5 Harmful Differentiation Myths: Part 1


The learning differences, preferences, and varied backgrounds existent in the classroom present teachers with a challenging-POPyes task: help every student become a successful learner. How can teachers support all students’ diverse needs? Much confusion and fear have surrounded differentiated instruction and its use in the classroom.

Myth #1: Differentiation = Individualization
Differentiation doesn’t mean individualizing the curriculum for each student. Yes, when teachers meet one-on-one and conference with students, modifying instruction to best suit the student’s needs, both individualization and differentiation are taking place. However, writing an individual lesson plan for every student in the classroom is NOT differentiating (it’s insanity). Instead, differentiation involves using quality and effective instructional practices to strategically address groups of students based on various levels of learning readiness, interests, and learning styles.

Contentsgdfgfdfdghghjgh copyMyth #2: Every student should be doing something different
Teachers should consider each student’s strengths and areas that need support, but that does not mean 30 students are engaged in 30 different activities. Instead, teachers use differentiation to provide a range of activities and assignments that challenge and offer variety in students’ learning opportunities. This includes flexible grouping, or organizing students by ability, learning styles, and academic needs. Students may work individually, in pairs, collaborative groups, or as a class based on learning objectives and their individual needs and preferences. For example, one group may be practicing math skill fluency while another group is applying this skill within more challenging settings. Differentiation also involves modifying the content (the what), process (the how), and product (the end result). Using assessment to inform instruction, providing leveled reading books, increasing or decreasing task complexity, and assigning tasks based on visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning preferences all support such differentiated learning opportunities.

Myth #3: Test prep doesn’t allow you to differentiate
Differentiation’s first objective is to help students deeply understand the content. This is essential to encourage the progressive achievement of a desired level of mastery in preparation for students’ successful careers and futures. Differentiated instruction better prepares students for standardized tests through authentic learning experiences that exercise higher-order, critical thinking skills and encourage the development of strong conceptual understanding. Secondly, differentiation aims to prepare students for varied forms of assessment, including group projects and research papers, as well as multiple-choice questions on a standardized test. Therefore, using standardized testing preparation to assess and monitor students’ progress and understanding is important, but it is only one of the many types of assessment teachers use. Undifferentiated or standardized assessments should be provided along with authentic and performance-based assessments.

Myth #4: There is no time to differentiate
Differentiation doesn’t have to be thought of as separate from instruction. The key is to treat differentiation as a core part of the lesson and unit plan, rather than as an afterthought. The best answer is to start small, such as differentiating one subject or unit at a time by modifying the plans and materials you already have. Even though a teacher may feel he/she has little control over the content, differentiating instruction can support how he/she will teach it.

Myth #5: Differentiation is the end-all-be-all solution for academic achievement
Differentiation is one way to help all students of varying abilities, learning styles, interests, and background experiences meet or exceed grade-level expectations. Parent engagement, assessment, reflection, professional development, and content and grade-level collaboration are all part of the toolbox schools and teachers need to proactively anticipate and appropriately respond to students’ continuously changing needs.

What does differentiation look like in action? This is Part 1 of 2 posts about differentiation and how it is used in the classroom.

Cash, R. M. (2011). Advancing differentiation: Thinking and learning for the 21st century. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.

Veronica SchneiderVeronica has a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

Big News in Diversity: Big Hero 6 Tops Box Office

Diversity 102This past weekend, Disney released its newest action-comedy, Big Hero 6. The movie chronicles the special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who  team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.

Big Hero 6 has been getting tons of great reviews, and earned an impressive 88% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps most impressively, it beat out Christopher Nolan’s highly buzzed-about sci-fi epic Interstellar at the box office, taking an an estimated $56.2M in its first weekend. That makes it the second best cartoon opening of the year, trailing only The Lego Movie.

Big_Hero_(film)_poster

This isn’t just a win for Disney and Big Hero 6—it’s a win for diversity, and those who make the argument that diversity sells. Big Hero 6 takes place in a future “San Fransokyo” and features an extremely diverse cast of characters: Go Go Tomago, Tadashi, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. And, unlike some cartoons, it doesn’t whitewash its casting: the voices behind the characters are just as diverse as the characters themselves. Hiro, Tadashi, and Go Go are all voiced by Asian American Actors (Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, and Jamie Chung, respectively) and the diverse cast is rounded out by Damon Wayans Jr. (Wasabi), Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon), and Maya Rudolph (Cass).

Big Hero 6 Heroes

That means, of the 10 top billed characters in the movie, 6 are voiced by people of color. That’s significantly higher than Hollywood’s standard dreary stats of underrepresentation. It also means that a movie featuring people of color in the top roles earned more money than a major blockbuster film starring several Oscar-winning actors and directed by one of the most famous directors in Hollywood. And not a very diverse one, I would add.

How’s that for proof that diversity sells?

Not everyone loves Big Hero 6. Some fans of the original comics were disappointed to see that while the characters in the original comic were all Japanese, Disney chose to recast some of the characters in the movie as other races. You can see more about the changes they made here. Was Disney afraid that a cast of all-Japanese characters might scare off the American moviegoing audience? We’ll never know.

Diversity done well can be hard, but it’s worth celebrating the wins even when they’re complicated. You may have noticed the Diversity 102 logo at the top of this blog post. From here on in, we’re going beyond the Diversity 101 story that everyone tells: there’s not enough diversity, there’s nothing out there, diversity doesn’t make money, people don’t care. It’s important to acknowledge that there’s work to be done, but the story goes deeper than that. There are many exciting things happening, and we want to spotlight them.

So, are you going to see Big Hero 6 this weekend? Did you see it already? What did you think?

Native American Heritage Month: 10 Children’s Books By Native Writers

November is Native American Heritage Month! Native American Heritage Month evolved from the efforts of various individuals at the turn of the 20th century who tried to get a day of recognition for Native Americans. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a resolution that appointed November as Native American Heritage Month. You can learn more about Native American Heritage Month here.

For many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were set aside, hidden, or drowned out. That’s why it’s especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices. Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with these great books by Native writers:

Biographies

Quiet Hero by S.D. Nelson – Ira Hayes grew up on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona. When he was in his late teens, World War II raged, and Ira Hayes joined the Marine corps. Eventually they were sent to the tiny Japanese island of Iwo Jima, where a chance event and an extraordinary photograph catapulted Ira to national awareness and transformed his life forever. 

Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson – Crazy Horse, whose childhood nickname was “Curly,” defies traditional custom and risks his own life by running away, up to the hills, to seek a vision.

Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson –  While Jim Thorpe struggled at school, he excelled at sports. He later went on to win several Olympic medals.

Fiction

Home to Medicine Mountain by Chiori Santiago, illustrated by Judith Lowry – Two Native American brothers are sent to a strict, government-run boarding school. There, they are forced to speak English and to unlearn their Native American ways. Inspired by their dreams of home and the memories of their grandmother’s stories, the boys embark on an adventurous journey from the harsh residential school to their home in Susanville, California.

Sky Dancers by Connie Ann Kirk, illustrated by Christy Hale – John Cloud’s father is in New York City, far away from their Mohawk Reservation, building sky scrapers. One day, Mama takes John to New York City and he sees his Papa high on a beam, building the Empire State Building.

Kiki’s Journey by Kristy Orona-Ramirez, illustrated by Jonathan Warm Day –  Kiki is a city girl that calls Los Angeles her home. Her family left the Taos Pueblo reservation when she was a baby, so it doesn’t feel like home. How will it feel to revisit the reservation?

 

Stories for Teens

Rattlesnake Mesa by EdNah New Rider Weber, photographs by Richela Renkun – When EdNah’s beloved grandmother dies, she is sent to live on a Navajo reservation with a father she barely knows. Once EdNah finds herself getting used to her new life, she is sent to a strict government-run Indian boarding school.

Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac – When Luke King’s father, a black ops infiltrator, goes missing, Luke realizes his life will never be the same again. Luke sets out to search for his father, all the while trying to avoid the attention of the school’s mysterious elite clique of Russian hipsters, who seem much too interested in his own personal secret

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac – In a future where technology has failed, Lozen has been gifted with a unique set of abilities magic and survival skills that she uses to hunt monsters for the people who kidnapped her family. As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero.

Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac – Several years before Killer of Enemies, the Lakota are forced to mine ore for the Ones, their overlords. Rose Eagle’s aunt has a vision of Rose as a healer. She sends Rose on a quest to find healing for their people.

 

What other books by Native American authors and illustrators do you recommend?

 

 

First Look, Second Look, Third Look: Close “Reading” with Book Art

I’ll admit it: I was looking for a Native American book by a Native American author to write about in light of Thanksgiving and National American Indian Heritage Month as many teachers do this time of year.

This Land is My LandThis led me to reread and re-experience the Children’s Book Press treasure, This Land is My Land, by artist George Littlechild. As winner of the 1994 Jane Addams Picture Book Award and 1993 National Parenting Publications Gold Medal, This Land is My Land is a notable treat for students and readers of all ages.

The book features 17 of the artist’s mixed media paintings organized to portray Native American history in North America and Littlechild’s own heritage and childhood. As I studied Littlechild’s paintings and read his accompanying essays about each, I felt as if I were on a gallery walk with my own earbud connected to the artist.

Although this picture book would make a great counterpoint to many Thanksgiving books out there, This Land is My Land is valuable beyond the Thanksgiving-relevant content. It is a great example of how art is a powerful medium for critical thinking development and can be integrated into literacy instruction (not just the assigned art block a couple times a week).

Click on the image to read the text

So, what does close reading (or “looking?”) look like with art?

Like a text, a piece of art is another place for students to engage with multiple times and each time diving into another level of meaning and interpretation. Using art in the classroom relates to the reading standard 7 of the Common Core, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Additionally, many of these questions are questions we would use with students in the close reading of a text.

Below is an example of how students can progress with their observations and thinking. I separated levels of questions into three viewings based on level of complexity, but of course one could (and should) return to a worthwhile painting many, many times.

First look (literal comprehension/understanding)

  • What is happening?
  • What patterns do you see? What images, colors, and symbols do you see repeated or used most often in this painting or across paintings?
  • What materials does Littlechild use?
  • How does Littlechild use positive or negative space?
  • How does Littlechild use the foreground and background?
  • Who is the narrator?
  • What are some common ideas or events portrayed in his artwork?
  • What is the central idea of the painting? What is the central idea of the paintings taken altogether? What makes you think so?

Second look (higher level thinking/interpretation of meaning)

  • What effect do repeated colors, images, patterns, or symbols have on his art and the central idea?
  • What effect does a specific material, such as shells or sequins, have on his art and the central idea?
  • What does “Indian” mean to Littlechild?
  • How does Littlechild’s background (childhood, heritage, identity, family relationships) affect the subjects, themes, and materials of his paintings?
  • What has Littlechild learned from his elders? What does he want viewers to learn from or think about events in the past and our heritages?
  • What is the mood of one piece of the artwork or the collective body of artwork? What makes you think so? What colors, patterns, materials, or images does he use to convey mood?
  • What is the purpose of his art? Why would Littlechild create this painting or assemble these paintings into a collection? Why talk about these events and his heritage and childhood at all?
  • Who do you think is the intended audience of This Land is My Land? What might Littlechild want them to do with this narrative and perspective?
  • How does Littlechild demonstrate pride in and appreciation for his heritage? How does he convey pain in Native American history? How does he convey the closeness of his community?

Third look (higher level thinking/analysis of artist’s craft/structure/methods)

  • Why does Littlechild choose to start the book with a dedication to his ancestors and include their photographs?
  • How is the collection of paintings organized? How does the chronological structure convey or confirm his central idea? How does this mixed media collection compare to a biography in book form?
  • Why does Littlechild choose the title and painting for the book cover: This Land is My Land? He doesn’t like the song, “This land is your land, this land is my land,” or its meaning; so, why does it fit as the title and cover painting for the book? What does this choice tell us about the central idea of the book? What message does he want to convey to viewers?
  • Why does Littlechild use photographs in the painting, instead of just drawing the figures? What effect do the photographs have on the story he is telling and on the painting itself? (Repeat this question for feathers, sequins, shells, and feathers)
  • Why do you think the artist chooses to use the motif of stars? What do a “star” mean in this context? the number four? horses?
  • Why does Littlechild choose art/mixed media collage to represent events in his own life and convey his the central idea?

For further reading on integrating the Arts with the Common Core, check out these fantastic resources:

How are you integrating art with the Common Core? What tips do you have for choosing high quality art to teach? What art are you using already? Let us know!

Jill EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Illustrator Frank Morrison takes us behind the art of Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

SONY DSCReleased in September, Little Melba and her Big Tromboneis the story of Melba Liston, a little-known but trailblazing jazz musician who broke racial and gender barriers to become a famed trombonist and arranger. We asked illustrator Frank Morrison to take us behind the scenes for creating the art work used in Little Melba and her Big Trombone. 

Illustration Process

  1. After reading the manuscript for Little Melba and her Big Trombone, I immediately searched for references that could help me  bring the story to life. This included clothing from the time period and a trombone, which I have never painted before. I was fortunate enough to find a CD by Melba titled, “Melba Liston and her Bones” as well.  After gathering all of my materials my studio begins to sound like a jazz session as I begin reading.
  2. I make thumbnails sketches and jot down notes on the sides of the manuscript while the Be Bopping is blaring from the speakers. My sketches are loose like a trombone’s slide and they take about a minute each. thumbnails for cover resize
  3. When the thumbnails are completed I being drawing defined sketches from them and at the same time placing them in page order. Sometimes I may have two or three different ideas for a page as shown in the cover sketches.  1st cover sketch resizepage 10-11 sketch  resize
  4.  Once my sketches are approved, I transfer the final drawings to an illustration board. This, of course, is done after I’ve measuring the dimensions and taped off the edges, which includes a half-inch border.2nd cover sketch resize
  5. I spray a fixative on the drawing so it won’t smudge then coat it with a clear gesso. Next I tape the image to a wooden board. The board allows me to work sitting down at my art table or placing the painting on my easel. page 10 -11 gesso resize
  6. Finally I use a lot of jazz music, dancing and oil paints to finish the final art.

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PAGES 10-11 resize

Dream Casting for Our Favorite YA Novels

One of the fun things about reading fiction is imagining what the characters would look like, sound like, and act like in real life. And with the recent spike in YA-novels-turned-movies, it’s not a stretch to wonder who might be cast to play some of our favorite characters. There have been some great movies recently based on YA novels, but few of them have featured diverse casts or characters. So we thought we’d give Hollywood a little help and showcase a few of our favorite movie-worthy YA novels, and how we’d cast them:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz 

What it’s about: This tender novel looks at the deep and evolving friendship between two teen boys in 1980s El Paso.

Why it should be a movie: Although it’s not action-packed, the space this book gives to the quiet moments shared between Aristotle and Dante would make it a great character study. It won a Printz Award Honor and in the hands of a capable filmmaker definitely has potential to win awards on the movie side as well.

Who we’d cast: 

Aristotle:

Diego Boneta

Ari is sensitive and introspective but also big and strong, and he has a melancholy side that comes out sometimes too. We’d cast Diego Boneta as Ari.

Dante:

Tyler Posey

Dante is endearing and earnest, even when he’s struggling with his feelings. He can be full of angst without being angsty. We think Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey could bring to life Dante’s charm.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park cover

What it’s about: A story of first love that follows two teenagers in 1980s Nebraska who help each other through difficult circumstances. Note: Readers have mixed feelings on Rowell’s depiction of race, specifically Park as Korean American. For thoughtful criticism of the problems with Eleanor and Park, take a look at this review or this one.

Why it should be a movie: Actually, Dreamworks jumped on the movie rights early, so Eleanor and Park is headed to the big screen already. But some readers fear that in the hands of Hollywood, Eleanor and Park could change. In the book, Eleanor is overweight and Park is half Korean, two characteristics not often seen among leading men and ladies onscreen. In a Hollywood is notorious for whitewashing, casting this movie accurately would be nothing short of groundbreaking.

Who we’d cast:

Eleanor:

Emma Kenney

So few women are allowed to appear onscreen overweight that it was really tough just to find someone who might resemble Eleanor. We thought Emma Kenney could be a good fit (though she’s skinnier than Eleanor) but perhaps there’s a great unknown actress out there waiting to be discovered, too.

Park:

Sam TanSo few Asian actors are given big parts that it wasn’t easy to find a potential Park. But we think maybe Sam Tan could pull off that goth exterior and super-sweet center that make Park irresistible to Eleanor.

Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac

Killer of Enemies coverWhat it’s about: In the post-apocalyptic Southwest, Apache teenager Lozen works as a monster hunter in order to keep her family safe.

Why it should be a movie: Killer of Enemies is action-packed so it could pull in a wide audience, and the fight scenes between Lozen and the genetically-engineered monsters she hunts would be incredibly fun to watch. Plus, what’s the last movie you watched with a Native main character?

Who we’d cast: 

Lozen:

Amber MidthunderIf finding other casting options with hard, finding a Native actress to play Lozen was near impossible. But since Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing Native characters (Johnny Depp as Tonto, we’re looking at you) it’s extra-important that Lozen be played by a Native actress. We thought Amber Midthunder, who is an enrolled member of the Ft. Peck Sioux Indian Reservation, could be a good choice. But it would be nice if she weren’t the only choice.

The model who posed for the front cover could be a pretty good Lozen, too:

Killer of Enemies cover image

Hussein:

Avan JogiaLozen’s love interest Hussein is a musician, a sensitive listener who’s a good counterpart to Lozen’s stoic strength. We could see Avan Jogia balancing Lozen out pretty well.

What books are you hoping to see as movies? Who’s your dream cast? Let us know in the comments!

Reading Paired Texts to Increase Student Engagement

In the fall of 2012 a news story emerged that astronomers had discovered a planet largely made out of diamond. Third grade at my school spent the first two quarters studying the solar system; therefore, this news was received with irrepressible glee in my classroom. Although the media nickname “Lucy” was lost on my students (as in the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), the wonderment and rejuvenated commitment to the content were obvious.

Seeing that scientists were still studying and discovering facts about our solar system and distant others was exciting to my students and made them feel like they were on the frontier learning alongside real astronomers. Pairing the news article with The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System spurred very creative journal entries throughout the unit, including envisioned future discoveries of all sorts of substances for planets: kitten fur, gold, bubbles.

Incorporating current events and news stories into the classroom can engage students with a renewed sense of purpose and interest. Pairing a news article with a book on a similar topic or theme offers students greater context and a sense of relevancy for the content they are learning, and perhaps a jolt to the creeping apathy over a curriculum students had little input in selecting.

Seven Miles to Freedom (1)So, what does it look like to use paired texts in the classroom?

One example is using the picture book biography, Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. In May 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced it had discovered the Civil War ship of Robert Smalls. Pairing one of the articles with the picture book biography provides students opportunity to practice comprehension and the third component of the Common Core reading standards: integration of knowledge and ideas.

Standard 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

The following example can be adapted for grades 3–7. Read the picture book, Seven Miles to Freedom, aloud to the whole group or have students read to themselves depending on their reading level. Focus questions may look like this:

  1. How does the picture book describe Robert Smalls?
  2. What character trait would best describe Robert Smalls based on what he says, does, thinks, feels and what other characters say and think about him?
  3. Why do you think the author of the picture book wants to share this story with young people?
  4. How does this story help us better understand the events in Robert Smalls’ life?

Read the news article second. If the news article is above students’ reading level, read the article aloud as they follow along with individual copies. The questions for the article will mirror those questions for the picture book:

  1. How does the article describe Robert Smalls?
  2. What character trait would best describe Robert Smalls based on what he says and does and what other people quoted say and think about him in this article?
  3. Why do you think the NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program wants to find and rescue the ship/signify the ship’s location now after all these years?
  4. How does this news article help us better understand the events in Robert Smalls’ life and the picture book Seven Miles to Freedom?

 

Follow up questions looking at both texts together:

  1. What events and details do both texts agree on?
  2. Create a timeline of events using both the picture book and news article.
  3. How are these texts both examples of nonfiction? What sub-genres of nonfiction are they? How do they present information similarly and differently?

 

Resources about Robert Smalls:

  • Explore a reading guide and learning activities for Seven Miles to Freedom from OurStory, a website created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to encourage adults and children in grades K–4 to read historical fiction and biography together
  • Read about Robert Smalls’ ship, Planter, and a report about the discovery from the Voyage to Discovery, a multi-media initiative to highlight African American maritime history from the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program and the National Association of Black Scuba Divers

 

Resources for connecting Lee & Low titles with news:

 

Bonus: A fragment from Amelia Earhart’s airplane was recently identified. What book would you want to pair with this news story for students? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Sweet News in Diversity

Happy Halloween everyone! We’ve got something even better than treats today: great news in diversity!

Appltim cooke CEO Tim Cook recently came out in an editorial published by Bloomberg Businessweek, saying that he is “proud to be gay,” and making him the first openly gay leader of a major U.S. company. This was the first time Cook addressed his orientation publicly, saying, “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” Cook wrote. “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.” With more states and people accepting gay marriage and supporting LGBTQ rights, Cook’s move is inspirational and will hopefully lead to more acceptance within the workplace.

Marvel announces next phase of superhero movies

From left: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), and Chris Evans (Captain America) at a Marvel event in Hollywood

Marvel just recently announced their next phase of superhero movies and we’re excited to see that it’s going to include a Black Panther movie! The Black Panther (T’Challa) was the first black superhero in American comics. We’re also looking forward to seeing Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman! DC announced that Momoa would be playing Aquaman in the highly anticipated “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and the Wonder Woman movie will premier in 2017.

Have you heard more good news in diversity? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

Mix it up! 15 Books about Kindness and Giving

Today is Mix It Up At Lunch Day, an annual day started by Teaching Tolerance over a decade ago to encourage kindness and reduce prejudice in schools by encouraging students to sit and have lunch with someone new, one day out of the year. Teaching Tolerance offers some great resources to help schools celebrate Mix It Up At Lunch Day, and we thought we’d add our own list of recommended books that encourage kindness, giving, bravery and open-mindedness!

15 Books About Kindness and Giving

  1. Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving written by John Frank and illustrated by London Ladd- A collection of poems showing the many ways individuals can make differences.
  2. Antonio’s Card written by Rigoberto González and illustrated by Cecilia Álvarez – Antonio’s classmates make fun of Leslie, Antonio’s mother’s partner because of her paint-spattered overalls. Antonio decides to make a card for his mother and her partner.
  3. First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch –  Abaani, a Maasai boy, sees a Kikuyu boy, Haki, tending a new fruit and vegetable stall alongside the road and they take an immediate dislike to each other.  A short while later, a dangerous situation arises near Haki’s stall and Abaani and Haki must overcome their differences and work together.
  4. King for a Day written by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Christiane Krömer – Malik wants to become the king of the kite festival, Basant. Using his kite Falcon, Malik becomes the king of Basant! When he sees a bully take a kite from a girl, Malik uses Falcon to give her a nice surprise.
  5. Grandfather Counts written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Ange Zheng – Gong Gong, Helen’s grandfather who only speaks Chinese, moves in with her family. Helen is worried about not being able to speak to him. She hears him counting train cars in Chinese, and she reciprocates by showing him how to count in English.
  6. Sam and the Lucky Money written by Karen Chinn and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu – Sam  receives lucky money–red envelopes called leisees (lay-sees), from his grandparents that he can spend any way he wants. When he doesn’t have enough money to buy what he wants, Sam instead decides to give his money to a homeless man.
  7. Birthday in the Barrio written by Mayra Lazara Dole and illustrated by Tonel – Chavi’s friend Rosario wants to have a quinceñera (sweet 15), but her family can’t afford it. Chavi gathers people in the barrio (neighborhood) and throws Rosario a birthday party in the community center.
  8. Brothers in Hope written by Mary Williams and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie – When eight-year-old Garang’s village in southern Sudan is destroyed, he walks thousands of miles with many other boys to seek safety. The boys face numerous hardships and dangers along the way, but their faith and mutual support help keep the hope of finding a new home alive in their hearts.
  9. Destiny’s Gift written by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by Adjoa J. Burrowes – Destiny’s favorite place to be is Mrs. Wade’s bookstore; she helps out every Saturday. When Mrs. Wade tells Destiny she has to close the bookstore, Destiny organizes her community to protest.
  10. Passage to Freedom written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee – Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat to Lithuania, helped thousands of Jewish people escape the Holocaust by giving them visas to Japan.
  11. Goldfish and Chrysanthemums  written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Michelle Chang – Nancy’s grandmother, Ni Ni, finds out that her childhood home in China is being torn down. After winning two goldfish at the fair, Nancy keeps Ni Ni’s memories of her garden alive by recreating it in their backyard.
  12. Irena’s Jars of Secrets written by Marcia Vaughan and illustrated by Ron Mazellan – Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker, witnesses the injustices committed against Jewish people in Warsaw during WWII. First, she smuggles things they need into the Warsaw ghetto, and then, using false documents, she smuggles Jewish children out of the ghetto. She keeps jars with their information, hoping to reunite them with their families.
  13. Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsey Lewin – Every April, the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland become home to hundreds of thousands of puffins, small black-and-white seabirds with colorful bills. When the young puffins, called pufflings, are ready to make their way into the sea, they’re helped by the Puffling Patrol, children who help guide the pufflings to the ocean.
  14. Rent Party Jazz by written William Miller and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb – Rent day is coming, and Sonny’s mama has lost her job. Sonny isn’t sure what to do, but a jazz musician named Smilin’ Jack hosts a party to help Sonny and his mama raise money for their rent.
  15. Aani and the Tree Huggers written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Venantius J. Pinto – While Aani sits under her favorite tree, she hears men coming in to cut down the trees, despite protest from the women in the village. When the men return to cut the trees, Aani hugs a tree to prevent them from cutting it down, and the rest of the people in her village follow suit, saving the forest.

For more information about Mix It Up at Lunch Day and how to participate, click here!

How to Teach Close Reading Using a Recipe

What happens if we don’t follow a recipe? Potentially, a disaster. Recipes require careful reading and we can literally taste the consequences of our failure to do so. In this way, a recipe is fantastic for small group instruction, such as guided reading, and for parent-child practice because it is grounded in real world applications and requires multiple re-readings to grasp the information.

For guided reading, there were only a dozen or so book sets that I used with my students because those available to me were dated in content (think: Pluto is still a planet) and image, worn out from being shared across the whole school, and unreliable in student engagement. On one of my monthly trips to a Friends of the Library book sale, where I often scrounged, hunted, and bargained, I discovered a milk crate full of the children’s literary magazine, Cricket. As these were used periodicals, they were available for free. I remember the award-winning magazine as a child myself and quickly discovered that the wide variety of high-quality texts would be perfect for guided reading, including the recipes and craft instructions.

Recipe post (3)Young readers can use recipes to analyze an author’s choices, such as the order of steps, choice of ingredients, and ingredient amounts. Recipes provide hands-on experience at home while building critical background schema and additional practice with a nonfiction text. Recipes are great for teaching close reading because they:

  • naturally engage students with the content (yum!)
  • create real-world connections for why we learn to read and the skill of close reading (look—even adults do it!)
  • provide a small amount of text which can be read in one sitting but requires several re-readings to understand it fully (perfect for 20-25 min. periods)
  • allow students to interpret and solve new words in context
  • require students to visualize and analyze how the individual parts create the final product

As you read and carry out each step of a recipe, students can think about the author’s choices along the way. Why would the author want only ¼ tsp of salt? What would happen if we added 2 tsp instead? Why is salt needed in this recipe in the first place? Why do we need to add the salt before we boil? And so on.

Below is an example of questions for close reading using the recipe included at the end of the story, Sweet Potato Pie.

Read and follow along with the full Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie recipe.

First reading: (Literal questions to understand the information)

  1. What are we making? What is the central idea of this text?
  2. How much vanilla do we need?
  3. What are the general steps we need to do to make a sweet potato pie?
  4. What do we have to do first? (This is tricky because you have to make the pie crust before you can do the filling even though it is ordered in reverse)
  5. How will we know the pie is finished?
  6. Why do we use a fork to press down around the rim of the pan?
  7. What step is for attractiveness and not necessary?

Second reading: (Higher level/open-ended questions to infer significant ideas)

  1. Why should we cut the potatoes into chunks before boiling? What would happen if we put in the whole potato to boil instead?
  2. Why does the author say only use ¼ tsp of salt? What would happen if we added 1 tsp of salt instead? What would happen if we didn’t add any salt at all?
  3. Why does the author tell us to mash the potatoes AFTER boiling the potatoes and draining the water in, not before?
  4. Why does the author state, “children will need adult help”? Which step should adults do or supervise? Why?

Third reading: (Higher level/open-ended questions to analyze author’s methods, craft, and text structure)

  1. What is the meaning of the word preheat in Step 1 (Preheat the oven to 350 degrees)? What is the meaning of the prefix pre-?
  2. What is the meaning of the word except in Step 4 (Add all remaining ingredients except cinnamon and beat sweet potato mixture until smooth)?
  3. What is the author’s purpose of this text (persuade, explain, entertain, inform)? How do you know?
  4. How is the text organized? Why would the author organize the information as a list of steps? Why would the author separate the steps for the pie crust and filling within the same recipe?
  5. What features show this text is a recipe? How are this text’s format and features different from other nonfiction texts’ format and features? How does this text compare to the story that precedes it?
  6. What type of sentence is used throughout the recipe (declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamation)? How do you know? Why would the author choose this type of sentence?
  7. Why does the author put the “children will need adult help” note at the beginning of the recipe?

Book in basketWhere can you find child-friendly recipes and craft instructions? Many food-centric books, such as Sweet Potato Pie, Cora Cooks Pancitand Rainbow Stewwill include the recipe at the end of the book. Children’s magazines, like Cricket and Highlights, have user-submitted recipes and craft ideas with easy to follow steps. Finally, children’s cookbooks are widely available.

How does close reading look in your classroom? Any tricks and tips to share?

Jill Eisenberg

Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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