Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Summer Reading

At a recent family get-together, a cousin and I were talking about her oldest daughter, Kaitlin, a sophomore-to-be in high school. My cousin mentioned that Katlin had a required reading list for the summer as preparation for Honors English. Frankenstein and Brave New World were two of the titles she mentioned. She then asked me what I thought about the choices. I said that Katlin might be in for a challenging summer. And I left it at that.

Here’s what I really thought: Trying to slog through these novels by herself, in summer no less, may completely frustrate Katlin. Classic literature is best appreciated as a group endeavor, headed by someone who knows his or her literature. By summer’s end, Katlin will have had it up to here with Literature (with a capital L) and, worse yet, the turnoff may affect her feelings about any type of reading, including pleasure reading.

The exchange brought to mind an old blog post entitled  “The Tale of Two Tables” in which the writer, Donalyn Miller, had encountered a high school boy at a bookstore who was ready to buy Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Miller asked the boy why he wanted to read that particular book. He responded that he had to read four novels from a prescribed list during the summer, and The Awakening was the shortest one of the bunch. He also added that he was going to be tested on his reading in the fall.

Bat Loves the Night
Bat Loves the Night: Read and Wonder by Nicola Davies, Sarah Fox-Davies (Illustrator)

Students in my writing workshops use close reading as a way to learn writing—with no particular directive from the first Common Core Anchor Standard. Through close reading, students analyze the writing style and techniques of their favorite authors. When students discover something that catches their attention, they discuss it with their classmates or write about it in their learning logs.

Here’s how a discussion of the book Bat Loves the Night went during a recent workshop. Notice how the students directed most of the conversation:

Andy: See where she says, “Bat is at home in the darkness/as a fish is in the water”?

Jesus and Kathy: Yeah.

Andy: She is comparing how a fish feels in water to how a bat feels in the darkness.

Kathy: Yeah. I get it.

Andy: Then she explains why: Bats don’t need to see because they can hear where they’re going!

Mrs. Nathan: As I’m listening to you, I’m wondering what you’re learning about writing. Any ideas? Jot down two or three things in your logs; then we’ll talk.

Sample learning log entry (with spelling and punctuation corrections): When she compared the bat to a fish, it worked, so I could do that, too—use comparisons, I mean. She didn’t leave me hanging. I wanted to know why bats don’t NEED to see. Explaining things is important when you write!

Developing Social-Emotional Skills Through Literature
Pavel Kriuchkov/Shutterstock.com

Novels and short stories are filled with emotions. The characters in them experience the ups and downs of the human condition, often in dramatic fashion. And as we read along, we feel things, too—about the characters and ourselves. For these reasons, literature offers a gateway to social-emotional learning (SEL) in your classroom.

Teaching social and emotional skills can improve students’ mental health, reduce anxiety and depression, thwart bullying, and improve academic performance and in-class behavior.

When students analyze the emotions of the characters they are reading about, they not only gain a greater understanding of the text but also a greater understanding of their own feelings.

Asking SEL-based questions at different stages of the reading process can be an effective and time-efficient strategy for building your students' social and emotional intelligence.

The table below compares traditional literature response questions with SEL-based questions for the book Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

Open-Education Resources
Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com

You may have noticed a new symbol on some of our resource pages:

Creative Commons License

This is a Creative Commons license. When you see this symbol, you’re free to use, share, and re-purpose the material in your classroom as you see fit. The symbol designates the material as an open-education resource, or OER for short. Open-education resources are part of an emerging content revolution, with the potential for immense impact in the classroom and beyond.

What exactly is OER?

The Hewlett Foundation defines OER as . . .

Teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

With OER, you are no longer beholden to static (and sometimes stale) textbook content. Instead, you can adopt, adapt, and share resources to meet your students’ specific needs. Open content can be retained, reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed.

NGvozdeva/Shutterstock.com

In this featured lesson plan, Writers Express author and former elementary teacher Ruth Nathan shares a fun way to wrap up a biographical writing unit.

Putting Biographical Knowledge to Work:
“Dates with the Greats” Interview Party

After your students write reports about important people, give them another opportunity to put their knowledge to work! Explain that your class is going to have a “Dates with the Greats” interview party. During this party, students will play the roles of the special people they have written about and will answer interview questions.

Prepare the Party

Ask students to review their biographical writing, individually or with a friend, and jot down questions visitors might ask about their characters. (These questions are simply to have on hand in case the interviewers have trouble asking questions.)

38 Ways Students Can Create Digital Content
TarikVision/Shutterstock.com

Our students spend a lot of time using screen media but not much time creating digital content. According to Common Sense Media, teens spend only three percent of their time creating new things. With an average of 9 hours a day spent consuming media, teens could accomplish great things if they devoted a larger slice of their digital time to making stuff.

We can encourage our students to become content creators by exposing them to opportunities to write, record, film, build, design, and code using digital media.

Here are 38 ways your students can use screen media to create content. Each idea can be integrated into a classroom lesson, used as a stand-alone project, or featured during genius hour. Inspire your students to . . .

Celebrating Black History

Inspire your students to explore black history and culture through writing. Present any of these engaging writing prompts in your middle school or high school classroom during Black History Month or beyond. Each activity requires students to inquire about the people, places, events, and issues that have shaped African-American history.

Writing a Historical Dialogue

Mae Jemison

Ask your students to imagine what a conversation would be like between them and a significant African-American contributor to social studies, science, math, or English. What would they ask? What would they want to know?

Present them with the following lists of famous figures and encourage them to choose a person they don't know much about. Then have them research the figure and create a dialogue (written conversation) between themselves and the person. The dialogue should discuss important experiences in the person’s life and work.

Mount Rushmore
Nagel Photography/Shutterstock.com

This Presidents' Day, awaken your students' interest in the past! Help young learners delve into U.S. history by using these exciting activities in your primary classroom.

Presidential Quotes

Start out the month of February with 10 presidential quotes. Put these quotes on display in your classroom and share one a day. You'll be surprised how many have relevancy in your young learners’ lives. On Presidents' Day, have students choose their favorite quote and write what it means to them.

How to Improve Media Literacy

On an average day, American teens spend more time consuming media than attending school. That's the shocking conclusion of a 2015 survey: Teens (ages 13–18) spend an average of 9 hours a day using media while tweens (ages 8–12) spend nearly 6 hours a day. What’s more, these estimates exclude time spent using media for school or homework!

So, how can we help students consume media wisely? How can we teach them to analyze media messages, test them for reliability, and search for bias? These three activities equip students with essential media-literacy skills.

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