Just a week ago I finished one of the larger experiments I’ve undertaken in my courses this year: a read-a-loud, with my four classes of Grade 6 students. We were working on our unit on culture and migration; at the end of each lesson, I would read a portion of the book to them. For those unfamiliar with the book, here is a brief synopsis and the reading level on Scholastic, and reviews on Goodreads.
I had two main purposes for this. The primary one was for the story to serve as a mentor text for their project, which was to research two countries and write a story about someone who immigrates from one to the other. The other was to create a connection between what we were learning in our lessons and a piece of literature.
Would I do it again? Kind of. It ate up a lot of time, especially because I had the only copy, so I had to read all of the book to them in class. Four times a day. The teacher who is replacing me for next year will have enough copies of the book that each student can read the text independently in class and at home. It would have been great to have had that flexibility.
It would have also been nice to make the novel study cross-curricular, with students also studying it in their ELA class. That would free up more time in the Social Studies class for discussing the book, and would also help students appreciate the book in other ways (it is artfully written). This Engage New York unit could be used as a resource for the ELA teacher. Basically, I wanted more time (don’t all teachers) to talk about the book, rather than just reading the book.
However, I still think there were some successes. I had students who, while usually more disengaged, were participating and volunteering answers during discussions about the book. There are other, less visible benefits too. Reading to students improves their vocabulary. It builds a classroom climate, and I found it nice to have shared story between all of us. In Grade 6, they are not being read a book cover-to-cover anymore, but that does not mean that they will no longer benefit. In my student feedback on the unit, the read-a-loud was generally viewed positively. It was successful enough that I even tried to start something similar for my homeroom class. It didn’t work. Our school does not have designated homeroom time, as they don’t have to be in their desks until the second bell; the constant stream of students in and out of the classroom was disruptive for the two or three students who chose to listen to the story. I’ll keep it in mind if I ever have homeroom or advisory time in the future, as it could be a meaningful way to use time that would otherwise be wasted.
If I were to do it again, I would make the novel more central to the unit. Some of the lessons related to the book, but not all. I would want to built more knowledge around strikes, immigration and prejudice, which are all important in the book and also good Social Studies topics. Feeling inspired by the discussion on embedded non-fiction texts in Reading Reconsidered (Lemov, et al.), I put together this list of related readings and media. Sorry for the all-caps; I was copying and pasting the titles.
Texts and Media for Historical Context
AN OVERVIEW OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION by Jessica McBirney – CommonLit
MEXICAN MIGRANT WORKERS IN THE 20TH CENTURY by Jessica McBirney – CommonLit
Hernan Cortes: Conquered the Aztec Empire – Fast Facts | History – Youtube
Welcome to Hooverville – Youtube
Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s – Youtube
Texts and Media on Immigration
AMERICA AND I by Anzia Yezierska – CommonLit
THE RUSH OF IMMIGRANTS by USHistory.org – CommonLit
FROM LITHUANIA TO THE CHICAGO STOCKYARDS by Antanas Kaztauskis – CommonLit
U.S. border crisis may hurt harvest, farmers say – Newsela
Surges and slips: Immigration in America over 200 years – Newsela
U.S. immigration debates are not unique to the 21st century – Newsela
Deconstructing History – Ellis Island – Youtube
Take our jobs – Youtube
Texts on Prejudice
THE BLUE-EYED, BROWN-EYED EXERCISE by CommonLit Staff – CommonLit
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: ‘COLORISM’ IN THE CARIBBEAN by Michel Martin – CommonLit
AN OBSTACLE by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – CommonLit
Texts and Media on Overcoming Adversity
THE ROSE THAT GREW FROM CONCRETE by Tupac Shakur – CommonLit
INVICTUS by William Ernest Henley – CommonLit
‘HOPE’ IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS – (319) by Emily Dickinson – CommonLit
Emily Dickinson – Hope is the thing with feathers – Youtube