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You may have heard about the Lego debateor the mixed reviews  about Goldieblox or most recently the up and coming “design and engineer your own dolls house”,Roominatewhich, while brilliant in concept, still panders to the marketing of “girl colors.” And then of course, there’s the maelstrom that erupted when journalist Peggy Orenstein published Cinderella Ate My Daughter

All these are examples of attempts to look at what “stories” or messages we are giving children. 

And I say children deliberately. Much of the focus in these discussions is appropriately about what role models, stereotypes, and gender identity constrictions we are giving girls. But these not so conscious but conscious prescriptions also perpetuate a particular world for boys.

When Jean Kilbourne pointed out the advertising messages I was consuming about what it meant to be a women back in 1983 with her first Killing me Softly, I never saw the world the same again. I am deeply and eternally grateful to  her for making  the smog I was breathing obvious. But I abdicate how to fix the world of media messaging to the likes of her and Peggy Orenstein.  I also I leave the valiant attempts to encourage girls and women in STEM to the likes of the female engineers of Stanford such as the creators of Goldieblox’s, Debbie Sterling and Roominate’s Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen.

But I won’t let those who interact with children off the hook.

I challenge you to ask the following questions when you pick up a book for your self, for your child or for your students. These questions are geared to picture books but with imagination can be adapted to any story or message you or the child in your life is consuming.

I also challenge you to think about your reaction to the fact that I wrote this post in pink! Did it bother you if so why?  Feel free to share your gut reactions if you have managed to ignore the color and read this far!

When you read a book take a few minutes to ask yourself or the child you are with these or other questions about gender roles. Pay attention to what difference it makes to your experience.  Should you be asking yourself these questions all the time now that you have started to pay attention? 

  • What do the women/girls look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the women/girls doing?
  • What objects/toys etc are the women/girls playing with interacting with
  • What do the men look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men doing?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men/boys doing?
  • How do women and men interact with each other?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a woman’s/girl’s face?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a man/boys face?
  • What messages do you think the book is sending about the gender roles of men and women?
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I have a dream that if I share enough stories that connect, inspire and educate, then the world will become a better and kinder place. And who better to inspire and connect than Martin Luther King Jr?  So I am sharing a few personal favorites that I hope move young audiences to become new advocates for peaceful change.

ImageMartin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier’s stunning mixed media illustrations and Doreen Rappaport’s simple but poignant text make for a powerful tribute to King’s life. Ideal for the young  and older audience alike, the theme that “hate can not drive out hate. Only love can do that” is highlighted by Collier’s  award winning use of different collage elements to forge unlikely connections. Even students in the second grade can grasp how his technique brings power to this hero’s story.

martin-and-mahalia-02_1200x450

Martin & Mahalia: His Words  Her Song

By Andrea Davis Pinkney Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

This talented husband and wife team have once again combined talents to bring to life hitherto unsung parts of history.  In a story of how Mahalia Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr’s lives mirrored each others, the power of an individual’s voice to make a difference comes through loud and clear. It is no surprise that is takes a duo not unlike the subject matter to play off each other to make the world richer for us all.

Who knew trying to find a set of state books could prove so disappointing. But  as I mentioned in my previous post , a promising candidate did not meet my standards so it won’t live on my shelves anytime soon. In other words, it failed the anti-bias test. Especially when I examined the visuals for stereotypes, tokenism or invisibility.

Two photographs out of nine were of African-Americans. They were both in the Jazz chapter. This struck me as cause for concern. If a child’s only association with the African-American population of Louisiana is with jazz, it can lead to stereotyping, or at best limiting one-dimensional view of their experience.

I want a child to appreciate the wonderful contributions that the African-American community has made to music.  But I want a more complex presentation so readers can understand and appreciate the diversity of African-American heritage.

In fact, I was also shocked that there were no photographs of Hurricane Katrina. A natural disaster, and the failure of government and its social structures can be a complicated topic to introduce to young readers. But omitting it is whitewashing a disturbing history from which we can all learn. And  those in the 9th ward who are still suffering must feel a state of disequilibrium when such a life-changing event is ignored in a possible text-book.

I worry about another unconscious message that a young reader can absorb. All the images in the chapter about playing are of white people. Why not have more visual diversity that reflects the actual population shown at play?

I hope the state books published in 2015 will do a better job of an equitable presentation of the richness of all life experiences.

If you want to be blown away, keep your radar trained on what  Kate Messner, author of Eye of the Storm has to offer the world. If you can invite her for an author visit. If you aren’t in a school setting, follow her blog. Either way, you’re in for a treat.

After I read Eye of the Storm, I secretly wanted to be Kate when I grew up. Who wouldn’t want to tell such a compelling story while raising the reader’s awareness of sustainability and community issues. (See my previous post if you want to know why I admire the book so much). So I started following her blog and was in awe of her mentorship there. I shared Eye of the Storm with other teachers and suggested we bring her in for a visit. They were equally passionate about her work and so she came to work with the seventh and eighth graders.

Wow what a wonderful whirlwind of wisdom and world building! Students and teachers alike raved about the day. Here are some of their comments so you can judge for yourself.Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 11.06.33 PM

My own daughter, who’s love of story is of the musical or dramatic kind and not necessarily of  the reading or writing format, said, “Can you ask Ms. Messner for her presentation? I found it so helpful. I want to use it.” Another student said, ” I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but it was actually really good.  Her suggestions for revision are things I would actually do.”

May we all inspire deep thinkers who are eager to share their stories!

After expanding their cross cultural knowledge base, my students were almost ready to face the paparazzi. (See this post for how they got there)

In other words, they were nearly ready to play the “Get to know a Hispanic Hero/Heroine bingo game” that I created for them. But first they needed to do a little more work to be an expert.

  • They re-read their mini-biographies and reviewed why their person was famous. They had already highlighted keywords in the paragraph to determine that as the main idea of the paragraph. ( In case you forgot, I found their age appropriate biographies at Scholastic’s site for Discovery History Makers.)
  • They then identified at least one fact about their Hispanic Hero/Heroine that they thought their classmates should know. I had already told them they were going to be “interviewed” by the paparazzi (their classmates).
  • Students then received “Get to know a Hispanic Hero/Heroine bingo game”. Click here for a downloadable version.

hispanicherobingo

  • Once they had found a teacher, or astronaut, etc., they asked the student the name of the Hispanic Hero/heroine that he or she was portraying and recorded it in the appropriate square.
  • They then interviewed the Hispanic Hero/Heroine and recorded the “interview”.
  • The goal was to get a bingo and be able to boast about how much they knew about as many Hispanic Heroes/Heroines as possible.

This week, students will take their paparazzi questions and turn them into “WHO WAS/IS clues” to scatter around the school. Each clue will say ask a third grader for the answer.

This way each child can take pride in the beginnings of their journey as they expand their cross-cultural knowledge and understanding of Hispanic Heroes/Heroines.

Obviously, this unit on learning about Latinos/as can be adapted to any group of individuals. I particularly like thinking about windows and mirrors and groups that aren’t often addressed in the mainstream curriculum. So feel free to adapt this idea for differently abled people, or Cambodian contributors, or whatever under-represented group that you feel passionate to share with the world.

Let me know how it goes.

To help students broaden their cross-cultural knowledge base, I created a Hispanic Hero/Heroine game. I used it with a third grade library class but feel free to adapt it for different ages or for family use.

The unit had a number of objectives. Some were just to review. Some involved practice or mastery of common-core or information-literacy skills. And, of course, exposure to windows and mirrors content.

I wanted students to:

  • Understand a biography is a true account about a person’s life.
  • Read for the main idea
  • Identify keywords in the text
  • Use keywords to extrapolate the main idea
  • Learn how to turn facts into questions
  • Explore interviewing skills
  • Gain information about a particular person in a particular cultural experience.

Here’s an overview of the second lesson in the unit. ( See the first lesson in this post – list all people you know personally or otherwise who are of Hispanic descent).

  1. I gave each student their own mini biography  (a paragraph long) that I printed from Scholastic’s site for Discovery History Makers.
  2. I removed the name, and the job description for each person and created a fill in the blank. My name is…. I am a famous…. or I am famous for being a……. To download my template click here.
  3. Students read the biography and identified the person about whom they were reading.
  4. Students then highlighted keywords that were repeated over and over or had variations mentioned in the text.
  5. The looked at the keywords and determined the main idea or why this person was famous.

Roberto Clemente: the first Puerto Rican to be voted Most Valuable Player in baseball

For example if a student read about Roberto Clemente, he or she may have underlined Major League Baseball, great fielder, great hitter, Most Valuable Player, Baseball Hall of Fame. Then he or she would have said Roberto Clemente is a famous baseball player.

The mini biographies ranged in complexity so I gave the more abstract professions to those who were ready for the challenge and thus allowed for success for a range of students.

Stay tuned for how kids prepared themselves to face the questions the classmate paparazzi prepared for each other.

Today I asked my third graders if they could name anyone of Hispanic descent. They could list a someone they knew personally, a person from history, or a figure from pop culture.

Their lists weren’t long. In fact. Most were blank.

I wasn’t surprised given the community in which I teach. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for first hand encounters. And so my work begins. Unless I or other adults explicitly have conversations about the rich Hispanic heritage, history, and accomplishment, their lists will remain short.

It was time to lead the children to find stories. My third graders are fairly good at knowing how to solve information problems. So they eagerly rose to the challenge of using the library catalog to find biographies.

I recommend keywords – in this case, search terms like Latino/Latina, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Costa Rican, Dominican, Mexican-American, Chilean, etc. I remind students of the definitions of Hispanic and Latino/Latina. I also provide them with a few examples. This helps the class brainstorm more names to use in their searches.

One of the biographies that provided my readers with a window

The children know how to identify the call number of a book in their computer search. Then they use that to locate the book on the shelf. So they fly to the next step. Reading the book which offers them a window into new experiences, and a peek into an unfamiliar culture. I remind them that this is just one person’s particular story of being Hispanic and that like any group of people there are similarities and differences within that group as well as in comparison to another group.

Next week they will craft jeopardy type questions to post around the school to educate others within our community one story at a time.

Are you looking for books to help a child understand and or celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year? Keep reading.

Celebrate Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur

by Deborah Heiligman

This book describes how these Jewish Holy days are celebrated around the world. The photographs are National Geographic captivating while the text balances the historic with the contemporary cultural importance of the holidays.

 

 

New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story

by April Halprin Wayland

This charming picture book uses humor to describe the joyous ritual of wiping the slate clean for the new year by apologizing for mistakes in the old. The universality of emotions makes this book accessible to those not familiar with the particular tradition.

 

 

Apples and pomegranates : a family seder for Rosh Hashanah

by Rahel Musleah

This guidebook describes the eight traditional food and their blessings and the sequence in which they eaten. It gives a history or the fruit, recipes and folktales for family discussion.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, World: A Rosh Hashanah Celebration

by Latifa Berry Kropf

This book is ideal for the nursery school age and having a board book about Jewish traditions for young children is a rarity. It compares common birthday activities with the rituals for the Jewish new year celebrations.

L’Shana Tova

Here are 10 books to use as spring boards for discussions about skin color. They range from picture books to young adult titles. Hope they help.

PICTURE BOOKS

1.

The Skin You Live In_LargeThe Skin You Live In    By Michael Tyler, David Lee Csicsko, (Illustrator) Chicago Children Museum, 2005

This picture book uses rhyme to celebrate the range of skin color and the fact that children are simultaneously unique and similar.

2.

skinagainSkin Again   By bell hooks, Chris Raschka (Illustrator) Jump at the Sun, 2004

Another good title to discuss differences in skin color but honor that what’s inside is what counts.

3.

shadesofpeopleShades of people   By Shelley Rotner, Sheila M.Kelly Holiday House, 2010

Echoing the above titles in theme, this title uses photographs to show that skin is a covering that comes in all different shades, even within a family. Yet we have more in common when we move past these external differences.

 

4.

daisyDaisy and the Doll   By Michael Medearis, Angela Shelf Medearis, Larry Johnson (Illustrator) University Press of New England, 2005

While this story is 100 year old Daisy Turner’s memory that she recounted about her experience growing up in Grafton Vermont in the 1890’s, the emotions and issues of what it feels like to be different and face racial prejudice are no different today. Click here to find fascinating information about Daisy’s experience on the Vermont Folklore Center’s website.

NON-FICTION

5.

all the colorsAll the Colors we are: the story of how we get our skin color   By Katie Kissinger, Wernher Krutein (Photographer) Redleaf Press, 2002

A useful resource to teach children the environmental and hereditary aspects of melanin, or skin color.

6.

skininracismThe Skin I’m In  By Pat Thomas, Lesley Harker (Illustrator) Barron’s Educational Series, 2003

This nonfiction title provides young children with examples of racist acts while encouraging children to embrace differences.

7.

racism-pete-sanders-hardcover-cover-artRacism (Let’s Talk About) By Bruce Sanders Creative Co, 2005

As the title indicates, the book explains how skin color can be cause for unfair treatment. It also suggests that we can combat racism if we work together.

YOUNG ADULT / ADULT

8.

skinaminflakeThe Skin I’m In   By Sharon Flake Hyperion Books, 2007

This awarding YA title is great for older audiences. The thirteen-year-old heroine, Maleeka, doesn’t like being dark skinned because everyone at school makes it a problem. Befriending a bully doesn’t help. She has to learn to love herself and the skin she’s in.  Click here to see what one school has done with this profound text.

9.

face relationsFace Relations: 11 Stories about seeing beyond Color Marilyn Singer (Editor) Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004

This YA collection explores issues of diversity, racism and ways to move beyond with well known authors such as M.E Kerr and Joseph Bruchac.

10.

blacklikemeBlack Like Me   By John Howard Griffin Wings Press, 2011

Though it is 50 years old, this adult or young adult title is not to be missed. It explores the issue of racial injustice after a white writer darkens his skin and spends time in the American South. Click here for Smithsonian’s view of how the book has stood the test of time.