossible. Don’t do it.”
My daughter had introduced me to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short), a bold (and, admittedly, somewhat crazy) endeavor in which one attempts to write a draft of a novel in the month of November. I agreed with my colleague that it sounded like an impossible challenge to toss out to 13 year-olds, but I had discovered a fantastic organization that had transformed the adult version into a challenging yet accessible project that teachers could bring to their students.
The Young Writers Program of NaNoWriMo provides curriculum that supports both teachers and students in preparing for the November challenge, as well as tips for persevering throughout the month-long wild writing ride. Novel-writing workbooks are available as PDF downloads, a gold mine for teachers who may wonder how, if they’ve never written a novel themselves, they could possibly support their students in the task. The NaNoWriMo website (http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/) brings author pep talks, writing advice, and a social network for the students that inducts them into an enthusiastic writing community. This is all offered free of cost, and the good folks at the Young Writers Program are available online to support teachers throughout this bold challenge. Worried that an administrator won’t support your plan to cancel all English classwork and homework for a month so your students can write a novel? Not to worry: the Young Writers Program has tallied up the many ways that NaNoWriMo meets the Common Core Standards.
I’m so glad I ignored my friend’s advice (I know he meant well; I mean - really! - who thinks it’s a good idea to frighten 8th graders with the longest writing assignment they’ve ever seen?). But when I introduced the project to my 8th graders in 2011, in spite of some fear and trepidation, nearly every student eventually became immersed in the joys of creating their own story; of owning the plot, characters, settings, and conflicts; of making the many writerly decisions that must be made when crafting a story of such length. They celebrated one another’s achievements as they watched their word counts grow towards their goals; they shared strategies for breaking through writers’ block; they jumped into one another’s Google Docs to comment on (and give wild suggestions to) each other during writing time. And when the month was over, that first brave group of students celebrated when 96% of them reached their goal by November 30. The remaining 4%? They just kept writing, because even if NaNoWriMo ended, these kids still had stories to finish writing.
Every year now since 2012, every single 8th grader at our school jumps on board the novel-writing train, and the campus buzzes with nearly 500 novelists chatting at lunch about their stories: “How many words did you write today?” “Listen to my dystopian world idea!” “I had to kill off a character yesterday!” And even though we eventually have to set aside our novels and move on to expository writing, many of our students make time to revise, edit, and complete a final draft of their novel, which they then publish and sell on Amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/listmania/fullview/R3IWOK0I7X0W4E).
There is a sweet spot that we need to find for our students, that magic place between too easy and too hard. Our students want to be challenged, they want to be engaged in their learning, and endeavors like NaNoWriMo give them that opportunity. How can we argue with a response like this from Jessie, a not-so-enthusiastic student who fell in love with writing that year:
“It made me think that a lot of things could be possible in the world. I mean I am thirteen years old and I just wrote my own dang novel! How cool is that?”
Let’s find those challenges for our kids, those seemingly impossible tasks that make them feel like “lots of things could be possible in the world.” They deserve to #ThinkPossible.
Learn more HERE.
It’s often been said that much of the United States’ history has been “whitewashed”: That school history textbooks focus primarily — and unduly — on the achievements of Caucasians, and more specifically, Caucasian men.
Critics say that this lack of diversity not only does a disservice to American students who deserve a complete portrait of their nation’s history — it’s downright inaccurate.
Of course, no one can undo centuries of erasure in one fell swoop. What we can do, however, is highlight the stories of under-acknowledged people whose achievements should make them household names. Here are five of those people:
Susan La Flesche Picotte
Historians generally regard Susan La Flesche Picotte as the first Native American physician, and one who devoted her life equally to study and activism.
Born on Nebraska’s Omaha Indian Reservation on June 17, 1865, Picotte’s early life was informed by a period of flux and hardship for Native Americans. At this point in time, the federal government had started relocating Native Americans to reservations — typically land that no one wanted — where residents would often become mired in poverty and disease.
In spite of these conditions, Picotte excelled at school and pursued an education at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, one of the only institutes of higher education that admitted women at the time.
After she graduated (and received top marks, no less), Picotte returned to the reservation, where she served as the community’s officially appointed physician. There, she would care for over 1,000 patients of various races, earning only $500 a year — ten times less than a U.S. Army or Navy Doctor.
While treating her patients, Picotte observed that many of the patients’ conditions could be avoided had they taken certain measures in advance. One measure, Picotte concluded, was proper hygiene. Thus, Picotte became an early advocate of preventative medicine, which while commonplace today was a relative rarity back then.
Picotte’s work on the reservation eventually led her to found her own hospital, and later lead her to Washington, D.C., where she called on the U.S. government to make improvements in Native Americans’ legal status and citizenship, and provide them legal protection against land fraud and speculation.
While Picotte devoted the majority of her life to improving those of others, her own life was quite short. The doctor and activist died at the age of 50, most likely to bone cancer.
Fannie Lou Hamer
Although her name doesn’t appear alongside figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer’s efforts in the civil rights movement are surely worthy of widespread recognition.
Born in 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Hamer’s early life would shape much of her future endeavors in social justice. The youngest of 20 children, Hamer dropped out of school at age 12 to pick cotton and support her family — a decision which would give her the kind of education a classroom simply can’t provide.
Hamer found her true purpose, however, in 1961, when a non-consensual hysterectomy left Hamer infertile. At the time, the forced sterilization of African-American women against their will — usually when they were in the hospital for minor, unrelated surgeries — was common.
After experiencing the event herself, Hamer worked to draw public attention to the practice, which she called the “Mississippi appendectomy.”
This trauma — along with other harrowing experiences she endured as a black woman in the South of the 1960s — prompted Hamer to attend meetings with local political activists. Throughout the course of these meetings, Hamer and her husband met prominent civil rights activists, and Hamer realized that she wanted to spend her life working alongside them.
As an activist, Hamer first set her sights on the issue of voting rights. At the time, individual states — particularly those in the South — passed voting registration requirements (such as literacy tests, property ownership requirements and payment of poll taxes) that had the effect of preventing African-Americans from registering to vote, thus rendering them second-class citizens.
Alongside 17 other African-Americans, Hamer traveled to Indianola, Mississippi to register to vote — a move which would cost Hamer her job at the plantation on which she worked. That experience, while devastating, only furthered her resolve.
As Hamer later said of that event, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”
Undeterred, Hamer went on to organize demonstrations in order to grant full voting rights to African-Americans, an act which would see Hamer arrested, beaten, harassed, and even shot. In fact, Hamer once suffered a beating so severe that it inflicted permanent damage upon her kidneys.
Despite the consistent and sometimes potentially fatal adversity Hamer faced, she did not succumb to the status quo, and instead helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which formally challenged it.
At the time, the Mississippi Democratic Party’s platform dictated that only whites could participate in the party, despite the fact that blacks made up nearly half of the state’s population. The non-exclusionary MFDP ran alongside the Democratic Party, and soon had over 80,000 members — black and white.
In 1964, the MFDP sent a handful of delegates to that year’s Democratic convention, demanding that it be treated as the only democratically-constituted delegation from Mississippi. A convention compromise offered the MFDP two seats, which the party refused.
“We didn’t come all this way for no two seats, ’cause all of us is tired,” Hamer said.
After the convention, Hamer delivered an impassioned speech about voting rights — one which, despite President Lyndon Johnson’s attempts to keep her from speaking (and to keep others from viewing Hamer’s speech on TV) would lead to a flurry of calls for equal voting rights for all.
The next year — due in no small part to Hamer’s efforts — Johnson convinced Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, which prevented states like Mississippi from passing or imposing discriminatory voting registration requirements.
Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer, Hamer continued her fight for equal rights up until her death in 1977 at the age of 59.
While a contemporary of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, history has buried many of Marie Equi’s contributions to women’s health (including birth control and access to abortion). This historical erasure may stem from the fact that — besides being a rebel physician of her time — Equi was also a lesbian.
Born to immigrant parents, Equi grew up in Massachusetts, where existing social mores may have given her some insight into her sexuality early on in life. At the time, professional and wealthy women in New England would occasionally engage in same-sex relationships known as “Boston Marriages,” where the couple would live under the same roof to varying degrees of emotional and sexual intimacy.
Equi eventually left Massachusetts for Portland, Oregon, where in 1905 she founded her own practice and became one of just 60 female physicians in the state. Shortly thereafter, Equi began providing abortions — and to any woman, regardless of age, race, or social status (though she did admit to charging wealthy women more, in order to help cover the costs of running her practice). This tiered payment scheme offered an early model of the “sliding scale,” which many private medical practitioners employ today.
Unlike many of her colleagues, Equi managed to avoid arrest for providing abortions. She did, however, get into trouble for offering birth control and disseminating information about it to women in her practice and community.
It was during this time Equi met Margaret Sanger, with whom she was arrested in 1916. Equi continued to write to Sanger for many years following their encounter, and did not attempt to conceal her infatuation with her.
Equi did have a partner of her own, Harriet Speckart. Together, the two adopted a baby. While that may merely raise some eyebrows today, at the turn of the 20th century same-sex adoption was virtually unheard of — and often punishable by law.
Furthermore, Equi did not advocate for women alone. She also lobbied for the eight-hour workday, and opposed U.S. involvement in World War I, saying that it was little more than an imperial land grab.
Her opposition to the war — Equi famously unfurled a banner in Portland that said “Prepare to die, workingmen, JP Morgan & Co. want preparedness for profit” — ultimately rendered her a “security threat” in the eyes of the federal government, and in 1918, she was convicted Equi of espionage.
Originally sentenced to three years in San Quentin prison, President Woodrow Wilson lifted her sentence to just over a year — which Equi didn’t serve in its entirety due to good behavior.
Although Equi continued to practice medicine and advocate well into old age, health problems certainly did slow her down. When she died, at the age of 80 in 1952, her obituary ran in newspapers across the country.
Charles R. Drew
It wasn’t just female physicians like Marie Equi whom history often forgets, but also African-Americans like Charles Drew.
A physician and medical researcher during World War II, Drew’s development of the blood bank not only changed the course of the war, but human history.
Drew was born to a middle-class family in Washington, D.C., which gave him the opportunity to pursue a college degree. In 1933, after receiving his medical degree from McGill University in Montreal, Drew returned to the States to train as a surgeon, and became the first African-American physician appointed to the American Board of Surgery.
A few years later, Drew added another “first” to his belt when he became the first African-American to receive a graduate degree from Columbia University — which he completed, in Medical Science, just prior to the outbreak of WWII.
After the carnage of World War I, which left 17 million dead and 20 million wounded, the race to advance battlefield medicine was on, and the United States recruited Drew to help win it. Specifically, the idea of blood banking — storing blood in large amounts for future transfusions — needed refinement before the U.S. could put it into practice.
The States also expressed a need to transport blood to Great Britain, where the greatest threat existed at the beginning of World War II. Drew led the collection side of this program, which was based in New York City, and came up with the strategy and method which would enable all donations occur to at a central location.
As Drew continued to develop methods that would refine this process, he created what we now call the American Red Cross Blood Bank. If you’ve ever donated or received blood, you have Drew to thank for that.
Despite Drew’s game-changing work, he ultimately resigned from his post after legislation passed that prohibited people of color from donating blood. And in 1950, a fatal car accident closed the door on whatever else Drew may have achieved in his life.
Following the car accident, a myth circulated which said that Drew died because doctors refused to give him a blood transfusion on the basis of his skin color. But those who were with him and survived said that this wasn’t true: In fact, Drew’s injuries were so extensive that, despite the fact that he did receive emergency medical attention (which many African-Americans would have been refused at the time), he could not have been saved.
Elizabeth Jennings Graham
Even though Rosa Parks became the poster woman of the fight to end racial segregation, many women preceded her. One woman, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, led the fight against transportation segregation as early as 1854 — a full 100 years before Rosa Parks.
In 1830, Graham was born to two prominent New York residents: Her father, a free black man, was the first known patent holder of his race in U.S. history and her mother served as a speaker and member of New York City’s literary society.
Graham’s father had bought her mother’s freedom from slavery, so when Graham was born, she too was free. Graham then received an education and became a teacher, and spent a lot of time with her church community, where she played the organ.
It was on her way to church for Sunday service in July 1854 that Graham became part of history: Running late, Graham ran to catch a streetcar and boarded it, only for the conductor to tell her to exit.
At the time, horse-drawn streetcars offered a popular mode of transportation within American cities, and like the buses that would follow them, they were racially segregated. This could happen, at least in part, because the rails were privately owned and operated.
As the New York Tribune recounted of the event:
[Graham] got upon one of the Company’s cars last summer, on the Sabbath, to ride to church. The conductor undertook to get her off, first alleging the car was full; when that was shown to be false, he pretended the other passengers were displeased at her presence; but (when) she insisted on her rights, he took hold of her by force to expel her. She resisted. The conductor got her down on the platform, jammed her bonnet, soiled her dress and injured her person. Quite a crowd gathered, but she effectually resisted. Finally, after the car had gone on further, with the aid of a policeman they succeeded in removing her.
As word spread about Graham’s incident, the call to end segregated transport in New York gained traction — and Graham became the most-cited example in making the case for it. This notoriety came at least partially because she actually sued the owner of the streetcar company — and had the representation of a young lawyer named Chester A. Arthur, who would later become President of the United States.
Graham won the suit, with the judge declaring that “Colored persons if sober, well behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence,” and awarding her $250 in damages (around $10,000 today).
This case law ultimately proved instrumental in the desegregation of New York City public transport ten years later.
Graham, however, was all but forgotten: Very little is known about her life following the lawsuit’s end. Historians do note, however, that Graham remained active in the Civil Rights movement until the New York City Draft Riots of 1863, during which time her only child became ill and died.
After his death, Graham and her husband left the city for four years — at which point her husband died. Toward the end of her life, Graham returned to New York City and started a neighborhood school house for black children. It operated until her death in 1901.
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