Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cures For The Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 2

This is the second in a series about books that have great potential for Common Core lessons. Cures For The Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 1 was published two weeks ago with the promise of a new book post each Thursday. That was interrupted last week by the birth of our granddaughter (I write with a smile on my face.) This week we're back on track, with Patricia Polacco's amazing book about the friendship of two boy soldiers during the Civil War,  Pink and Say.

Here is the story, paraphrased from the words of Leah Polacco, the author's daughter-in-law: "When wounded attempting to desert his unit, Sheldon Curtis (Say) is rescued by Pinkus Aylee (Pink), who carries him back to the Georgia home where he and his family were slaves. Say is nursed back to health by Pink’s mother, Moe Moe Bay, and begins to understand why his new friend is determined to return to the war, to fight against "the sickness" that is slavery. When marauders take Moe Moe Bay’s life, Say is also driven to fight, but both boys are taken prisoner by the Confederate Army. Say survives to pass along the story to his daughter Rosa, Patricia Polacco’s great grandmother. Pink was hanged shortly after being taken prisoner, so Patricia’s book "serves as a written memory" of him. At the end of the story Patricia tells the reader, "Before you put this book down, say his name (Pinkus Aylee) out loud and vow to remember him always." A defining moment in the story is when Say tells Pink and his mother that he once shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln. Convinced that his encounter is a "sign" of hope, Say reaches for Pink’s hand, exclaiming, "Now you can say you touched the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln!" At the end of the story when the boys are dragged apart, Pink reaches for Say one last time to touch his hand."

When my co-teacher and I read this book with our ESL students last year, we began by having them research online which states were part of the Confederacy and which ones remained with the Union, and plot their locations on a table-sized laminated map. The kiddos color-coded the states, and we maintained the colors when we wrote anchor chart type notes about the advantages and disadvantages that each side brought to the war due to location and economy. 

We staged a simple role play of a slave market, which opened the floor for many questions and a brief Socratic discussion of slavery itself. We set the stage for reading with video clips and photos of battlefields. When we finally read the book using our visual presenter, the students were captivated. 

After reading, we did vocabulary work with card sorts; the culminating assignment was for each student to write a letter home from Andersonville prison. 

The letters written by our 4th grade English Learners blew us away with their insight and honesty. 

If this incredible book sounds like one you want to share with your students, you might want to look at the sites below.

Storybookipedia has numerous activities, from anticipation to building connections at Pink and Say Activities. provides lots of information about the author and has a page for each of her other wonderful books.

The Civil War for Kids is a site our students used for their beginning research.

When you finish your study of the book, which you can purchase from Amazon, reward your kiddos with these beautiful bookmarks available on Patricia Polacco's website. Just print on cardstock and cut apart; I promise they will love them.

I think you will love this book, and that it can help cure your Common Core blues!

Metacognition? Priceless!

To be honest, I had never heard the word metacognition until I was in graduate school (again!) adding an endorsement in PreK-12 English as a Second Language. In that program with the fabulous Dorothy Craig and Barbara Young as my professors, I was required to complete a metacognitive unit for English Learners.

In my ESL classroom, I talked to my English Learners about how they learned best. I would ask them: do you understand and remember better if you
  • hear the information? hear it with pictures?
  • read it yourself? read it with pictures?
  • read it yourself while hearing it with pictures?
  • write or draw it? 
  • hold something in your hands (use manipulatives)?
  • talk about it with a partner, along with some or all of the above?
  • move while you learn? (for younger kiddos especially, the unspoken answer was "ya think?" :-)

They were not really accustomed to thinking this way for themselves, because they were elementary students with good teachers who differentiated their learning experiences by addressing every modality as much as possible. But as we discussed the different ways they might learn, they soon began to tell me what worked best for them. They had begun to think metacognitively.

There is more to metacognition than simply thinking about thinking; it also involves monitoring your learning and controlling it. But simply recognizing their own learning style was a great start.

If you want to start (or continue) working with your students on their metacognitive skills, you may find some of these sites I found useful: 

I love how Amanda, over at The Teaching Thief blog describes how she teaches active reading strategies to her 4th graders using metacognitive modeling. Amanda recommends the video below as an introduction to metacognition, and displays this anchor chart to guide her kiddos.

The positive effects of deliberately teaching metacognitive reading comprehension strategies are described in this research report over at Reading Rockets - Instruction of Metacognitive Strategies Enhances Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary Achievement of Third-Grade Students. PLEASE read this article - it will impact your teaching and your students' learning!

Another important resource is Melissa Taylor's Imagination Soup: Teach Kids to Think About Their Thinking - Metacognition. Melissa offers ideas on HOW to scaffold and direct this skill development for your students.

Finally, if you are an ESL teacher or teach English Learners in your content classroom, you might want to read this more scholarly article from The Reading Matrix: The Effects of Metacognitive Reading Strategies: Pedagogical Implications for EFL/ESL Teachers.

Once you read all of this great information, I'm sure you'll want to work on developing metacognitive skills with your students. It will make a difference in their comprehension now, and in their success in the future!