Friday, October 18, 2013

Common Core Connections: In the Classroom

The Common Core State Standards, voluntarily adopted by more than 45 states, is, according to Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City public schools, “one of the most promising education initiatives of the past half century.”  For those of us who write nonfiction, it is an opportunity to not only continue to write books that provide students with knowledge and inspiration but also to share with teachers ways that our books can be used in the classroom. Here are some suggestions for implementing the Common Core standards with some of my books, by Sylvia M. Vardell, professor of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University, and published in Book Links, November 2012.

In the classroom:

Use Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, as a springboard for discussing the power of collaboration in creating a work of art. This is the behind-the-scenes story of how the famous Martha Graham ballet, “Appalachian Spring,” came to be from its inception through the composition of the score by Aaron Copland to the design of the innovative sets by Isamu Noguchi. Invite students to identify key moments of interaction between the players in the narrative and in direct quotes (such as when Graham gives Copland a script and he responds with comments that motivate her to rewrite).

But this book provides additional examples of collaboration, too. Check out Greenberg’s web site ( for the back-story on her collaboration with writing partner Sandra Jordan, editor Neal Porter, illustrator Brian Floca, and even book designer Jennifer Browne. Or share the audiobook adaptation of the book narrated by actress Sarah Jessica Parker that includes a performance by the Seattle Symphony of the very score that inspired the ballet. As a natural follow up, invite students to form partnerships or small groups for their own collaborative projects, creating a picture book, digital trailer, or audio podcast of their own.


Common Core Connections

RI.5.3. Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.

 In the classroom: Asking questions is a big part of how Jan Greenberg approaches art and writing about art and artists. While she was growing up, her parents encouraged her with questions like these:

“What do you see?”

“What is the feeling expressed in the painting?”

“Which is the best picture in the gallery?”

Even within the narrative of several of her books, she frequently poses questions to invite the reader to wonder, interpret, and speculate. On p. 11 of Frank O. Gehry Outside In, for example, she uses his famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, to pose a series of questions that guide readers in “breaking down” the building and considering it from multiple “angles.” Walk through these questions with students to talk about the Bilbao Guggenheim or apply the same questions to the buildings that are right there in their own environments (such as their school building) since EVERY building is situated in a specific landscape, made of various materials, and created in certain shapes, evoking different feelings. Compare their responses and viewpoints with one another and with the author.

Common Core Connections

RI.3.1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

RI.3.6. Distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.

In the classroom:

Pairing nonfiction and poetry may seem to be an unlikely partnership at first, but these two different genres can complement one another by showing children how writers approach the same topic in very different and distinctive ways, but both strive to convey key concepts in clear language. After sharing some of Greenberg’s picture book biographies (such as Action Jackson, Romare Bearden, Frank O. Gehry Outside In, and Ballet for Martha), guide students in discussing key ideas in the life and work of the book’s subject. Jot those ideas down, focusing on key words that are particularly vivid and descriptive. Then challenge students to create “found” poems by arranging words (of their choosing) from the list into poems. Share the poems and then add them to a library display of the books. For examples of found poems from a variety of nonfiction (and other) sources, see The Arrow Finds its Mark edited by Georgia Heard.

Common Core Connections

RI.3.2. Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.

RI.4.2. Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.

RI.5.2. Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.









Myra Zarnowski said...

These are all very good ideas. They could be the start of some terrific teaching and learning. Of course Sylvia Vardell is well-qualified to make these connections between literature and literacy.

My concern is about the bigger picture in standards-based education. So many of the standards are content-free. They don't tell us what to teach, but what we should be doing. Teachers feel left stranded with all these demanding processes and no content. And, even when there is content--as in the Next Generation Science Standards--where are the needed materials to pursue this content?

All this talk about rigor is great, but let's also talk about rigor in action. I would love to see Ballet for Martha as part of a larger focus on the arts, which like social studies, seems to have been pushed to the sidelines of education.

Jan Greenberg said...

Myra, I am late getting back to your very wise words. As always the arts are pushed back in the sidelines of education. Many public schools in the United States have cut art and music classes...lack of funds, pressure on basic skills etc. We were having this discussion the other night at a dinner. A friend who makes documentaries about music spoke of the difficulty selling them to schools. My husband Ronnie who is an art dealer said that when we look back at past cultures, it is the arts that tell the story best. But what can be exciting in the now for children is the contemporary arts around the world. Social studies and the arts coming together!