Posts for April 2016

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.