Sunday, May 3, 2015

A new resource for teaching Mockingbird

In the year since our first book, Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird, was published, we have enjoyed the privilege of sharing our work with teachers around the country and have been gratified to play a role in how they are teaching this ever-relevant and beloved novel.

Like so many others, we eagerly await the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and wonder how it will impact our perceptions of Scout, Atticus, and life in Maycomb, Alabama, and how it will resonate in the present day as Mockingbird still does so powerfully. In the meantime, we welcome a valuable new resource released in April by the nonprofit organization Facing History and Ourselves, Teaching Mockingbird.

Similar to our volume, Teaching Mockingbird is organized into units centered upon essential questions that guide teachers and students as they study the novel in conjunction with related readings and multimedia resources that help students build the background knowledge needed to access the rich themes throughout Mockingbird. Facing History’s guide also contains a wonderful range of video clips and graphic organizers to engage visual and auditory learners (as our volume does as well).

Having spent a great deal of time searching for engaging, meaningful informational texts in creating our own book on Mockingbird, we applaud the choices in Facing History. Three resources in Teaching Mockingbird are particularly fascinating: the discussions of eugenics, the redneck stereotype, and restorative justice.

Teaching Mockingbird aims to be a comprehensive guide to teaching the novel, with extensive thematic and close reading questions for each chapter of the novel, based on Facing History’s pedagogical approach, foregrounding “adolescent and moral development.” The volume offers a very helpful guide to discussing sensitive topics in the classroom and substantive guidance for teachers on how, when, and why to use the resources included. Teaching Mockingbird begins with a rich pre-reading section on identity, difference, personal voice, and belonging and ends with a rewarding post-reading unit that examines the novel’s legacy and the power of literature to shape the morals and ethics of individuals and society.

Like our Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird, this new volume offers teachers resources to refresh and enrich their existing Mockingbird curriculum by incorporating engaging, complex, relevant informational texts into their teaching of the novel. Both guides emphasize giving students experience with a wide range of meaningful and relevant nonfiction, developing their skills in making evidence-based inferences and arguments, and enhancing their vocabulary and use of academic language.

Of course, we do have some differences in approach. These can be seen most explicitly in how the two volumes present excerpts from Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. Teaching Mockingbird offers a very short excerpt from the beginning of the address with no resources for addressing challenging words like “candor” or “impel.” On the other hand, our book offers teachers a variety of pre-reading vocabulary activities to front-load both key vocabulary and concepts to pave the way for a successful experience of reading, discussing, and writing about a longer excerpt of the address, while guided reading questions alongside the excerpt follow-up on that pre-reading vocabulary practice, asking students to examine how the words are used in the text.

In addition to reinforcing students’ vocabulary acquisition, the guided reading questions that appear directly alongside each informational text in our book draw students’ attention to key textual features and concepts within the text. Each reading is followed by writing and discussion questions that put the informational text into meaningful dialogue with the novel; some units also feature a creative class activity that can be used as a capstone project for the study of the informational text itself or the novel overall.

Our differences reflect our sense that informational text poses specific and substantial challenges to students, particularly in relation to vocabulary and textual features and format. We also want to emphasize the importance of students engaging in rich and evidence-based dialogue as they put these informational texts into conversation with Mockingbird.

Clearly, Teaching Mockingbird, like our UsingInformational Text to Teach Literature, offers teachers and students the opportunity to meet the standards of the Common Core with a range of high quality, complex texts that will invigorate our understanding of this rewarding and relevant novel for years to come. 

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