Showing posts with label nonfiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nonfiction. Show all posts


A Pro Tip for Teachers: Using Text Sets on Newsela

Newsela is a website that curates news articles for teachers to share with their students. The idea is straightforward. Students engage with non-fiction texts to improve their reading levels (and critical thinking skills). Each news article on Newsela is calibrated to at least five reading levels which can be tweaked according to a student's grade level and reading proficiency. Articles come equipped with quizzes students can take (and teachers can see the results) and writing prompts students can respond to (which teachers can edit to align with their own classes).

Use Newsela for Non-Fiction ReadingI have been using Newsela for a long time. I use it to assign articles to my students that supplement what we're doing in class. For example, for a Ninth Grade English Shakespeare unit I have kids read about Shakespeare in the Park or after talking about whether or not "video games rot your mind" I have them read an opinion piece on the subject before they write their own essay.

Go Further With Teacher-created Text SetsA really powerful tool on Newsela is the ability to create text sets. I teach a series of "Philosophy in the Classroom" units that I developed with middle and high school students at my school. We read Plato and Nietzsche in class but I want to connect the abstract ideas of philosophers to current and relevant events going on in our society today. Newsela makes that possible. Here is a text set I recently made for my students that I have paired up with my unit on Justice.

Newsela Text Set: Philosophy in the High School Classroom: "The Ring of Gyges"
Essential Mystery: Why should I be a good person?

Cover Image of Philosophy in the Classroom: The Ring of Gyges in Plato's Republic
I based the Newsela Text Set On 
Supporting questions:
Should I be a good person even if I know I can get away with being bad?
Is being a good person in of itself a good thing? Why do those who do bad things not only sometimes get away with it but seem to benefit from their ill deeds while those who do good don't often prosper nor get as much recognition for the good they do?

Student/ Teacher Instructions:
Why be good? The texts in this set contribute to an overarching moral question first brought out by Plato in his book, The Republic. Plato's young student Glaucon complains to Socrates that good people never seem to benefit from their good deeds, while bad people who do bad deeds not only profit from it but seem to be better off than good people. So why be good at all?

  • Pre-Reading Assignment: Before going further watch the following video “The Myth of Gyges”. Copy and paste the link:
  • Optional. Read the primary source material from The Republic. Copy and paste the link:
  • Choose THREE compelling stories from this text set to read and to annotate. Respond to all prompts in YELLOW. These are my questions to you. 
  • Be both Glaucon and Socrates as you read. Highlight in RED ideas in the stories that support Glaucon. Highlight in GREEN views that support Socrates' view. 
  • Take the reading comprehension quizzes for the three stories you selected. 
  • Prepare the writing prompt for the article that you thought was the most compelling. Read the prompt carefully. 

In class, be ready to share your annotations for the articles you selected. You will be paired with different students to discuss the ideas of each article. Your grade for this assignment is a combination of your quiz scores (20%), your annotations and appropriate highlights (20%), group participation (30%), and finally, your writing prompt (30%).

Extension Resources:

Intended Grade Level(s): 7-10

Content Areas: English Language Arts, Social Studies, Humanities, Civics

Skills Practiced: This text set and its activities conform to the following Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2 - Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6 - Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5 - Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Estimated Time: Three 45-minute class periods.


Book Review: Virginia Woolf as Philosopher for the People

Three Guineas Journal
In this post, I offer a review of Virginia Woolf’s searing report on the devastating effects of war. It's her most articulate contribution to the history of ideas because it articulates quite well, and cogently – in the manner of classical rhetoric  ideas about pacifism, women, and war. Having lived through the First World War, Woolf dreads the possibility of another one to come . . .
Three Guineas is a bitter discourse on the prevention of war, and defense of philanthropy, and women; it is also an attack on the growing hegemonic power afloat in Europe before the Second World War; it is an older and hardened view, distinct from the more playful A Room of One’s Own she had written earlier, which is more about the sexuality of women, the spirit of women. However, it touches on some of the issues she expounds upon in Three Guineas. In a way, it is like a sequel; actually, I think this is how Woolf intended it. Three Guineas comes out of the work she did on The Years, her most famous novel, about the Pargiter family, their history from the 19th century to Woolf’s present day.
      Woolf published the book Three Guineas out of her own Hogarth press. I wonder how many people actually “got it” or even took the time to read the book? I wonder how many people actually read A Room of One’s Own and “got it”? The slim volume deserves a second look. I think Woolf is important to intellectual thought. Woolf is part of what I call intellectual talk within intellectual circles and also, by her own admission, critical to the public sphere of intellectualism. Woolf attempts to speak to everyman. She is a philosopher for the people. Three Guineas is filled with harsh condemnations. She accuses society of having an infantile fixation (134-135); of the widening gap between the public and private sectors and the use of clothing to deceive young men into joining the war effort (14). I find Woolf to be candid in this book. I think she states some hard arguments. The difficulty of the book is following Woolf’s train of thought; Woolf reads like an autodidact, which she was, and her arguments sometimes feel more passionate than systematically thought out; but, I reason, she has spent so much time, energy and words on these issues; I feel ill at ease following her passion because I sense she doesn’t have to convince me; I know she must be right!
     One significant contribution she gives in this work is that she nuances the stance of feminism. Feminist thought is not dead even though women can now vote and work, Woolf argues. We can’t stop now as if everything is equal and normal for women. As if women and men are the same. There will still be Creons abusing Antigones. But, Woolf is not fatalistic. She does see that something must be done. There is a web site I found about an organization founded in 1993 called the Three Guineas Organization. It helps women and girls through education, similar to the groups that were writing to Woolf asking for aid.
     I say Three Guineas is a bitter discourse because it is written not as a romp through Oxford and the British Library, but an attempt to ask the hard questions and a realization of forces greater than our control. Woolf intuits the horror of the World War and the seeming repetition of war, the misuse of women throughout history; “Things repeat themselves it seems. Pictures and voices are the same today as they were 2,000 years ago” (141). I think she sees Hitler and Fascism for what it really was: not for true freedom and liberty but rather threatening to Western Civilization. Of course, war is threatening. But she asks: how does war deplete society? Why are women asking for money? How does war take away resources, thus eroding the cornerstone of liberal arts education, the workforce, and liberty in general? Why are these three different organizations, even asking for money in the first place? Will a guinea also help them? Shouldn’t society be asking why they must plead for money in the first place? Why are the administrators of a woman’s college living under deplorable conditions, begging? In a letter to Woolf, an accountant for the college asks, “Will you send a subscription to [our society] in order to help us to earn our living? Failing money … any gift will be acceptable – books, fruit, or cast-off clothing that can be sold in a bazaar (41)”.
     Woolf wants to know why is this school asking for money? Haven’t women been liberated for the past twenty years? She includes a response to such a request for a subscription, asking, “How can it be, we repeat? Surely there must be some very grave defect, of common humanity, of common justice, or of common sense” (41-42).
     I noticed in this book that Woolf is aware of the influence of photography (at least 11 and 142). She writes about the horrors of war recorded by the camera. This book is timely today because we can trace how the influence of the camera has made an arc to the television set, to the Internet. We are inundated with images that dictate how we are supposed to look at the world. I love how she is so contemporary with this issue.
What is the meaning of these words that we are willing to die to defend? Freedom? Liberty? Rights of Man?
      She lambasts an army general’s debonair suit by pointing out that in battle, soldiers do not wear finery. Woolf concludes that the regalia of uniforms is a lure to get young men to join the military. The suit does not tell the truth; uniforms are deceptive instruments to get people in the ranks, to fight the countries wars.
      Also, isn’t it interesting that Woolf questions giving the money to these different organizations? She challenges us to look at things from all the different points of view, preferably three. She has three newspapers on her desk. “Therefore if you want to know any facts about politics you must read at least three different papers, compare at least three different versions of the same fact, and come in the end to your own conclusion” (95). Woolf challenges the reader to think critically. Not to look merely at one source and form our opinion. We should have at least three sources about the same topic in front of us. Librarians probably agree; parts of this book could serve as an introduction to Library Science. How many times do I get letters in the mail asking for money? Do I ask myself the reasons behind their requests for money? Do I wonder why they really need the money in the first place? Woolf, I bet, surprises the honorary treasures by questioning their requests. Partly to get them to think about their situations and partly, for Woolf’s part, to answer the real questions.
Why does she attack H.G. Wells? I was surprised to see Wells included in this book; I didn’t think Woolf would go after a particular person in this polemic. But she does. She seems to see him as superficial. Wells obviously does not fight for the same principles as Woolf.
      We are not fighting for the rights of man or for woman. We should be rallying the cause of humanity; because, isn’t it, like Georges Sands says – “all beings are interdependent of one another”? Who of us can present ourselves as insulated, cut off from one another? Because we are a man? Because we are a woman? Most of our problems stem from the insistence on creating sharp distinctions between man/woman; free/slave; public/private. Maybe Woolf is calling for, in this book, is a common interest; “it is one world; one life” (142).
source: Woolf, Virginia,  Three Guineas.  Harcourt Brace. 1938, 1966. 


Reference Book Review: First Fun Encyclopedia (Available as a Searchable Database on EBSCOhost)

First Fun Encyclopedia
First fun encyclopedia
     Targeted to primary school children and hosted on the electronic databases MAS Ultra - School Edition and Master File Premier, First Fun Encyclopedia was published by Mason Crest in 2003 and edited and written by Jane Walker. The book is part of the series First Fun Reference Set which includes "First Fun Atlas," by Andrew Langley; "First Fun Dictionary," by Cindy Leaney; and "First Fun Science Encyclopedia," by Brian Ward. 
Available on EBSCO
     EBSCO only has the encyclopedia available digitally for now. The entire encyclopedia is available as HTML full text with graphics. The EBSCO version has 118 entries arranged alphabetically. Each entry has a persistent link feature available so users can email or post links back to the entry. The encyclopedia is searchable and references are cross-linked. 
Encylopedia Articles are Written for Young Readers
     Categorized under the subject heading "Youth & Children's Interests" the text is written at a LEXILE rating of no more than 730. To give an idea of how the book is arranged the "Ocean and Seas" entry also directs users to the "Animal Kingdom" entry. For vocabulary skills, entries include a word box related to the subject with short, simple definitions. Some entries include a word game or puzzle for fun. Each entry has high-resolution graphics to accompany the text that are instructional rather than decorative. The "Fish" entry, for example, has an illustration of a fish with labels identifying the essential anatomical parts. The entry on "Trains" includes graphics of different types of trains  subways, bullet trains, steam trains, and so forth. The entry on "Homes" describes tall homes, tent homes, and houses in rows. 
      No entry is more than 400 words.
Create Non-Fiction Text Sets
Teachers can use the entries from the First Fun Encyclopedia to create text sets for their classrooms. For example, if an English Language Arts teacher plans to teach a unit on Carl Hiassen's novel Flush, a book that takes place in Florida, then the teacher can pre-select non-fiction articles to supplement the reading. Have kids read about the sealife of Florida, or about ecology, and environmental protection efforts to create sustainable habitats for animals.
Source: Walker, Jane. First Fun Encyclopedia. Philadelphia: Mason Crest, 2003. Internet resource.