Sunday, February 22, 2015

rethinking children's literature

There has been quite a bit of press regarding the need for more diverse children's literature. The We Need Diverse Books movement has developed into a nonprofit organization designed to advocate for more diversity in children's book publishing.

To put some numbers behind this, the Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison reviewed books received by the library each year beginning in 1985. In the first year of the review, of the 2500 books reviewed, 18 were by African American authors or illustrators. Fast forward almost 30 years later to 2013, and of the 3200 books reviewed, only 68 were written by African American authors and 93 were about African American characters; this means a little less than 3% of books published for children were about African Americans (though they represent over 15% of the student population in the US). Other racial/ethnic groups do not fair any better: by (18) and about (34) American Indians, by (90) and about (69) Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans, and by (48) and about (57) Latinos. In total, Though the student population in US schools is mostly nonwhite, our books are about people of color in only 8% of books published in 2013.

Though as teachers we don't control what gets published, we do have a say in what libraries purchase, what books we ask for in public libraries, what we suggest to students that they read, and what we look for in bookstores. If you need help determining some high-quality diverse titles for your classroom library, check out the resources here. You can also download the free literary magazine focused on promoting diversity in children's literature to your tablet read about more great resources.

It's time to put the pressure on the publishing companies by letting them know that diverse books are in demand. Working together as a school to increase the diverse titles in classroom and school libraries is an essential part of helping students see their place in the world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

organizing for student engagement

It's that time of year, at least in Minnesota, where motivation can be a bit lacking. We haven't seen the sun since 2014, though we have hardly any snow to show for it (unlike you, Boston)! Cold and flu season has been particularly brutal this year, and many teachers have been sick themselves as well as helping sick students get caught up.

But, you're more than halfway through the year. Spring is almost right around the corner. It's a good time to refocus, and one place to focus can be on student engagement.

There are many ways to do this, but Jackson & Zmuda (2014) write about four keys to engagement that teachers can control and consider when planning instruction.

First is clarity. From a student perspective, clarity means students can answer the question what am I aiming for? It can be hard to stay focused on the larger purpose, both as students and as teachers, especially at this point in an academic year. It's important for students to know why something is important, as well as what success looks like. This is more than just posting a learning target on the board. While helpful, students really need to understand the goal and refer to and use the learning target throughout the lesson. When learning targets not only refer to what students will learn but also what they will do (and are the criteria for success) so students know how to show that they've met the target (Brookhart & Moss, 2014).

The next key goes hand-in-hand with clarity, Teachers can focus on providing a relevant context for the lesson / learning target. This allows students to answer why should I care? Related to the idea of "starting with why," teachers should be able to answer "why do I need to know this" easily for students. Teachers can provide the importance and relevance of a new topic, and students can help fill in the real-world applications. Students should have a sense of why they need to understand something, both for current and future educational goals.

Another key to this work is to provide a supportive classroom culture for students. This helps students answer who is invested in my success and for teachers to answer how can I show students my support? This relates to students' self-efficacy, Students need to believe in themselves, certainly, but they also need to believe there is support from others in the hard work. Teachers show their support by anticipating confusion. explicitly identifying red flags and helping students understand how to avoid them, and providing interventions along the way based on formative assessment collected as students are learning something new. One way to do this is to allow for revisions, rather than just assigning a grade and moving on. Creating a climate that learns from mistakes, rather than just moving on, can be an essential way teachers support students.

Finally, in planning instruction to support student engagement, teachers can make sure they are providing appropriate challenges. This means students know how to respond to the question how is it working for me? Finding the right balance between challenge and skill, assignments that are meaningful and relevant, that require high-levels of thinking, that aren't "google-able" is a real challenge for teachers. When teachers can boil down to the essential ideas, and focus assignments on that, students will have a likelier chance of understanding the reason for the assignment and feel supported in completing the work. You want students to persist in times of struggle, and when an assignment seems relevant and do-able, they are more likely to stick with it.

Student engagement is such a complex component of teaching. It moves beyond student compliance, and focuses on purpose and support. With these keys, teachers can provide the context for learning that can lead to student engagement.