Turning your passions into powerful learning for your students

I recently came across a great article in Education Week that encourages educators to bring their passions and life experiences to the classroom to take their teaching to the next level. The author, teacher Nancy Barile, credits her classroom success to her punk rock past.

Ms. Barile explains how the punk rock community would challenge prejudice, and hatred of any kind. Today she uses those same principles to encourage her students to challenge conflicting data, complicated politics, and intense societal pressures.

 “I want to equip my kids with the skills necessary to understand perspectives and cultures, to comprehend and critique, and to demonstrate independence,” says Ms. Barile.

Whether its punk rock or football, hobbies or past life experiences, they can be catalysts to motivate students and teach them new things. 

In the article Ms. Barile offers five things to consider when incorporating your passion into the curriculum. One of them is this: Ensure your experience encourages your students to develop their own interests and hobbies in and outside of school.

A “R.E.A.L” need for mentors

Did you know that young people who participate in mentoring programs are more likely to pursue higher education than those who did not participate? It’s proven!

January is National Mentoring Month, but we believe children should have positive mentors year-round. Now more than ever children need positive role models in their life. As single parent households and adults working longer hours become increasingly common it is not unusual for many children to go home from school to an empty house.

Children need to be exposed to all walks of life and be able to relate with someone similar to them. Mentoring programs are an outlet where diversity and differences are celebrated and welcomed.   

Interested in starting a mentoring program? Check out Scholastic R.E.A.L.(Read. Excel, Achieve. Lead), a program devoted to giving school districts the tools needed to recruit, encourage and equip mentors to inspire students and build literacy skills. Through the Scholastic R.E.A.L. program schools welcome volunteers from the community who are willing to share their life experiences as they enjoy a book with students. R.E.A.L mentoring sessions have a long-lasting impact on students to think more deeply and make relevant connections to the world. In addition, mentoring programs strengthen community involvement and enrich school culture.

Was writing Holden a mistake?

Like many readers, I think about the fictional Holden Caulfield with fondness. When I first read The Catcher in the Rye I was about 12, which may explain why I got through the entire book thinking that Phoebe's name was pronounced phobe.

I have since read the novel several times, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. About 10 years ago, Jonathan Yardley, a book critic for The Washington Post, questioned the enduring fascination with Holden, calling him "callow" and "self-pitying." J.D. Salinger, Yardley went on, had "a tin ear."

I remember feeling the same way at some point. But Holden, his wool cap and his phony-this, phony-that still crack me up.

A new documentary has me revisiting the 1951 novel yet again. According to Shane Salerno's American Masters film, Salinger, the reclusive novelist was a train wreck of a guy, cruel to his family and others around him, his writings used by deranged individuals, most notably Mark David Chapman, to destroy yet more lives. Salinger himself said that "writing Holden was a mistake."

If you'd like to learn more about the writer, his life and the paradoxes his work presents, check out these links:

An interview with filmmaker Shane Salerno

  • Salerno spent 10 years working on Salinger. Why?

An educator's guide to Salinger's works

  • Includes a poster, activities for students, and an overview of the fictional Caulfield and Glass families

Film excerpt: Salinger's last story in Cosmopolitan

  • Editor, novelist, and playwright A.E. Hotchner talks about Salinger's "Blue Melody," published in 1948. Not a word of the story could be changed, Salinger warned. "Either as is or not at all."

More Holden to come

  • It was announced last fall that five new Salinger works are due out between 2015 and 2020, including The Last and Best of the Peter Pans, a short story that features, yes, Holden Caulfield. And it does sound ominous.

We're left to wonder: Would the world have been better off if Salinger had never picked up a pen?

Teaching Resources for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

I believe it may be impossible to NOT be inspired by the words and actions of Martin Luther King, Jr. Next week is a moment that we, as a nation, take a moment to look back and be inspired to reflect and consider - even act upon - how we can affect change for the better. When celebrating his life in the classroom, we've rounded up resources to help teachers do just that.

On Our Minds @Scholastic blogger Lia has a quick 8 resources to share. From book lists, lesson plan inspiration, contests and more, it is a great list! 

You can find even more on Scholastic.com which has an "Everything You Need" feature and a collection of articles.


Not that we don’t love Mary Poppins

"I'm not a Mary Poppins kind of person," says Carmen Fariña in a profile in today's New York Times.

Fariña, who became New York City's schools chancellor on January 1, began her career as a teacher in Brooklyn. Tough with both students and parents, she drew upon "poetry, puppet shows and international cuisine" to immerse kids in history, culture and the arts.

Fariña was also known to have dressed as Peter Stuyvesant, using a toilet plunger as a wooden leg. What would Stuyvesant make of the fact that a woman has been chosen to lead the country's largest school system? In an age of, well, ageism, it's also refreshing that the new chancellor is 70 years old. Why not draw on her wisdom and years of experience?

"I think of her as a woman who has the gift of leadership," says Marie Arnold, who was a teacher at Manhattan's coveted P.S. 6 in 1991 when Fariña took over as principal.

Fariña, whose parents fled the Spanish Civil War, cares not only about children, but also about their teachers. She has already shared some inspired ideas for easing anxiety about the Common Core Standards, whose implementation thus far has been rocky.

In her letter to the city's principals, Fariña promised to "emphasize holistic instructional practices and enhance professional development for teachers and school leaders" and "move aggressively to increase parents' involvement in their children's education."

Her own immigrant father, according to the Times, "helped nurture her rebellious streak."

I hope that the same spirit of adventure will pervade the hallways of the city's schools this year, where many children face unimaginable challenges. A little Mary Poppins magic could go a long way.


A picture perfect classroom

Advances in technology have brought new appeal to photography. Platforms like Instagram, which has over 150 million active users, offer endless options for color enhancements, special effects and cropping. And let’s not forget about the 2013 Word of the Year: “selfie.”

It should be no surprise that many teachers are incorporating the use of photography into their lessons. As Sue Pimentel, a lead writer of the ELA Standards, told us, “The observation skills that it takes to look at a picture and to find out what’s going on in it are some of the same skills we’re asking students to do in close reading. We’re asking them to pay attention to the details as you would in a picture, and also for students to be able to express what’s going on.”

In an article featured in T.H.E. Journal, fourth grade teacher Ms. Dalesio, from the Pleasanton Unified School District in California, schedules "iPhoneography" days with her students (this idea is not limited to just the iPhone, of course). On these days students are encouraged to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and incorporate their photographs into their work.

In the article, Ms. Dalesio offers 9 tips for using photography with your students. Here are my two favorite tips she offers:

Combine Photos with Writing: Integrating photos with writing projects as part of digital story-telling allows students to look at an image and write a story around it. Students can also read a story and then find an image that illustrates what they just read.

Use Photos to Help Students Learn Geometric Shapes: "You could have them take a picture of an acute angle or intersecting lines or parallel lines or a square or a cube," Dalesio explains. "It really makes the learning they're doing in the classroom so much more meaningful, because then they can see it in a real-life setting."

Are you using photography in the classroom? Tell us how in the comments below.


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