Thursday, February 02, 2006

Social Justice in the Classroom

I found this article to be very interesting especially since I am doing my practicum at an inner-city school. I am sure that there will be issues that will come up that I will be unable to help my students with because I didn't experience what they have gone through. During these times I think that it would be good to allow the class to take some time to discuss what happened because they may be more knowledgeable about what happened than I would be.

Like in the article the author spoke about using literature as a way to address social issues that are relevant to the students' lives. During my first practicum (also at an inner-city school) I was reading a novel to a student about a girl that was in foster care. At first I did not know if this would be a good book to read to her as she had been in the same situation at some point in her life. After reading this article I realized that it may have been a good book to read to her because she would be able to relate to the main character. I think that sometimes children like to hear stories that they can relate to especially if they are the only one in the class who has been through the same thing as the characters in the story.

I think that literature is a good way of introducing or starting conversations about social issues that you may not be comfortable talking about. If you have a book to use as a conversation starter or as something to refer to it may make talking about that topic a little easier for you and your students.

Multicultural Book


The book I chose as my multicultural book was Baseball Bats for Christmas by Michael Kusugak. This story is about a group of Inuit children who love to play baseball. Someone comes and delivers trees outside the Hudson Bay Store for Christmas. The children do not know what the trees are for. After Christmas they decide that they are there for them to make baseball bats with. As they live in the Arctic there are very few trees around for them to use to make baseball bats.

The illustrations in the book are well done and they do not depict the Inuit in traditional clothing or in a stereotypical way. The children are shown wearing western clothing. There are some people in the book that are shown wearing fur jackets, pants and boot, but they are a select few and I am sure that some Inuit do wear fur clothing because of the climate in which they live.

Michael Kusugak is Inuit himself and continues the storytelling tradition passed down from his grandmother. He has written a number of other stories about the Inuit, as well as co-authoring A promise is A Promise with Robert Munsch.

Read Aloud

For my read aloud I chose to read Walter the Farting Dog by Willian Kotzswinkle. If you are planning on reading this book to a class, you would have to have a discussion around farting. This discussion could include things like not making a big deal about someone farting and using your manners when you fart. As I was reading the book to my peers they were finding the story to be quite amusing, which it is. However, there are some parents who do not like this book or others in the series.

Although the book is about a dog that farts a lot, there is an underlying message about tolerance and acceptance. The two children in the story love Walter eventhough he smells, and they have learned how to put up with it. The father wants the dog returned to the pound because he does not like him farting all the time. In the end, Walter saves the day and the whole family ends up accepting Walter the way he is.

After you finish reading the story you can talk to the students about how they thing Walther felt when he wasn't wanted by the family. Just because he was different from other dogs does not mean that the family should take him back the the pound.

I think this is a good book for entertainment, and it can also teach or reinforce different lessons.

The River




Like other people in the class I found The River to be my favorite book. When I was younger I quite enjoyed reading books by Gary Paulsen.

If I was to use this book in my class I would start with The Hatchet, also by Gary Paulsen. Although it isn't necessary to read The Hatchet first to understand what is happening in The River, I think The Hatchet does provide some background and is also a very good book. I would read The Hatchet first because then students could do a compare and contrast between the two book by looking at the differences and similarities between the two times Brian is stranded in the woods.

The River could also be a part of a unit on the wilderness, mapping or geography, or a unit combining all three. Since the book discusses how Brian survived and what he ate, and saw you could easily have a class discussion around wilderness survival. You could also use the book to discuss mapping and directions. Brian did have a map of the river and lakes in the area, and that is how he managed to get Derek and himself rescued. You could also talk about using the stars and sun to determine directions. Geography would be an easy subject to integrate with this book because it describes the physical geography of the area that Brian is in.

If I ever teach an intermediate class I would definitely use The Hatchet and The River in my class. I think that these are two good books, and I quite enjoy Gary Paulsen's books. Until this course I only knew of books like The Hatchet and The River, but was unaware of the fact that he wrote books like Night John.

The Case of the Three Robbers


As I was reading the article I too had the same thoughts that the teacher had about her students when she read to them. Every time the teacher read her students a book they were so excited that they just talked and the book was forgotten. As the article went on the teacher discovered that her students were taking things from the book and applying them to their own lives.

From this article I learned that if students start a conversation when you are reading them a story it may be worthwhile to stop reading the story and have the conversation. Sometimes students can learn more from what each other have to say than they can from just listening to a story. However, there are times when the conversations do not lead to any type of learning at all. When people are listening to or reading a story they like to find connections between the book and their lives so that they can better understand the story. For example, if you have been in a situation that is similar to that of the main character, you are better able to empathize with the character.

As the author of the article points out "when the people I listened to brought up a book in conversation, comprehending the book was rarely the goal of the conversation; the book was discussed in relation to its usefulness in the task of understanding important aspects of life." So it is only natural that the students in her class would have a conversation around things from the book but in relation to their own lives.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Recommended Bibliography
It was hard to choose which books I wanted to include because there are so many excellent children's books. Hopefully you find some of these recommended books to be useful or even interesting.


The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (1968)

Grade Level: 7

Links to IRP:

Social Studies


  • Compare how various cultures meet common needs
  • Describe ways cultures have sought to preserve identity and adapt to change

Description: (From back cover)

It is June 1941. The Rudomin family has been arrested by the Russians. They are "capitalists - enemies of the people". Forced from their home and friends in Vilna, Poland, they are herded into crowded cattle cars. Their destination: the endless steppe of Siberia.

For five years, Esther and her family live in exile, weeding potato fields and working in the mines, struggling for enough food and clothing to stay alive. Only the strength of family sustains them and gives them hope for the future.

My comments on the book

When I read this book I found it very easy to get into it and imagine what was happening to Esther and her family. If using this book for a novel study, it would be quite easy to link it to the IRP's I mentioned above because you can look at how Esther and her family are trying to keep their identity but live and survive in a place that differs from their home country. I would recommend this book, even if you just read it to your class.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1972) - John Newberry Medal Winner

Grade Level: 4-7

Links to IRP:

Social Studies

Grade 4

  • Demonstrate an understanding of Aboriginal people's relationship with the land and natural resources

Grade 7

  • Compare how various cultures meet common needs
  • describe ways cultures have sought to preserve their identity and adapt to change

Description: (From back cover)

To her small Eskimo village, she is known as Miyax; to her friend in San Francisco, she is Julie. When the village is no longer safe for her, Miyax runs away. But she soon finds herself lost in the Alaskan wilderness, without food, without even a compass to guide her.

Slowly she is accepted by a pack of Arctic wolves, and she grows to love them as though they were family. With their help, and drawing on her father's teaching, Miyax struggles day by day to survive. But the time comes when she must leave the wilderness and choose between the old ways and the new. Which will she choose? For she is Miyax of the Eskimos - but Julie of the Wolves.

My comments on the book

Although this book is written from and American Aboriginal perspective, it can easily be applied to the Aboriginal people of the far north and the challenges they face when having to decide between the old and new ways of life. I found this to be an interesting book which gave me some insight into how hard it can be to survive alone on the Arctic tundra.

Naomi's Road by Joy Kogawa (1986)

Grade Level: 3-5

Links to IRP:

Social Studies

Grade 3

  • Demonstrate awareness of British Columbia's and Canada's diverse heritage

Grade 5

  • Demonstrate an understanding of why immigrants come to Canada, the challenges they face and their contributions to Canada

Description: (From back cover)

Naomi's Road tell the story of Naomi Nakane - a little girl with "black hair and lovely Japanese eyes and a face like a valentine" - and her Japanese-Canadian family during the 1940s, when Canada was at war with Japan. We follow Naomi and her older brother Stephen from their home in Vancouver to an internment camp in the interior of British Columbia, and then to a farm in Alberta, seeing the effect of war through the eyes of a child growing up with hardship and prejudice. Yet Naomi's adventures lead her to see the world with hope and understanding.

My comments on the book

When reading this book I easily became very involved in the story and was wanting to know what was happening with Naomi and her family. Because this book is written from the perspective of the child during the war, I think that it would be easier for children to relate to the events in the story. It would be very easy to do a variety of different activities with this story because it has history, geography, family relationships as well as many other topics that are seen in the IRPs.

The Biggest Snowman Ever by Steven Kroll, Illustrated by Jeni Bassett (2005)

Grade Level: K-3

Links to IRP:

Personal Planning

K/1

  • Identify characteristics of friendship

2/3

  • Distinguish between positive and negative attributes of friendship
  • Identify thoughtful, caring behaviours

Description:

The mayor of Mouseville announces a snowman contest. The mouse that makes the biggest snowman will win a prize. Clayton and Desmond are two friends who both say they are going to make the biggest snowman. They both start working on their snowman. A few days after the contest started, Desmond went into town to look at everyone's snowman and discovered that they were all the same size. Clayton also made the same discovery. Clayton and Desmond ran into each other and both had the same idea. That they should work together to make the biggest snowman. The two friends worked together and built the biggest snowman and won the contest.

My comments on the book

The story in this book would show students that when you work together you can accomplish more than if you worked independently of one another. The story also shows characteristics of what a good friend is. The illustrations for the story are also well done.

A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson, Illustrated by Ron Lightburn (2004)

Grade Level: K-4

Links to IRP: I could not find any IRPs for this age group that would go with this book, but I do feel that this is an important book to read to students around Remembrance Day.

Description:

The story starts out saying that once there was a terrible war and where they fought, wild poppies sprang up. It goes on to tell about the doctor who wrote the poem In Flanders Fields. The remainder of the story talks about how a poppy is to remember those far from home. After the story is done there are two sections at the end of the book, The Story of the Poppy and Remembrance Day in Canada. These two sections at the end are more non-fiction than the story in the book.

My comments on the book

The story in this book would be great for the primary grades because of the story book approach the author took to writing about such a major even in history. For students in grade 4 the story would still be very valuable, but they would be able to take more away from the two sections at the end of the book than primary students would. The illustrations in the book are well done, and show some elements of war without being violent.

Sid The Mad Little Bad Little Dragon by Chris Daniels, Illustrated by Paul and Natalie Daniels (1998)

Grade Level: 1-3

Links to IRP:

Personal Planning

K/1

  • Identify characteristics of friendship
  • Identify and describe a wide range of feelings

2/3

  • Distinguish between positive and negative attributes of friendship
  • Identify thoughtful, caring behaviours
  • Use appropriate vocabulary to express feelings

Description:

This story is about a dragon named Sid, which is a cross between a dragon and a mean little kid. The story tells about how Sid makes the other kids cry and is mean. There is also another kid in the story named Tommy who is quiet and shy. The other kids like to be mean to Tommy and see him cry. At the end of the book Sid and Tommy end up being friends.

My comments on the book

I like this book because it shows bullying from two perspectives; the bullier and the child who is bullied. The illustrations in the book are done well and the children's faces show the emotions that children would be feeling if they were being bullied.

Another book that deals with the topic of bullying is Stop Picking on Me: A First Look at Bullying by Pat Thomas (2000). This book goes more into the feelings experienced by someone who is being bullied. Throughout this book there are boxes titles What about you? which ask questions to get students thinking about bullies and how they feel.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Favorite Books

When I was younger I loved to read. I can remember reading many of the R.L. Stine books as well as the Babysiters Club and Sweet Valley High series as well as many other books. Once I found an author that I enjoyed reading I had a tendancy to want to ready only their books.

A favorite book that I really enjoyed reading is the Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton. Although this is a chapter book, it still has a few drawing in the margins of the pages and some full page illustrations that are in colour. The story itself helps the reader or listener to create their own pictures in their mind, but the drawings help with the mental imagery. My mom had bought this book for my sister and I when we were younger, but it is now used in many elementary schools as a novel study book.