Monday, March 28, 2016

The Garden of My Imaan: a universal story with contemporary relevance

For our most recent 3rd/4th grade book club we read Farhana Zia's The Garden of My Imaan, a charming work of realistic fiction that covers topics many kids will connect with: dealing with the popular crowd and the mean kid at school, figuring out what religious faith means to you, what to do when some of your friends are growing up a bit more quickly than you are, making a rash decision you later regret...

At the same time, it covers very specific experiences that other readers will be overjoyed to encounter as mirrors to their lives, such as what it feels like to internalize negative messages about a group you belong to and how these feelings, when unexamined, can drive a wedge between you and members of your community; and what it's like to be lumped together with people you actually are quite different from in important ways.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang handles these complexities very well for older readers, but a book like Garden, which makes them accessible to younger students, is a treasure indeed!

One student launched our conversation by asking, "Why are some people mean to Muslims?" Some of the answers these 8-10 year olds generated: "People don't ask questions so they feel uncomfortable and scared," "They think that 'different' means 'wrong'," and "They are insecure about their own lives, so they take it out on other people."

One of our activities was acting out scenes from the book:

Inspired by Aliya's "Dear Allah" letters, they wrote to someone of their choice. One student chose Fumiko Ishioka, director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, a person she admires from having read Hana's Suitcase

For our last meeting, we celebrated with Indian food! The mouth-watering descriptions in the book made this the perfect ending to a great book club! 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Visual literacy in 5th grade

Visual literacy is a critical skill in the 21st century, defined by the Association of College and Research Libraries as follows:
"Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical components involved in the production and use of visual materials. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture."
Visual literacy played a major part in helping historian Scott Reynolds Nelson crack the mystery of the historical figure behind the tall tale as revealed in Ain't Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry, the young readers' version of his fantastic work of historical detection, Steel Drivin' Man.

The New York Times' Learning Blog runs a feature called What's Going on in this Picture? to help educators cultivate this skill. During our 5th grade Information Literacy classes we've been using their images to engage in online discussions that not only develop visual literacy, but also help students learn and practice appropriate digital citizenship skills.
Below are a few excerpts from our discussion of the photo above. The online format highlights a strength of technology: it allows all students to have a voice, including those who might be reluctant to speak up in a face-to-face discussion, and those who prefer more time to think before making a contribution. Students can build on one another's responses even after some have moved on to other thoughts. They also see that asking thoughtful questions is in itself a valuable contribution - it's not just about having answers!

"The two people are kind of on a Segway, why?"

"I wonder why one of the guys is barefoot. It looks like that he's either getting ready for a track meet or he's done with the track meet."

"I think that Usain Bolt accidentally tripped on the camera man and when this photo was taken it was probably in London in 2012 because his claim to fame is from the Olympics and the most recent one was in London. and by the clarity of the photo I can tell it was recent."

"Why are his cleats in his hands? Ideas?"

"I think that the camera man had the wheelie thing and was using it to video the athletic guy that was playing the sport. I think this happened after the race/competition/sport, because the athletic-looking person is holding his shoes, meaning he is either about to or just finished a race. He may have been playing on grass, because it looks like he has cleats. I think the man riding was riding because of his legs' positions."

"I think there's some kind of race going on, because the people are really sweaty, and they seem to be putting a lot of effort in. Also, I'm wondering what the big thing attached to the eyes of the guy who seems to be falling. Anyone have an idea?"

"I think the guy that has athletic wear is playing some Olympic sport. I think this because he is wearing Jamaican colors and has Jamaica written on his shirt. I think the other guy is a camera man who is filming the sport, because he has a big camera."