Monthly Archives: September 2014

Three Banned Books You Should Read

I recently reviewed lists of the most frequently challenged books of the 21st century. As I perused the lists, I saw names that feel like old friends to me. Some spoke to me of my own life while others challenged my thinking. Some were downright funny while others tore so deep that reading them made me experience loss. They all made me feel.

I’ve chosen three books from those lists that I recommend you checking out. These three aren’t necessarily my favorites, but they are three that I believe will elicit a response and that have interesting stylistic choices.

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The story of Arnold/Junior, who leaves the reservation in order to search for hope at an all-white high school, is an amazing read. Enriched by cartoons drawn by the protagonist, the book is hilarious and poignant, often simultaneously. Even though I am not Native American, Arnold/Junior’s experience of being a teenage boy living in an impoverished community mirrored much of my own experiences growing up.



2. Brave New World

Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel eerily reflects much of our world today. Society is divided into five castes, each represented by Greek letters (Alphas, Betas, etc.). The lowest caste, whose role is to serve others, is offered little to no education. In fact, as infants, they are electronically shocked when they see books, which creates a Pavlovian aversion to literacy. Consumerism, promiscuity, and a mind-numbing drug called soma (meaning “the body”) are the pathways to happiness. The book shows how control can be established by controlling knowledge and shifting people’s focus from relationships to items.



3. Crank

Kristina,the protagonist, slips into the addiction of methamphetimine initially to impress a boy. It’s a slippery slope that profoundly affects the outcomes of Kristina’s life. Crank is written as a series of poems, a style that vicariously translates Kristina’s emotional states throughout addiction. Often challenged for its adult content, the book is a stylistic achievement. In addition, it serves as a warning to those who have never used drugs while also offering a theme of hope for others who might be in the midst of addiction.










Experimenting with Social Bookmarking: Delicious

The following blog post is an updated re-posting from my shared blog I’m still wanting to meet more people who use Delicious. is a social bookmarking site.  If you are unfamiliar with social bookmarking, it is essentially social media designed for collecting web resources and sharing them with others.If you have never tried social bookmarking, I would encourage you to check it out.  I must admit that I may be “a little late to the party” with Delicious, which has existed since 2003.

If you, like me, also live under a rock, I’ll share what I’ve learned.Similar to Google, you can search for a topic of interest, and find a list of sites.  However, once you explore the sites, if you would like to come back to a particular website, you can bookmark it.  Delicious encourages you to add notes for yourself (and others) about the site, which enables you to personalize information for yourself.

You can also add a tag to websites.  For example, if you are searching for young adult novels to add to your classroom library and you find the site for one you want to remember, you can add a tag like “Young Adult” or “YALit”.  Now when you have time to check out a few of the books during summer break, you simply click to find all of the items with that tag.  I have a million unsorted bookmarks on my web browser, but I feel like Delicious would encourage me to use sorting for future reference.  Using tags can also help my “followers”.

…or at least it can when I have some followers.

Yes, Delicious also gives the option for you to follow others’ bookmarks or for others to follow yours, much like Twitter.  Since I enjoy reading the educators’ tweets, I believe this is my favorite feature of Delicious.  The site will even let you search for Facebook friends and Twitter followers who are Delicious users, so you can begin following their bookmarks.

Overall, I believe that Delicious (or another social bookmarking tool) could be helpful for most educators.  Like most teachers, I like to collect “stuff”, and Delicious provides an option for organizing my digital stuff with the added bonus of sharing it with others. I used to use my “favorites” on Twitter as a type of bookmarking, but now I have too many to use that function for bookmarking. I believe Delicious could be a much better way to store links for later use.

Check out my page on Delicious.  And if you want, follow me.  You could be the second! The awesome @jameskaufholz was the first!

Historical Literacy in Action

Last year, my colleague Julianna was searching for strategies to help her students read and interpret complex primary documents.  I developed a lesson emphasizing ways to monitor comprehension and make inferences. Although the lesson focused on good reading behaviors, it completely flopped. That happened for a few reasons, but one that is becoming more obvious to me is that each discipline has a specific set of literacies.

Although content-area reading strategies like visualizing, summarizing, and determining importance obviously support readers in most texts, disciplinary literacy practices are essential for comprehending complex texts at the secondary level and beyond. I have been revisiting a book that examines the unique literacy practices of different disciplines. I highly recommend you order a copy of (Re)Imagining Content-Area Literacy Instruction.



Julianna and I regrouped this year. Part of our plan was to explore some of the ideas about historical literacies in this book. We began to learn more about which literacy strategies we should use with her American History Students that best support them examining and making sense of historical documents.

Five literacy strategies regularly practiced by historians were utilized by the students in our lesson: sourcing, observation-making, inference-making, contextualization, and corroboration.

We decided to model sourcing, observation-making, and inference-making with two short excerpts of historical texts. Then students examined four more texts (using the strategy sequence we modeled) in small groups. After the students had examined and discussed the texts, they summarized what they had learned about the effects of the French and Indian War.


“Sourcing is the use of text’s source to comprehend and evaluate its content” (Nokes, 2010). As we modeled document-reading strategies, I noticed the expert way that Julianna brought students’ attention to sourcing. The first text we modeled was a diary excerpt from a soldier fighting for the British. Julianna pointed out how the dates of the entries were midway through the French-Indian war. The second text was from George Washington early in the war. Because of the authors’ levels of bias as well as the time period they wrote the texts, we could see how perspectives of the war shifted over time. I came to new understandings about how soldiers felt demeaned (even enslaved, actually) at the midpoint of the war. I also was enlightened to understand that Washington’s inclinations toward gaining expert military knowledge that would benefit him later on.


Observation-making is noting what tangible evidence can be seen, whether that is citing text or describing non-print texts. Students spent time reading primary documents, maps, and political cartoons. Afterwards, they discussed word, phrases, and details about each artifact that revealed insights into the French and Indian War.



Inference-making is using textual or observational evidence in combination with other knowledge (contextual, background, etc.) to draw conclusions about a topic. Once students made notes about what they could observe about each document, they used contextual knowledge that Julianna had previously taught to make inferences about each text. For example, many students discussed how the colonies could be a dangerous adversary if they would work as one in this famous “Join, or Die” political cartoon created by Ben Franklin.



“Contextualization in an effort to comprehend and evaluate documents with the geographic, political, historical, and cultural context of their creation in mind” (Nokes, 2010).  Although contextualization was not one of the literacies we modeled, students used context to discuss the texts with one another. For example, students made inferences about how the cultural perspective of Pontiac,  the Ottowa war chief, in a speech examining why his brethren should deny the vices of the British.


Corroboration entails making connections between information found in texts, with contradictions and similarities being noted” (Nokes, 2010). When the students summarized their new insights into the effects of the French-Indian War, they looked for patterns among the texts.  Looking for similarities helped students’ arrive at more solid understandings of the war while also better understanding unique perspective and biases among the texts.


We were extremely satisfied with how the students engaged in historical literacies, and Julianna replicated the strategy with her AP class later in the day.

Disciplinary literacy matters to students’ engagement and mastery in the subject. Strategies that are too general may sometimes be inappropriate for supporting disciplinary concepts, so it is essential that content-area teachers and literacy specialist collaborate to identify disciplinary literacies and develop strategies to support their development.

Join the 60-for-60 Mission to Celebrate International Literacy Day

September 8th is International Literacy Day. Coincidentally, September 8th is also the date for the first Literacy Leadership Team meeting at one of my schools. Today, I spent some time researching activities and ideas for International Literacy Day (#IDL14 on Twitter).


The International Reading Association has a campaign entitled “Lift Off to Literacy.” The challenge is engage students in sixty extra seconds of literacy activities for 60 days. If you commit to their pledge by clicking the Get the Kit link, you will receive several ideas for one-minute activities divided by grade levels. It only takes a minute to take the pledge.

Many of the activities deal with the theme of space because astronaut Kjell Lindgren. He explains the 60-for60 mission in this brief video.

Here is a sample of the ideas in the kit.

For all students: Start each day/class with a sixty-second read-aloud.

Ages 4-8: My Unique Alphabet Chart. Assign a letter for the day, and ask students to brainstorm words that start with that letter and are space-related or describe what it might be like in space.

Ages 9-11: Space Logbook. Begin a tale of space adventure! Each day, individually or as a class, create a new sentence for your space adventure. Four days a week, write one sentence to continue your story and the fifth day, illustrate that four-sentence section. This process will strengthen the ability to recall information that was created the days before.

Ages 12-14: Vocabulary Gradient. Choose two words that are opposites. For each of those choose three to five synonyms. For example, happy and sad are opposites. Synonyms for each could be pleased, peppy, ecstatic, down, forsaken, and miserable. Have students arrange the words to create a continuum that takes you from one opposite to the other. Students must discuss their reasoning as they arrange. This activity helps students think about shades of meaning

Ages 15+: Short and Tweet. Ask students to read up on scientific research conducted in space or scientific improvements as a result of space exploration and bring the information to class. Each day choose one story to feature and, as a class, craft a tweet about what the students have learned. Twitter’s 140 character limit will push students to really narrow their synopsis.

I’d love to hear what you use with your students (or your children, if you’re a parent). Please share in the comments.

Five Movement Strategies in the High School Classroom

With every lesson I teach, the undeniable connection between physical movement and learning becomes clearer. Brain researcher David Sousa claims that physical activity increases the amount of oxygen in our blood, and this oxygen is related to enhanced learning and memory. A recent Washington Post article suggests that many student behaviors we associate with ADHD may stem from an overall lack of physical movement  — both in and out of school.


However, many high school teachers still struggle to integrate movement into the classroom. I know that as a former English teacher, movement found its way into many of my “special” lessons, but it was often a missing ingredient of daily instruction. For example, when students worked on creating commercials integrating persuasive techniques, searched for books in the library, or carried out debates, movement was inevitable. However, when the main focus of a lesson was reading and writing (as many are in the English classroom), movement was minimal.

I’ve included some strategies that teachers of any content area can use to integrate movement into lessons.  All of these are strategies that I either used or observed colleagues use with classes over the past week. Of course, authentic movement such as performance tasks, problem-based learning, and flexible group work is ideal. However, when you have a lesson that looks “sedentary,” integrating one of these strategies will surely increase students’ learning and engagement.

1. Gallery Walks/Chalk Talks

Sometimes we have multiple texts that students will need to read and analyze in a lesson. Why not post those texts on the walls, and have students rotate around the room in small groups? I have used this strategy with students analyzing primary and secondary documents for DBQ’s (document-based questions) in history classes. One colleague had students analyze magazine ads for rhetorical techniques in her English class.


Gallery walks can also feature student-created texts. They can also be digital. An earth science teacher I work with had student groups create informational Animoto videos on different geographic formations. She then had students participate in a digital gallery walk where they watched the student-created videos on laptops, and took notes on each geographic formation.

Chalk Talks are gallery walks where students are asked to interact with the posted texts. For example, quotes could be posted, and student could post their reactions to them. In a math class, students could solve a problem on chart paper, and explain their process. Other students could then use Post-Its to write comments or critiques of their solution and process.

2. White Board Meetings

White Board Meetings are a strategy I have seen two science teachers use often.  Essentially, students will investigate a situation (often using a data set). Students will then make sense of the problem in a group. They will display their findings on a large whiteboard. Usually, students are required to show information in graphs, pictures, mathematics, and writing.  Once students have had time to include their information on the whiteboards, they present their findings to their classmates.  Students and the teacher can give them feedback and ask them questions after they have presented.

3. North Pole-South Pole/Continuum

This strategy is great for formative assessment of learning and background knowledge. Essentially, one side of the room represents one idea, and the other side of the room represents an opposing idea.

For example, I used the strategy while teaching last Tuesday. My “North Pole” was “I feel extremely confident in how well I can comprehend and remember information in the statistics textbook.” My “South Pole” was “I feel NO confidence in how well I can comprehend and remember information in the statistics textbook.”  Students were asked to align themselves with how they felt. If they felt neither way they would be in the center of the room. Many stood closely, but not completely, to one side, showing the continuum of their confidence. Their responses affected how I presented an array of note-taking strategies, and which students I worked with more closely during the lesson.

4. Musical Mingle

This strategy works along the same lines as Musical Chairs, but you simply ask students to stand. I often develop a series of questions that I want to ask students before the lesson begins (to assess background knowledge) or after the lesson (to assess learning). I ask all of the students to stand. I tell then that when I play the music, they will meander around. When the music stops, they will find a partner to discuss the questions with. Once students have had the opportunity to talk, we then repeat the process.

One caveat to this strategy is limiting your questions. Generally, any more than three or four questions results in some diminished focus.  Once the activity is done, I ask for students to share some of their discussion points with the whole class. Most students feel confident sharing in the whole class because they had an opportunity to clarify and test their thinking with a partner earlier.

5. Stations

Most educators view stations as a staple of the elementary school classroom, but they are also extremely effective in high schools. Stations can be utilized for differentiation. For example, based upon students’ current writing trends, a teacher could place students at station based upon areas they need to practice. Activities can be on paper, or they can be embedded digitally using QR Codes. Other stations may be rotational, such as short writing prompts, different math problems, different poems to analyze, or different activities for new vocabulary or concepts.

Clamoring for more movement strategies? Check out my sequel to this post with five more ways to get students moving.