Did you know that Newsela offers professional development opportunities? A plethora of useful tutorials can be accessed through their PD Resources page. I recently completed the training and assessments required to become a Newsela Certified Educator – oh yeah! If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, here is their run-down. The benefits include:
A certificate for completion of 5 hours of professional development and training.
An official certification badge to share on professional platforms.
The ability to represent Newsela at conferences, training sessions, and lesson plan collaboration.
The 5 hour time estimate is actually pretty accurate, because even though I breezed through the tutorials and quizzes, I spent a long time on the final assessment. The final step is to create a lesson plan that incorporates Newsela PRO features such as a text set, annotations, etc. I am pretty proud of the product I created! Just for fun, I am going to link it below. You know what a fan I am of the novel Spite Fences, so I created this lesson plan as an introductory activity about barriers in society for the novel unit.
Lesson: Barriers in our Society
Teachers: Mrs. Dembroski
Subject: Humanities (ELA and SS)
Featured Newsela Article: Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math
Essential Question: What are the ‘fences’ or barriers in our society, and how can we begin to overcome them?
Students will understand that there are invisible barriers in our society that influence our lives.
Students will be able to read for a purpose and highlight evidence.
Students will be able to make connections between text selections.
Students will be able to cite evidence to support their inferences about a text.
RI.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RI.8.3 Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events.
W.8.2.B Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
Assessment – Create a concept web of the barriers in our society and evidence of those barriers as discussed and cited from the Newsela text set articles.
3 (Meets) – Student has included at least 4 accurate barriers in society and appropriate textual evidence that connects to and supports the barriers.
2 (Progressing) – Student has included at least 4 accurate barriers in society and has included some textual evidence that connects to the barriers.
1 (Limited) – Student has not included a minimum of 4 accurate barriers in society and/or the textual evidence is missing or does not support the barriers.
Outline / Schedule
Day 1 – Novel book walk, introduce “barriers” activity, and model with first article in small and
Day 2 – Individual work – students read, annotate, and respond to prompts for 3 articles in the
Day 3 – Discussion, begin concept web, adding evidence from articles.
Day 4 – Complete concept web, adding evidence. Submit for assessment grade.
Giving kids with special needs a sporting chance to form friendships
Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math
With a new arm, a young war victim finds her artistic talent
Defense chief tanks military’s last barrier to women in combat
For these police in Kansas City, child hunger is Public Enemy Number 1
Working-class neighborhood feels division of Olympics
Polarity is no shield against school bullies
U.S. says transgender students get to use restrooms they choose
What are civil rights?
En pointe and on top of world: Ballerina, film star breaks color barrier
Law states that California students must learn about LGBTQ history
Background – Before reading our novel “Spite Fences” by Trudy Krisher, we will do a book walk and discuss the front and back cover, especially the picture of a fence on the front. We will discuss how a fence is a symbol for division. Fences are physical things in our world that divide us, but there are also ‘invisible’ fences that create barriers in our world, influencing how we behave, what we do, and who we (think we can) become.
Learning Goal – The goal of our Newsela experience is to gain some background knowledge on some of the barriers that exist in our society today. Our essential question is, “What are the ‘fences’ or barriers in our society, and how can we begin to overcome them?”
We will begin by reading one article together as a model: Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math. Students will be seated in groups of 3-4, and will be instructed to read the article out loud to their small group.
Highlight in blue evidence that indicates what problems toymakers noticed and tried to solve by reinventing their dolls.
Discussion Afterward, they will discuss the following 2 prompts:
What problem are toymakers trying to solve by reinventing dolls and changing their appearances?
What barrier(s) in society does this article show you?
How does this barrier affect what people think they can do and/or who they think they can become?
Then, we will come together as a class and discuss our responses. I will model and guide students in understanding that gender expectations are a major barrier in our society, and they can impact what careers or interests people choose.
Next, students will be instructed to work individually and select 3 more articles from the text set. Each article will have the same 2 writing prompts, as indicated below.
What barrier(s) in society does this article show you?
How does this barrier affect what people think they can do and/or who they think they can become?
Annotation instructions: Highlight in blue any evidence you find of barriers in society mentioned in the article.
Once students have completed their reading and writing prompts, we will come together as a class and make a giant web of all the barriers in society we have noticed through reading Newsela articles (gender, race, ability, identity, financial status, etc.). I will model and guide students in adding evidence from their Newsela articles to the web. Their individual webs will be turned in for an assessment grade. This activity will set us up for further discussion throughout our novel unit of how we can begin to address and break down those barriers.
Though this is an individual assignment, some students (emergent readers) will be encouraged to work in pairs. Others (emergent writers) will be offered the opportunity to verbally discuss their writing prompt responses with the teacher instead of typing them up. Finally, others will have assistance from a paraprofessional with all aspects of the task, and may work with the para in groups of 1 – 4.
As an extension, I will encourage stronger readers to read more than 3 articles, and/or to find additional articles throughout Newsela that address the barriers in society. I’d also invite them to highlight in a second color (pink) how people have attempted to address these barriers.
This assignment will help students in learning about barriers in society that may affect them or others in their lives. We all confront barriers at some point, but we don’t often think about the barriers that impact others. This activity will help students learn to think beyond themselves. It will also set us up for our novel unit and for exploring ways to overcome those barriers. We will return to the articles after we have finished the novel unit to make a new concept web of ideas, solutions, and inspiration for overcoming barriers in society. We will also brainstorm action steps we can begin in our own community for beginning to break down those barriers and make our world a more inclusive space. We will also connect this learning to the main characters in Spite Fences (Maggie Pugh, George Hardy, Zeke), who pushed against and fought to break down barriers in her own world.
Week 24 is in ‘da books! Below are this week’s highlights!
1. Author Visit – Trudy Krisher is coming in just 3 days! We are so excited! In preparation for our discussion of her novel, Spite Fences, we have been preparing a display of items that would be found in Zeke’s Cart (a main character from the novel). Students are bringing in ‘white elephant’ type items that we will do a creative writing around under her guidance on Monday. Can’t wait to share that with you!
2. Assembly Line Production – We also did a fun activity this week in Social Studies, engaging in a hands-on experience with the pros and cons of assembly line production. I had students time themselves and compute average production time per item (and yes, they got to eat the final product, a cookie ‘burger’). Needless to say, this activity was a big hit! They loved it, and they even cleaned up after themselves and asked if we could do it again. I liked exploring this important element of our modern economy and discussing the benefits and potential chllenges it causes as well.
3. Valentine’s Day Activities – On Friday of last week, my Language Arts class also completed this Valentine’s Day Close Reading activity. We have been focusing on close reading and finding supporting evidence all year in all classes, so this was a good review. It’s also kind of interesting to learn facts you didn’t know about this popular holiday.
4. Readbox Doors – You may have seen my earlier post about the Readbox Bulletin Board I put up in our cafeteria. Well our student-run art club also made some additional Readboxes that could be displayed throughout the school. I think they turned out great!
5. Just For Fun – I thought I’d share with you a project I recently completed. If you follow this blog, you know I love to hand make all my gifts (whenever possible). I found this awesome pattern on steotch.com and it just makes me chuckle every time. My husband is always making ‘Ermahgerd’ jokes, so I mostly made this for him. If you like ironic, snarky cross-stitching, then head on over to steotch’s website or etsy page for some laughs.
I hope you had a great week and that you aren’t totally frozen or buried in piles of snow. It is bound to warm up soon, so hang in there!
Week 37 is over, and there are only 2 weeks of school left! Plus, the day of the Walkathon is finally here!
1. Walkathon – Our school holds a Walkathon each year to model and encourage community and selflessness among our middle school students. Each year, we pledge and raise money for important charities such as Hunger Task Force or Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. This year, we are raising money in honor of a very important person – our beloved custodian, Joe. Joe was diagnosed with cancer this year, and that hit home for the students and staff. He is such a bright, cheerful, helpful person, and it was devastating to see him struggling. He left us for a while to seek treatment at the Cancer Treatment Center of Illinois, and upon his return, he was greeted with the colorful sign on the left. It says “Helping Hands for a Helping Man.” For our Walkathon, we elected to raise funds for the Cancer Treatment Center relief fund for families – it provides financial assistance for non-medical needs (i.e. mortgage, utilities, gas, childcare, etc.). We donate in Joe’s name, since Joe is all about the spirit of paying it forward and helping any and all in need. Today is the big event – a 2 hour Walkathon! On the right, you can see Joe being interviewed by WISN Channel 12. His story has touched so many and continues to inspire others.
2. Walkathon T-shirt – So I live for these Walkathon T-shirts, and I can’t wait to get our new one every year. I have a collection of 7 now. SEVEN! I especially love this year’s, of course, since it brings a tear to my eye. In addition to the pledges students collect, the sale of t-shirts also helps to raise funds for our donation to the Cancer Treatment Center. Altogether we are projected to collect about $5,000 this year. We already passed the $4,000 mark yesterday, so finger’s crossed that we make it to our goal!
3. Morning Runs – Speaking of walking, I got up at 5am every day this week to start my day with a run. It’s very peaceful, quiet, and cool – perfect for running. Yes it is hard to get up that early, but if I get right out of bed and go, my brain doesn’t fully awaken until half way in when it’s too late to turn back. It has really made a great improvement in my mood and my energy levels. I love that I can head straight home from work, too, without having to workout at the end of the day. I will certainly continue this new habit as long as it is light out in the mornings.
4. Finishing Spite Fences – We have officially finished the novel, all 21 chapters. The final assignment was to create a “Theme Page” or a “One Word” Page in Book Creator. Above is a sampling of their great work. They really have impressed me this year – great ideas and lots of growth!
5. Countdown – Only 8 days left! Well 8.5 for the students, 10 for me. But still – only 2 more Mondays! w00t!
So how was your week? Are you still in the classroom, like me, or did you start your summer yet? Either way, I hope you’re having a great Friday!
Have you read the novel Spite Fences? I didn’t think so. It is a wonderful novel for 8th through *9th graders, but it is so often overlooked! (*Note: Scholastic says that this novel is geared for 6-8th grade interest levels, but I disagree based on the content and figurative language). I have been teaching this novel unit for the past 7 years, and I always see a tremendous amount of growth in my students – I just love this unit, and it is the perfect way to end our 8th grade year! We find so many ways to make cross-curricular connections between Language Arts and Social Studies with this unit.
The novel is about a 13-year old girl named Maggie Pugh who lives in a small Georgian town in the 1960s. She is poor, white, and the victim of abuse from her mother and next-door neighbor. She is at the age where she begins to notice things – facilitated by the gift of a camera to help her ‘see the world’ – and she questions the segregation and customs in her town. Because this novel is historical fiction, it is filled with references to important Civil Rights Era people and events. Since Maggie is a very bright young girl, and also a bit of a tomboy, my students don’t view this as a ‘girl’ book – in fact, my boys really love it and demonstrate much growth in their critical evaluation skills while reading/discussing this novel.
The magic of this novel is that it is the perfect piece to help students begin to discover figurative language. Spite Fences is rife with challenging language and thought-provoking questions about morals and real-world conflicts. It investigates important themes of human rights, dignity, faith, coming of age, and staying true to one’s beliefs. My students become outraged by many of the events, and we have very lively classroom discussions. There are so many subtle hints and hidden treasures that only a discerning, critical reader will catch. When I point out that the ‘fence’ represents oh-so-much-more than just a wooden structure, and that it is 6 feet tall, made of pine (::cough:: casket ::cough::) the students are mesmerized by the layers of depth and meaning.
My only lament is that this novel is no longer in print, but can be purchased second-hand or as an ebook. I still have paperback copies that I plan to use until they fall apart!
I have posted this unit in my Teachers pay Teachers store to share, since I firmly believe it is the perfect novel to use with your 8th and 9th grade students to prepare them for more challenging contemporary literature. I’ve made the reading response worksheets so that a student could even guide themselves through the novel – it would be a great option for an independent reader or a homeschooler as well. The unit spans 2 months, which is an entire quarter in my curriculum. The unit includes a prior knowledge activity – a movie guide for the film “A Time for Justice.”
This powerful 1994 documentary brings the Civil Rights movement to life and helps set the stage for this historical fiction. The best part is – you can order this kit (DVD + Lesson Plans) for FREE!
The Spite Fences Unit also includes a chapter-by-chapter reading guide with questions that range in type and complexity from inference to critical thinking, multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, matching, and open-ended short answer questions. This unit is great for end of the year test prep by providing students with a wide range of possible reading response questions. An answer key is included.
While reading the novel, my students also complete a fun reading response project. They create an Altered Book (or Scrapbook) that includes 9 ‘pages’ or installations. What we do is find some old hardcover books to repurpose by glueing or writing new things into the pages.
These Altered Book page assignments are designed to illicit deep thinking and writing that require students to find evidence and dig deeper into the topics and themes of the novel (following Common Core language for text-based discussion). Each ‘page’ has a pre-writing, brainstorming page to help students collect their thoughts. Here are some examples of their work:
This entire Spite Fences Unit includes:
* Welcome letter with lesson plan outline
* Enduring Understandings and Common Core State Standards
* “A Time for Justice” documentary movie guide with answer key to help build prior knowledge
* Reading Guide with answer key
* Altered Book Project with samples, rubric, and planning pages
If you are interested in purchasing this unit, click here!
I can’t wait for 4th quarter to start our final unit of the year – my favorite!