Category Archives: Disciplinary Literacy

Five Resources for Teaching About Racism

There has been heated debate about how to teach racism and social justice in schools. Part of this rhetoric centers on whether or not white teachers can effectively teach racism and social justice since they have been the beneficiaries of privilege and members of the dominant American culture for hundreds of years. 

I feel that it is the job of a History teacher to inspire curiosity. To do this I pair film and literature in my high school History classes and then let my students create inquiry projects that demonstrate their learning. There are too many facts, figures, events, and readings and too little time to teach civil rights history comprehensively, but good teachers help students make connections between different historical periods and contemplate the type of society they wish to create and participate in.

Following are five resources that I have used to inspire my students to explore the Civil Rights Movement via independent inquiry.

The Best of Enemies directed by Robin Bissell starring Sam Rockwell and Taraji Penda Henson examines a racially-charged charette that takes place in the summer of 1971 in Durham, North Carolina. Without spoiling the ending, there are worthy themes in the treatment of US veterans returning from World War I, World War Two, and Vietnam that deserve student examination through a racial lens. While this movie has been criticized for having a white savior narrative, I found Ms. Henson’s portrayal of the activist Ann Atwater and Babou Ceesay’s performance as Bill Riddick worthy of sharing with my students.

Unexampled Courage by Richard Gergel is a powerful and moving piece of non-fiction that situates the Civil Rights Movement in the Truman administration’s 1948 Executive Order 9981. The blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring is a story that deserves a wider audience. There are strong parallels to the treatment of the Harlem Hellfighters after WWI and the Red Summer of 1919 that students should examine via individual inquiry.

I Am Not Your Negro directed by Raoul Peck was nominated for an Academy award for Best Documentary Feature. It’s hard to believe this 2016 film lost the Oscar to OJ – Made In America. The words written by James Baldwin are masterfully woven with contemporary footage of racial unrest from Charlottesville with narration from Samuel L. Jackson that presents the Civil Rights movement through the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This film made me want to read more of the great work of James Baldwin

Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides takes readers on the FBI manhunt for MLK’s assassin. It is a well-researched and detailed look into the life and inner circle of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as it pivoted from the Civil Rights movement to the Poor People’s March. One of my students declared this was the best book he’d read in his life. I would have a hard time disagreeing with him. Another student continued researching members of Dr. King’s inner circle and was gratified to find that Ralph Abernathy and Hosea Williams remained advocates for the poor and protested against the Apollo 11 mission

Image result for ralph abernathy apollo 11

Lighting the Fires of Freedom by Janet Dewart Bell looks at the contributions of nine unheralded African American women in the Civil Rights Movement. Each chapter is a detailed oral history featuring the type of historical writing all that teachers should be using as models for their students. I found the chapter featuring Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie, particularly heart-breaking when she describes visiting the house where her husband was assassinated.

“Today when I visit my former home, which my children and I deeded to Tougaloo College as a museum, I can still see the blood. We needed to get away from that place. Our oldest son, Darrell Kenyatta, reached a point where he refused to eat, he would not study, he would not talk. He went into this very, very angry withdrawal mode. I knew we needed to be away from the house. My daughter would go to bed with her dad’s picture, holding it every night. The youngest one, Van, who was three, would go to bed with this little rifle. I knew that we could no longer live in that house” (p. 201).

Making historical events personal and relevant is the first job of a History teacher. I aspire to help my students see themselves in shaping the future of America. Redressing grievances is part of our Historical DNA. Presenting these resources to your students will help them develop their own understanding of racism, social justice, and the Civil Rights Movement. I hope you will share your work with a supportive community of teachers and together we can help our students move America closer toward the ideals of all men (and women) being created equal.

Seven History Reads

Due to my participation in an exciting teacher strike, I failed a friend who challenged me to post seven books in seven days. To make amends I have turned the challenge into a blog post. Thanks to my mother, I love to read. Thanks to being a teacher, I love to talk about what I am reading and share the best titles with my students. Many of my favorites (First They Killed My Father, The Harlem Hellfighters, Hellhound on His Trail, and The Things They Carried) have become mandatory reading in my World and US History classes.  Here are seven of my favorite reads from the past year.

The Audacity of Inez Burns by Sephen G. Bloom

The Audacity of Inez Burns: Dreams, Desire, Treachery & Ruin in the City of Gold by [Bloom, Stephen G.]

Black Hearts by Jim Frederick

Black Hearts
Recommended by a student. This book is not for the faint of heart and probably not appropriate for high school students.

Origin Story by David Christian

Image result for origin story david christian
I have fallen under the influence of the Big History Project and would like to see their course taught in my school. I read this to better understand Christian’s work and find intersections between History and the other subjects taught in high school. Some inspiration for interdisciplinary education.

The Congress of Vienna and Its Legacy by Mark Jarrett

Image result for the congress of vienna by mark jarrett
Warning: This book contains 379 pages of bonafide historical research and scholarship. As someone with learning gaps in this subject, this was a difficult read and it made me feel like a big boy History teacher.

The Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester

Image result for the professor and the madman
My work spouse, promance partner, and English teacher extraordinaire Holly Avdul recommended that we team teach this book. I read it the first time and was lukewarm on it, but then I read it a second time and fell in love. This is a great read for students struggling with the academic vocabulary.

Devil In The White City by Erik Larson
Image result for devil in the white city

This was highly recommended by my English teacher colleague @scrymscrym. My 11th grade US History students read it and did Ignite Talks on figures from The Gilded Age and Imperialism.

On Desperate Ground by Hampton Sides

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Patriots From The Barrio by Dave Gutierrez

Honorable Mention – Some YA historical fiction that I read with my 14 year old daughter. A great story about a real female espionage network spanning two wars.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Best Practice: Corroboration

Common Core standards require Social Studies teachers to demonstrate how students corroborate historical details with multiple sources of information to develop a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. I use this presentation when teaching this skill in my high school Social Studies classes. This is a rigorous task that requires close reading and organization skills. My students frequently realize that they need to improve at including page numbers into their notes, otherwise this assignment requires a second or third read in order to find that information. In the examples below, I have italicized student writing and kept my comments in plain text. 

The definition I use for corroboration is the ability to compare information provided by two separate sources and find similarities between them.

corroboration

In the film, The Exception, Captain Brandt is tasked with protecting Kaiser Wilhelm II because of the fear that spies might be watching them. These are reported to the Gestapo.  In Paullina Simons’ novel, The Bronze Horseman, there is also a fear of spies in the Soviet Union, which is why citizens are told to report to the NKVD (1149).

The student below does not use parenthetical citations but instead spells out the page numbers at the beginning of each sentence. This is not consistent in academic writing as it pulls the reader out of the text

Page 19 of With the Old Breed mentions what was considered the first modern head-on amphibious assault of the Battle of Tarawa. Page 603 of The American Vision makes mention of island-hopping in the Pacific and how Tarawa was the Navy’s first target in the Pacific.

This student does not include page numbers, which is a red flag that perhaps they did not read the novel, but instead are relying on internet searches to find connections with other historical events. When I can’t find the French film available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, I really wonder if the student viewed it.

The French film, La Ralfe, was about the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of July 1942, in which roughly 13,000 Jews living in Paris (4,501 of them children) were removed from their homes by French police and sent to detention camps in the countryside, before being deported to Auschwitz. In the novel, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah and her family were part of the Vel’ d’Hiv just like the people in the movie La Ralfe.

In the book Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, the book states how Hitler signed the Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union. “During the preparations for war against Poland, and the signing of the Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union which Hitler pursued to that end, Hitler…” (“Heinrich Hoffmann’s Studio.” Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, by Heike B. Görtemaker, Verlag C. H. Beck OHG, 2010, p 20.)In the textbook, it says “In August 1939, Hitler stunned the world by announcing a nonaggression pact with his great enemy-Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator.” (“World History The Modern World.” World History The Modern World, by Ellis Esler, Pearson Education, 2007, p. 465.)

This student has gone overboard and used a full works cited reference instead of an in-text parenthetical citation featuring author last name, page number. See below for a student who has done this succinctly.

Ellis states that, “Within a few days, they were herded into ‘shower rooms’ and gassed”(472) which is supported when Keneally says that, “At last the victims were driven down a barbed-wire passage to bunkers which had copper Stars of David on their roofs and were labeled ‘BATHS AND INHALATION ROOMS’ ’’(136).

Explicitly teaching corroboration and citing page numbers in sources helps students reduce the amount of plagiarism in their work. It also teaches them the importance of reading carefully and organizing their notes. This type of work can be down with short readings and the textbook, or with longer book level or article readings that students will encounter in college.

Please note that assignments like this help prevent, but do not totally remove the risk of student cheating. I have found that spot-checking a sample of 5-6 assignments per period often reveals a student’s googling and copying someone else’s work.

For instance, this corroboration “The Japanese invaders treated the Chinese, Filipinos, Malaysians, and other conquered people with great brutality, killing and torturing civilians throughout East and Southeast Asia.” (Ellis,  2005, 473). Iris proved this by writing about the killing contest, live burials, mutilation, death by fire,death by ice, death by dogs and rapes (83-89). There is way more terrible things to explain what happened to these Chinese people, but that was enough to explain how badly they were tortured.” was done by two different students in different class periods, coincidentally reading the same book and using the same source from the internet. What are the odds?

In order to prevent copying like this, simply give students shorter readings and make the corroborations due in one class period. This way all of the readings can be done in class and students don’t have time to share their work on classroom backchannels.

CCSS Standards

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Writing in Social Studies

Integrating Listening, Speaking & Writing in the Social Studies Classroom
Los Angeles County of Education
Day Two: Friday, February 23, 2018

Workshop Slides

8:30 – Reading in Social Studies

  • Loop Writing
  • Bob Bain video
  • Increasing Student Reading in class
  • text sets
  • historical fiction & non-fiction

9:00 – Daily Writing Tasks

  • Calendar Conversations
  • SEL Quickwrites & Student Reflections
  • Summarizing & Paraphrasing
  • Corroborating
  • Annotated Bibliographies (mini-research projs)
  • Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD)

9:45 – 10:00 Break

10:00 – Narrative Writing

  • The Power of Narrative
  • First Person Research Papers
  • Vietnam Veteran Interviews

11:00 – Informative/Explanatory Writing

  • Timeline Transitions
  • Twitter as a pre-writing summarization tool
  • RAFT writing

11:30 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – Argumentative Writing

  • LOOP Writing
  • Believing & Doubting Game
  • MEAL paragraphs

1:45 – 2:00 Break

2:00 – Giving Feedback on Student Writing

  • Self-Review
  • Peer Review
  • Rubric Calibration
  • Road test the Robo-readers

Other Resources

Workshop materials posted on www.HistoryRewriter.com Collaborative Notes:  

So Cal Social Science Association events http://www.socalsocialscience.org/events.html

CCSS Spring Conference https://ccss.org/page-1861180

Measures of Effective Listening

Thirty-two years ago, Donald E. Powers wrote Considerations for Developing Measures of Speaking & Listening. It was published by the College Board, which expresses how important these measures are to a student’s academic success, particularly in their Advanced Placement programs, yet has not validated any standardized tests to measure these skills. This synthesis on some of the research on listening offers advice to teachers enrolled in our MOOC Teaching Speaking & Listening Skills

Research shows that students can listen 2-3 grade levels above what they can read. Listening while reading helps people have successful reading events, where they read with enjoyment and accuracy. Listening while reading has been shown to help with decoding, a fundamental part of reading. The average person talks at a rate of about 125 to 175 words per minute, while we listen and comprehend up to 450 words per minute (Carver, Johnson, & Friedman, 1970).

Listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek in entry-level employees as well as those being promoted. Even though most of us spend the majority of our day listening, it is the communication activity that receives the least instruction in school (Coakley & Wolvin, 1997). On average, viewers who just watched and listened to the evening news can only recall 17.2% of the content.

Listening is critical to academic success. Conaway (1982) examined an entire freshman class of over 400 students. They were given a listening test at the beginning of their first semester. After their first year of college, 49% of students scoring low on the listening test were on academic probation, while only 4.42% of those scoring high on the listening test were on academic probation. On the other hand, 68.5% of those scoring high on the listening test were considered Honors Students after the first year, while only 4.17% of those scoring low attained the same success.

Students do not have a clear concept of listening as an active process that they can control. Students find it easier to criticize the speaker as opposed to the speaker’s message (Imhof, 1998). Students report greater listening comprehension when they use the metacognitive strategies of asking pre-questions, interest management, and elaboration strategies (Imhof, 2001). Listening and nonverbal communication training significantly influences multicultural sensitivity (Timm & Schroeder, 2000).

Understanding is the goal of listening. Our friend Erik Palmer suggests before students engage in purposeful listening, their teachers should tell them what to attend to. We need to teach students what to respond to, how to respond, and when to respond. For example, today we are going to listen to five speeches. For each speech, we are only listening for LIFE. After each speaker finishes, clap, then take a minute to evaluate the level of passion they put into their speech. After that write down three suggestions on how they could improve the LIFE in their speech (i.e., instead of emphasizing: you stole my red hat, try stressing, you stole my red hat).

A classroom teacher who reads Powers (1984) College Board study will understand that speaking, listening, reading and writing are all tightly correlated. Empirically measuring oral communication skills requires many hours of assessment on small, controlled populations. It is the opposite of what we experience in public schools where it is not feasible for us to precisely measure each skill. The important takeaway here is that teachers need to prepare their students to actively listen, avoid distractions, and teach listening and speaking with core academic content by training students to evaluate how well various speaking functions are accomplished by their classmates. While there are reliability issues with classroom peer review models, the benefits of “learning by evaluation” far outweigh the negatives.

References

http://www.listen.org/WhitePaper

http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/listening-skills.html

http://d1025403.site.myhosting.com/files.listen.org/Facts.htm

http://www.csun.edu/~hcpas003/effective.html

Getting Students To Ask Questions

Qs

Researchers understand that student questions can improve instruction and increase achievement, however, students rarely ask their own questions in school. When they do, they ask more memory questions involving knowledge recall than all other question types combined. Asking open-ended questions and research questions can be difficult for students because they don’t always have a large enough knowledge base on a subject to see relationships and big picture issues. My classroom experience has shown that if I use small groups to get students to generate their own questions about a topic, many groups rely on one or two participants and the other students are content to be passive observers. Similarly, when I try to have whole-class, student-led discussions only 38% to 60% of my students participate. This year, I have used Zaption so students view a short, instructional video and then are asked questions that demonstrate their understanding of the content. Zaption Tours are also helpful for helping students develop their own questions, driving independent research projects, and tapping into student motivation. Further, Zaption presents this data in tables or discussion board threads for easy teacher analysis. Discussion data also be download into Excel spreadsheets for further analysis.

Open?

Prior to beginning this unit on the WWII, I asked students two open-ended questions: What do you already know about the Holocaust? What do you want to know about the Holocaust? The Zaption Tour was viewed 287 times and 107 students replied to the question. To make it an easier reading experience, I edited spelling mistakes and typos, but did not edit the “heart” of the student question. I tried to eliminate similar questions.  My next steps will be grouping the questions into themes for additional reflection and analysis. At the very least, these questions indicate that students have thought deeply about the Holocaust and are eager to learn more about it.

  1. I want to know if the Holocaust was necessary and if it was good for the people back then.
  2. I would just like to be more knowledgeable about the Holocaust.
  3. What I’d like to know about the Holocaust was?  Who came up with idea?  What kind of movies there are to watch about the Holocaust?
  4. I want to learn if any groups or people tried to rebel over this power and try to support and help Jews.
  5. I would like to know why Jews didn’t fight back or resist because it seem as if the Germans just killed the Jews with ease.
  6. What I want to know is who put a stop to all Hitler’s terror and how did people just let him do that?
  7. What I would like to know is where did Hitler get all his ideas about a master race?
  8. The thing that I want to know about the Holocaust is why did Hitler believe that Germans were superior than any other race?
  9. I would want to learn how did Hitler persuade Germany’s citizens to use the Jews as scapegoats for their country problems?
  10. I think what I want to know about the Holocaust is why Hitler hated the Jews in the first place?
  11. I would like to know why the Nazis targeted the Jews first? Also what made the Nazis hate the Jews so much and how did they make all of Germany hate them as well?
  12. I would like to know how Hitler convinced Germans to let this happen and why the US didn’t intervene earlier?
  13. I want to know what Hitler thought he was going to get out of this genocide?  I want to know why the people in Germany were following Hitler even though they knew it was wrong?
  14. I want to know why Hitler thought he was going to get away with it?
  15. Why did Hitler feel the need to exterminate the Jews when his own mother was Jewish and he wasn’t an Aryan himself?
  16. Hitler hated the Jews… but why?
  17. I want to know why the US didn’t help.
  18. I would like to know who else was involved with the Holocaust other than Adolf Hitler.
  19. I would like to know why the other countries let this happen to innocent Jewish and other people.
  20. What I would like to learn about the Holocaust is how the public felt about it and how Americans reacted to it?
  21. I want to learn what the Jews did and how they acted in the camps.
  22. I would like to know more about what caused the Holocaust to start.
  23. I would like to know more in depth stories of some of the Jews who survived the Holocaust.
  24. I would like to learn about conspiracy theories and the psychology of why Hitler wanted to kill these people. Was it a mental illness, or was he simply racist?
  25. I would like to learn what went on inside the concentration camps.
  26. I want to know the stories about the Holocaust.
  27. Something I would really like to know about the holocaust is why Hitler wanted to get rid of an entire race, I understand that he detested Jews but why would he go for something like this?
  28. I’d like to know the in-depth stories of the Jews who survived the concentration camps.
  29. I know about the beginning, middle, and D-Day. I want to know about the ending of the war.
  30. I would want to know about how the German people reacted to the concentration camps.
  31. I would like to know why Hitler wanted more land
  32. What I want to know is how it really started and how it ended.
  33. What I want to know is how many survivors were there in total?
  34. I would like to know why Hitler hated them so much and how were people able to survive and I want to learn how it affected others besides the Jewish race.
  35. I would like to know why this event in history happened and why no one took any act on it.
  36. I want to learn more about what really caused everything, how it happened, during the process, just everything, people’s feelings, and etc. Even if it takes 15 video lectures and big projects. 🙂
  37. I’d like to know why kill the Jews if they did nothing to you?
  38. I really want to know why Hitler did it? Why does he hate Jews so much and why were people going along with it?
  39. I want to know why Hitler killed this many Jews and what did he accomplish in killing them?
  40. I want to know how some people around the camps felt, if they felt bad or not about the situation, I don’t know. I heard that some Jews would fight back like setting buildings on fire. I’d like to know more stuff like that.
  41. What I would want to know about the Holocaust is how close does the movie “The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas” come to teaching us the truth about the Holocaust?
  42. I would like to know what had started the hatred. Was it an experience Hitler had or what?
  43. I’d like to know more about peoples’ personal experiences and obviously I’d like to know more and more about this topic. This is a topic that I could love to learn a lot about.
  44. I would like to see inside the mind of the man who ran the terrible atrocity of human action, the Holocaust.
  45. What caused Hitler to decide to kill and torture Jewish people?
  46. I know that a lot of people died I want to know who started it and why
  47. What I’d like to know is why many states or countries tried nothing what so ever to help and why they just let 6 million lives be lost?
  48. I would like to know what would go on with the Germans who disagreed with the Nazis? Were there rebellions and anti-Nazi campaigns?
  49. Was the U.S using spies and if yes what would they do and what were some major accomplishments for them.
  50. I would like to learn new things like how did Hitler die, or why would other countries ignore something so important?
  51. I want to know what Hitler thought he was going to get out of this when it was all over. I want to know why he did it. I want to know way beyond what the book says.
  52. I would like to learn more about things that people or students hardly know. That would be helpful.
  53. What I would like to know about the Holocaust is more about people’s reactions to life in the concentration camps and how people managed to get out. Did they recover and have good times later in life?