Friday, March 29, 2013

Crafting Care

Wednesday, I went out for a birthday dinner with two girlfriends whose birthdays are also this week. One is a teacher, the other an occupational therapist. My therapist friend said she was tempted to buy me a grabber or elastic shoelaces or another piece of adaptive equipment to make independence easier during my shoulder recovery. She couldn't bring herself to do it and said she'd save the grabber idea for when we reached 80. We laughed. So lucky I am. We are.

Her conversation stuck. I am currently reading Steven Wolk's Caring Hearts and Critical Minds. The two came together in an idea for a unit. 

I started by researching adaptive equipment as I started thinking about inquiry units I could loosely structure for students to dive into after our reading tests in April. I came across "I Can Do That: Coping Successfully with Amputations", a Think Quest project designed by students one of whom is an amputee. Then, of couse, I started thinking about books.

Wolk talks about anchor texts he used with students during literature-based inquiry units. Though I have used anchor texts with the whole class in the past, I do much less of it now. Instead, I offer students choices in themed sets. Students group themselves by book choice (or I group them after they declared their top 3 choices). I teach from short texts that connect with the themes and use them to teach the content I want students to learn over the course of the unit. It's not quite literature circles and it's not quite what Wolk describes, but there is overlap between the two.  I'll write a proper review of Wolk's Caring Hearts and Critical Minds once I finish it, but you know, if a professional book sparks this much thinking and sets me right to work, it's good. You can preview/read the entire book online at Stenhouse now too.

Wolk illustrates the paths of the inquiry units he designs in flow charts. Here is the beginning of his unit based on the novel Rash by Pete Hautman.

Ideas in this unit will seem familiar to many as he structures activities before, during and after reading. Many teachers have written units as such. Now though instead of having students all begin reading the same, whole-class novel, Rash circled above in this case. I would offer choices around the theme--this one being  Government, Freedom and the Future say. Choices could include: 

The Compound, S. A. Bodeen

Divergent, Veronica Roth
Matched, Allie Condie
Rash, Pete Hautman
Running Out of Time, Margaret Peterson Haddix
Unwind, Neil Shusterman
When She Woke, Hilary Jordan

Students would read the books in groups of three. Together we'd delve into, discuss and write from short texts. It can work. I've done it before. What I haven't done is try to run several issues at a time. I was thinking that students might enjoy investigating an issue with a group and creating a web resource like the ThinkQuest pages. So I started a book list. You are welcome to add to the list. It's public on Google Drive here.

I created the list with books I have read and that I know are in my classroom library or media center. Now I need to cull articles, poems and short mentor-texts that connect to the big ideas or questions like: "What's the issue?" or "What's at stake?"  I'm still in the early, creative stages of planning. I'm ready to jump into Poetry 180, The Poetry Foundation or the Poemeleon. This part of teaching is all adventure and exploration.


  1. It sounds like some fantastic critical literacy work is about to begin around poetry in your classroom.

    Hope your shoulder gets better with every passing day!

  2. Thanks for sharing your thinking and a good resource. It looks like one I would enjoy and use as I rethink what and how I teach for next year.

    1. It will definitely spark the creative teacher brain! And Wolk's voice is a pleasure to read too.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this! I've been working with the middle school teachers at my school to move away from teaching only through whole class novels, but it's been a slow process. I think the ideas in Wolk's book will help us move forward.

    1. HI, Catherine, Wolk's units actually center on whole-class novels, but I think the ideas he shares about crafting a unit with short texts are the bridge many teachers use to move away from just an anchor text. Does that make sense?

  4. That sounds neat! I'm actually starting a similar unit with my Advanced class, also based around book groups. They chose dictatorships as the topics, and have chosen their book group texts. (Breaking Stalin's Nose, Before We Were Free, The Boy Who Dared...) I've found a couple of picture books to read aloud and am looking for NF articles. Poetry would be cool too, but I haven't started looking for that... I'm sure there's some out there though! Maybe José Martí? I've never done anything like this before (since this is my first year teaching English!) but I'm really excited about it. Any tips for guiding the book group conversations?

    1. Martí, Neruda, Cisneros--those would fit your context well. I have used literature circle roles from Plugged-in to Reading to guide book group conversations and I've also created or adapted literature circle roles. Laura Candler's resources are fantastic. Here's one: