28 MORE Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball (2018)

Scott Woods Makes Lists has published a lovely annotated list of some excellent picture books. Educators, families, all humans, head to the library and check some out today! Have some extra cash? Here’s an idea; buy a copy, read it to your kids, and *donate* it to the library so both you and the other kids in your town can have access ❤ 28 MORE Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball (2018)

There is a good range of topics, poetry and prose, and harder and easier reading levels, many accessible for ELLs.

Resources for EFL Small Groups

I recently led a small PD session for beginning educators working with EFL (English as a Foreign Language) small groups, and I wanted to share the resource document I wrote. It’s a collection of activities, organised by learning objective, written with Israeli students ages seven through twelve in mind, but most are adaptable for beginning English students of all ages around the world. Please feel free to share by linking back to this pageand let me know what activities you use and how they go. Please contact me with questions, comments, or suggestions to add or change by commenting below or at madeleinebella [at] gmail [dot] com. Thank you! Here’s the doc: EFL Small Group Resources

Topics: 
Blends and Digraphs
Prepositions
Present Progressive
“To Be” and Other Irregular Conjugations
Pronouns
Contractions
WH- Questions
Past Simple
Comparatives
Spelling
Classroom Management
Additional Resources

FunEnglishGames.com

I love this website for both ELLs and native English speaking students, with resources for the classroom as well as home. Here’s a game to practice close reading of poetry: http://www.funenglishgames.com/readinggames/poem.html

And here is a page full of reading, writing, grammar, spelling, and vocab games for all levels: http://www.funenglishgames.com/games.html

Exploring English idioms and oxymorons could be a fun stimulus for a philosophy discussion on language! http://www.funenglishgames.com/funstuff.html

Have fun and have a great day!

Image result for english

Violet Vegan Comics

So pleased to find this blog of vegan-message-themed comics and poems for all audiences! Here’s a page devoted to comics especially written For Little Ones.

One of my favourites is“Where Are You Going, Deirdre?” It is based on the true story of a brave mother who risked her life to hide her calf in order to keep him from the farmer. Through colourful illustrations and kid-friendly dialogue, we see a young human learn the sad truth of what happens to the infants dairy cows are forced to birth. The story ends happily, with the girl helping the farmer understand that the baby belongs with his mum, and deciding to turn his farm into a sanctuary. Children wonder:

  • Is it sometimes okay to take something that doesn’t belong to you if you think you need it? Why or why not? [If children say yes, explore the difference between taking something without hurting anyone very badly – e.g. a mother who steals bread to feed her children – vs. physically harming someone, killing, or separating families.]
  • What is the difference between want and need? [Younger children could make contrast posters or pages in their Philosophy Journals with pictures or words showing Want on one side and Need on the other.]
  • Is it possible to love animals and hurt them at the same time? What does it mean to love?
  • Many people do things they know are wrong because everyone they know does it too, and this makes it even harder to stop. Why is it so difficult to break habits? If lots of people do something harmful together, does it make it less bad? Why or why not?
  • Do we have a responsibility to help others/our friends make compassionate decisions? Why or why not?

The poem“Nature Returns” envisions Earth after humanity. Through beautiful personification and vivid imagery of the Earth “stretching” to recover from what people have done to her, the poem opens important questions about our impact on and responsibility to the Earth:

  • Does the Earth belong to people? Explain your answer.
  • What does it mean to take care of the Earth?
  • Have you ever wondered if plants have an awareness of what is happening to them?
  • If a forest doesn’t know what is happening to it, does it make it okay to destroy it? Why or why not?
  • Does nature have inherent value [for itself, not for someone else]? Why or why not/explain.

When you finish reading a comic or poem, check out Violet’s section on Things to Make And Do to get creative or get out of the house.

Let me know what your favourite poem or story is and how you discussed it in the comments below!

“The Surprise,” by Arnold Lobel

This month I’ve been reading Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad All Year with my advanced EFL* students in Israel. You can access a PDF of the text (with a few typos) for free here, though without images. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the original with Lobel’s sweet illustrations. PSA: The whole Storybook Treasury is available at time of this writing for under $3. I adore the Frog and Toad books for a number of reasons:

  • They deal with universal philosophical themes that are relavent and critical across cultures and age groups, such as friendship, altruism, fairness, time, reality, will-powerlonelinessbravery, and more.
  • They are collections of short stories that can generally be read within one lesson block.
  • They are told in relatively simple language with some repetition, making them accessible to many early readers and ELLs,** but they do not fall into the trap of being simplistic in order to be comprehensible.

In the story we read today, Continue reading

What colour is “cold”? 

Yesterday I hosted a little poetry lunch with my students. I brought in sandwich makings, and they shared their own writing with each other. Each student was proud to perform their own work, and we gave everyone snaps and commented on parts of the poems that resonated with us or asked about parts that made us wonder. When everyone had read their identity poems that they had written with me, I suggested they head back to the larger group to make sure they had time to play before the next class, but they all chose to stay and read more 🙂 One girl read a poem she wrote inspired by the colour blue, and her classmate wondered why she had included images of snow and ice in the poem. We talked about why that might make sense and how colours are often used to symbolise temperatures and feelings even if they don’t always actually look that way in real life. 

  • Do different types of weather have colours?
  • Can you feel a colour? What does it mean to feel blue? How might that be different than feeling like green or yellow?
  • What makes us associate certain ideas and feelings with certain colours? 
  • Can personalities have colours? 
  • Could you write a poem from the point of view of a colour itself? Try it out 🙂

I have minor synaesthesia,  which for me just causes me to have strong associations between certain numbers, letters, and words and certain colours. If you or your students experience colour connected to other senses too, it can inspire insightful poems and new ways of seeing the world. Fun to get different kids’ perspective on how they experience and conceptualise colour in different ways. 

Do you or your students have some colour poems or questions/muses to share? Pop them in the comments. Thanks and have a beautiful weekend!

World news 

This month I’ve started ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) support at a rural Auckland school. The school is inquiry-based; students learn by exploring their world and asking questions about the things that matter to them. I’m in my element at this school. My students are motivated and take responsibility for their own learning. At any given point, different students in one room may be working on different things, and they cheerfully support each other. Throughout the school, I have felt a strong emphasis on community and on learning for learning’s sake.

My job is to pull out small groups for speaking, reading, and writing instruction targeted to students’ individual needs and interests. In addition to levelled PM readers and an expansive library of children’s literature, we have been using Newsela and Kiwi Kids News, two sites that offer news articles packaged with related educational resources. Newsela begins with articles written by the AP, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other global news sources and adapts each article to at least five different reading levels, so students whose reading abilities differ can access the same subject matter. Articles are searchable by grade level and reading standard, and many articles are available in Spanish. Kiwi Kids is published by and for New Zealand educators and families. Both sites include teacher resources, quizzes, and writing prompts.

In each meeting, we read a short article, discuss it, and write for a set amount of time in response to a prompt or share and edit their writing from earlier. Our first time, I asked my students simply, Is it important to read the news? Why or why not? It seems like a simple (obvious?) question, but it is more complicated than I originally thought. I would hope most people agree that having a general idea of what is going on in the world and in one’s community is important. Personally, I always took it for granted – I grew up with NPR radio surrounding me in the car and the house all day long, and generally scan headlines first thing when I wake up each morning. However, people disagree as to how and how often they prefer to access the news. Many people insist they prefer not to read the mainstream news often because there is so much negativity. Not only is it unpleasant to read about violent or natural disasters, it can be discouraging to read again and again about tragedy about which you feel helpless. On the other hand, others maintain that we need to be as aware as we can be in order to make a difference, and that staying up-to-date about global current events is integral to understanding the interconnectivity of social justice issues around the world and doing effective ally work.

Some other things I try to think about when selecting news sources for myself and to share with my students:

  • Bias – every article is written by a human being, and human beings are necessarily biased in some way. Consider the POV of the writer, what their goals are, and how my own perspective impacts how I understand the information being presented.
  • Balance – How much do I seek out a balance of local news, global news, political news, arts news… How much do I read from major/mainstream newspapers, smaller/independent journals and websites, blogs, opinion pieces, print vs. online… etc.
  • Audience – Who is likely the intended audience of this piece of writing? Do I fall into that group? Why or why not? How might this piece be received differently depending on the reader’s current and past experiences?

What do you think? My students agreed it is important to read the news, but for different reasons. If you work with children or have your own, what do they think? You might be surprised. Discussing these questions with our students keeps us all thinking critically about the news we consume. If you or your students are feeling overwhelmed, Kiwi Kids has some Advice If You Are Upset By The News.

Community of Inquiry Code of Conduct: Language Arts “Lesson”

I recently finished a five-week unit on My Side of the Mountain in my grade four classroom, in which I incorporated philosophical inquiry into each week of study. My Side of the Mountain, for those who don’t know, is Jean Craighead George’s 1959 novel about a boy (we never find out for certain his age, a subject of much contention among my students!) who runs away from home to live in the Catskill Mountains. All the lessons I teach this semester are aligned to the United States Common Core Standards. Happily, the skills practiced in Community of Inquiry fit neatly into the English Language Arts standards. Below is my lesson plan for day two of the unit, the day I introduced philosophy. My first observation was during this lesson, and it went quite well. There is an emphasis on student autonomy and inquiry. Students are held to high standards and expected to participate fully. There are multiple ways to participate, and students are encouraged to help each other feel safe sharing half-formed thoughts as part of the learning process for everyone. I’d love constructive feedback on my work and would love other educators to share their experiences supporting Community of Inquiry in ELA. 

Lesson Plan: My Side of the Mountain Week One, Day Two

Objectives:

  • Students develop a working definition of philosophy and philosophical inquiry that includes heightened respect for diverse perspectives and a sense of wonder/intellectual curiosity.
  • Students work together to develop their own Community of Inquiry Code of Conduct – a set of guidelines for philosophical inquiry stressing civil discourse, respect for community members, and critical thinking.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1.B: Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1.C: Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.

Student Engagement/Timeline: 

1. Students convene in a circle on carpet. Introduce philosophy: I majored in philosophy in college largely because I think it is one of the most fun things to do. You get to think really hard about questions you care about with people you care about, and learn from each other – wow. Philosophical questions are special in four ways:

  • You can’t look up the answer in a book or encyclopaedia.  You can’t just ask a grown-up either! Philosophical questions take debate and careful reasoning to decide what we think.
  • You need to be able to disagree. There isn’t just one right answer. In this way, philosophy is a lot like poetry and literary interpretation. Different perspectives can be valid even if they come to different conclusions.
  • You can change someone’s mind using reasons. Some questions we may never agree on, like “what’s the tastiest flavour of ice cream?” If I really love chocolate, and you really love vanilla, there isn’t something you can say to convince me that I’m wrong. But if I really think that homework on the weekends is important, and you disagree, you might be able to convince me that you’re right. A philosophical question is not just a matter of opinion. 

2. Philosophy isn’t just something you study; it’s something you do. Sometimes philosophical questions come out of a story. I’ll give you an example. Who here has read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein? [take hands, take one person to paraphrase for those who haven’t read] So raise your hand if you think the boy in the story did something wrong. [briefly discuss different perspectives – even people who agree that the boy went wrong at some point tend to disagree on when he went wrong. Most people agree that playing with the tree and eating just a few apples was okay.]

Post-lesson note: I had expected almost everyone in a small town, middle-class New England community school to have heard this story at some point. I was mistaken, or at least many had not heard it in years. It ended up taking a while longer than I’d planned to explain the story, so I would suggest referring to a story the class had recently read together.

These kinds of philosophical questions are ethical questions – they are questions about how we should behave. There are lots of different areas of philosophy, and we’re going to get to talk about them this semester. In our Wednesday book groups for the next few weeks, we’re going to get to do philosophy with Sam Gribley in My Side of the Mountain. In order to be successful, we’re going to create a Code of Conduct to help us.

3. Code of Conduct: What is a code? [different types, students throw out a few ideas] → here we are talking about a contract. Our Code of Conduct is an agreement about how we are going to treat each other and how we are going to do our best thinking.

What does our community want to include? Think/pair/share time here so everyone gets a chance to contribute. Stress everyone’s ideas are valuable and actually essential to community development. Then come back to large group to create final list.

{{I try to encourage some version of the following in order to have a successful CI, but all in students’ own words. Usually students come up with a variation on these themselves; if they don’t, I just ask questions – e.g. “Do you think we should have anything about what we do while someone is talking?”

  1. One person speaks at a time.
  2. Listen to the person who is speaking.
  3. When it is my turn to speak, I say whether I agree or disagree and why OR I ask a question about what has just been said.
  4. Everyone’s ideas are valuable. }}

These are some strategies my fourth graders had already been practicing before I joined their classroom that we’ve incorporated effectively into our Community of Inquiry:

    1. Agree/disagree with the idea, not the person.
    2. Everyone gets a chance to speak → “name tokens” to show everyone’s spoken already at least twice, no one dominates
    3. Use body language to communicate focus. Eyes on the speaker, body still, no side conversation.
    4. After you finish speaking, call on the next person. Look for someone who hasn’t spoken yet.

A communication tool I learned at Eurekamp that my fourth graders have made great use of: If you have a build on to what’s just been said, put in two fingers. If you have something brand new to say, put in one finger. Try to first call on people who have a “build on” so that we can go really deep into each question before we move on.

4. The role of dialogue, discourse, and collaboration – “good talk:”

  • Is dialogue teacher led?  Does it include the teacher?  How are groups structured?

Discussion occurs in circle on the floor – no one at the “front.” At first, teacher calls on students. When we move to creating Code of Conduct, students call on each other.

5. What is the (expected) range of challenges for your learners and what supports are you building in for them? This is something for each educator considers for themself.

In general, students tend to range from very talkative to very quiet, and from very confident to very wary. We build in time for students to speak in pairs in addition to the large group discussion that makes up the majority of the lesson. When asking questions to the large group, we give enough wait time to allow all students the time they need to process and decide whether or not they would like to contribute. By using talking tokens in the large group and combining large group discussion with pair/shares, we ensure that every student will have the opportunity to share ideas with peers and will feel a responsibility to do so.

6. What evidence of learning are you looking for (to guide your teaching)?

Students are practicing the skills of sharing ideas and listening to other people’s ideas.

Engaged students will…

  • listen attentively to peers.
  • contribute original thoughts of their own that connect to the questions raised.
  • provide reasons and/or evidence to back up their claims.

***

Hey check out this fun graphic I found about collaboration. It’s a Venn diagram! How philosophy-relevant!

 

Lesson Plan: “Where I’m From”

Last week, I had the privilege of introducing an origin/identity poem discussion and writing exercise to my fourth graders. In this lesson, students study and discuss George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From,” and they write their own poems inspired by Lyon’s work. Lyon is the poet laureate of Kentucky, currently working on a project to collect poems from every county in the state. My lesson plan for this study is posted below. If you do a similar activity with your students, please post your experiences in the comments!

Wherever you are in the world, you and your students can use her form to explore how memories shape identity. Encourage your students to use vivid sensory details from sights, smells, sounds, sensations, and tastes that resonate with them deeply. The stronger and more important each image is to you, the stronger and more meaningful it will be for the reader.

Continue reading

“Mountain Tambourine”

“Mountain Tambourine,” Peter van Toorn (Canada), This Same Sky p. 102 (see Resource List)

A crew took part of the big tree awaypoplar tree
on my street. A poplar, it was throwing
its ashes, its dirty pillow stuffing,
around too much. So they said. Anyway,
people were tired of it. It was too grey.
It might drop a tired branch and hit something,
a power or phone line. What’s still standing
they’ll come for tomorrow and chop away.
It doesn’t make much poplar talk now. The big
clatter’s gone out of it. On the older
side of the street, the last tree stands, tall, big,
full, leafy—a fine shade and rain holder.
It leans to one side at a warm angle,
like Annie, whose door it covered last fall.

Background on Philosophical Issues

Environmental Ethics

“Mountain Tambourine” makes us wonder what our roles are as people in relation to the earth and its inhabitants. The people in the poem cut a tree down, presumably because it has been inconveniencing humans. Is it okay to destroy non-human nature in order to make ourselves more comfortable? Our instincts might be to say no, but we must realize that our day-to-day lives depend on doing just this every day. Every time I write on a sheet of paper or print out an essay for school, I depend on the systematic destruction of forests. Every time I get in a car or even ride a bus or train, I support the creation of more exhaust fumes that pollute the air and make it difficult for all species of animal and plant life to live. Every time I open a plastic package, I know the material will ultimately end up leaching chemicals into the earth and/or being picked up and choked on by a bird or fish who mistakes it for food. My waste and its consequences will be around long after I am gone. Does this mean we should reject all forms of industrial living? Some people say yes, and choose to live entirely “off the grid” and/or as fruitarians – individuals who do not consume anything that caused another living entity, animal or plant, to die. Others believe that we can find a morally-acceptable balance between considering the interests of present-day humans, the interests of other species of animal and plant life, and the interests of future generations. Either way, it is difficult to imagine living in today’s society without in some way relying on paper made from trees that have been killed. How do we reconcile our wishes to treat the earth with “respect” and “kindness” and our urge to maintain the habits and conveniences we have grown up accustomed to?

Philosophy of Language

The tree almost becomes a character in this poem. The speaker refers to the tree’s “poplar talk,” and the tree has a “tired branch.” This personification compels us to consider what it really means to communicate. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) revolutionized how we think about language and communication. For Wittgenstein, effective communication depends on a “language game,” in which all the participants in a conversation agree on the same “rules.” Under this understanding, words mean something only within the context of a culture. The meanings of words, of course, depend on how individuals interpret them.

What is the relationship between language and communication? Wittgenstein hypothesized a “private language” (though he didn’t refer to it with this name). Wittgenstein believed that a private language – a language that only one person understands – would be meaningless. The reasoning behind this is that each word has meaning only in relation to other words. If someone makes up a word but has nothing to relate it to, then even the originator would not be able to explain her own language. This seems to imply that any language must be communicated between multiple people. If this is true, it could imply that the formation of language and even concepts depends on set, agreed-upon rules of behaviour.

However, others have put forth a wider definition of language, which can include a language spoken only to the self. If even trees can have language, would this mean they have thoughts and consciousnesses? Or would it mean that language doesn’t require consciousness? On the other end of the spectrum, is it possible for someone to have thoughts without having access to language, or do we need language in order to formulate thoughts?

languages

References:

Candlish, Stewart; Wrisley, George. “Private Language.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Richter, Duncan. “Ludwig Wittgenstein.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Sample Questions for Discussion

“…people were tired of it. It was too grey.
It might drop a tired branch and hit something…”

  • What are some reasons that people cut down trees? Are these good reasons or bad reasons? Why?
  • What should we do if one living entity’s existence is hurting another living entity?
  • Should the people cut the poplar tree down? Why or why not?
    • Does it matter/would your answer change if the tree were endangering buildings, plants, or animals? Why or why not?
    • What if it were only inconveniencing humans but not in danger of actually hurting anyone?
    • If the tree were endangering animals, would it matter/would your answer change if it were endangering human or nonhuman animals? Why or why not?

“…On the older
side of the street, the last tree stands, tall, big,
full, leafy—a fine shade and rain holder.”

  • Do trees have a purpose? If so, what is it and why do you think so?
    • If so, do all trees have more or less the same purpose?
  • Do people have a purpose?
    • If so, do all people have the same purpose?
  • If there were no people on earth, would the purpose of the tree be the same?
  • Who gets to decide what something or someone’s purpose is?
  • What should happen when someone or something cannot fulfil its purpose any longer?
  • Is a purpose the same thing as a goal? Why or why not/if not, what is the difference?

“It doesn’t make much poplar talk now.”

  • What does it mean to “talk” or to “make talk?”
  • Do you think the “poplar talk” means the tree was making sounds, the tree was communicating, or something else?
  • Can the sound(s) trees make be classified?
  • Do trees talk/do trees communicate? How so/can you think of some examples?
  • Can we talk to trees? Why or why not?
  • Is “talking” always the same as “speaking?” Why or why not?
  • Does “talking” always involve sounds?
  • When people use their hands to communicate using one of the hundreds of codified signed languages around the world, is that talking? Why or why not?
  • When humans or other animals use gestures or facial expressions to communicate, is that talking? Why or why not?
  • If I say something that only I understand, is that a language? Why or why not? If I interpret the sounds of nature to mean something but no one else understands them the same way, is that language? Why or why not?
Koko understands spoken English and ASL, and she uses over 1000 signs to communicate with other gorillas and with humans.

*Note: Many of the questions above were inspired by a discussion with the Spring 2015 Smith College Poetry Concentration Senior Capstone course. I am indebted to Professor Ellen Doré Watson and all my amazing peers for opening up these ideas. Thank you!

Environmental Ethics Activities

Related Resources

  • The Giving Tree book module by Professor Tom Wartenberg
    • Includes summary of the beloved illustrated poem by Shel Silverstein, guidelines for philosophical discussion with philosophical background, and example discussion questions.