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by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Cindy A. Strickland
Table of Contents
by Cheryl Becker Dobbertin
This five- to six-week unit engages students in the study of historical fiction and culminates with them developing and sharing a piece of historical fiction that is based on one of their own family's stories or artifacts.
The unit opens with students using the concept attainment method (see Glossary, page 350) to develop a working definition of historical fiction. Students then work in heterogeneous literature circles in a reader's workshop environment to discuss, react to, and analyze a novel of their choice: Roots by Alex Haley, Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende, Cane River by Lalita Tademy, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, or The Storyteller's Daughter by Jean Thesman. Each of these novels, listed in order from most challenging to least challenging, uses a distinct cultural perspective to tell the story of a family's evolution. In cooperative groups comprising representatives from each of the literature circles, students identify and analyze the criteria for historical fiction and develop a rubric that they use to evaluate their own work.
By reading and watching interviews of well-known authors in the genre, students develop an understanding of the discipline of writing historical fiction and the process authors use to develop their craft. They also learn or review the process of examining primary sources for the kind of detail that supports a story's development.
Finally, students work throughout the unit to research their family's history, using all resources available to them: oral histories, letters and diaries, photo albums, Internet-based genealogical search tools, and the like. Those who cannot or do not wish to focus on their own family's stories work with material provided by the teacher. Supported by differentiated modeling and coaching from the teacher in a workshop environment, they develop a vignette (character sketch), short story, or chapter of a longer work that demonstrates their understanding of the qualities of excellent historical fiction. Students who choose to rework or expand their writing further have the option to do so as an ongoing independent study.
This unit is a reflection of my desire to help all students become critical readers, effective writers, careful listeners, responsive speakers, and most importantly, engaged thinkers. These competencies are at the heart of the standards movement, and I believe that students who become confident in their own ability to make sense of big ideas and communicate this understanding effectively will be successful throughout their schooling and beyond. Since discovering differentiation and the classroom energy created when students exercise choice, I have seen many of my students reconnect with learning. This unit represents the best that I know about moving students toward real engagement and, ultimately, toward deep and lasting understanding.
I started my planning with a careful examination of national and local standards. When it comes to designing lessons, I have found these standards to be liberating, because they emphasize the process of reading, writing, listening, and speaking over any particular canon. With my eyes firmly focused on the standards, my first planning question is no longer, “Which book should I teach next?” but, “How can I engage my students in thoughtful work?” The standards prompt me to step back and consider my real goals: to help my students to develop lifelong critical literacy skills. The books, then, are just the tools I use to get the students thinking.
It is essential that my students learn how to determine the key characteristics of a particular genre and that they know how to approach reading within that genre. It is essential that they know how to participate in respectful conversation about their reading. It is essential that they know how to consider the needs of their audiences and be able to carefully craft a piece of writing over time. Finally, it is essential that they realize that real authorship is hard, circuitous work. When I design with these essential understandings as the goal, the opportunity to differentiate becomes crystal clear.
The challenge of offering a respectful, high-quality curriculum in the heterogeneous secondary English classroom lies more in the design of the task than in the difficulty of the text. A struggling reader or developing writer can be just as highly engaged in developing the aforementioned essential understandings provided that he is matched with a book he wants to read and receives appropriate coaching and support throughout the reading and writing processes. This may include helping students build the background knowledge they need in order to make sense of challenging text or arranging for some students to read with others or to have access to an audio recording of their text. In short, all students can learn when the teacher plans a flexible starting point and then structures opportunities for them to make connections, synthesize ideas, analyze, and evaluate.
Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts (fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary) to build an understanding of the texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment.
Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements to communicate effectively with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions, media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
Students conduct research on issues and interests. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources and communicate discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, and video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
Students develop an understanding of and a respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Culture, Values, Traditions, Heritage, Change
The culture of the United States is rooted in the experiences, beliefs, and traditions of its immigrant families. People living within the culture are shaped by those experiences, beliefs, and traditions.
A family's heritage, values, and traditions are captured in its stories.
Families experience generational change but maintain unifying connections.
Authors of historical fiction develop their stories based on research into the culture, values, and traditions of a particular event, time period, or person.
As a result of this unit, the students willknow
As a result of this unit, the students willunderstand that
As a result of this unit, the students willbe able to
Reflective Journal Sentence Starters
Historical Fiction Comparison Matrix
Literature Circle Role Sheets
Literature Circle Assessment Rubric
Continuum of Literature Circle Skills
Critical Work Skills Rubric
Differentiated Reader Response Options
Reader Response Options Rubric
What Is Historical Fiction?
Reflective journal writing
Concept attainment activity differentiated by readiness
Definition sharing, discussion, and consensus
Choosing a Novel and Introducing Literature Circles
Overview of literature circle roles and expectations
Background knowledge self-assessment
Getting Started with Literature Circles
Introduction and discussion of the Critical Work Skills Rubric
Literature circle meetings differentiated by interest
Reading in novels differentiated by interest
Reading and literature circle meetings differentiated by interest
Individual or small-group coaching sessions based on readiness needs
ongoing, time varies
Reader response options and sharing differentiated by learning profile and interest
Artifact collection and reflective journal writing
Anchor activity: Author research differentiated by interest
Working for Quality
Rubric development practice
Anchor activities: Reader response options and sharing, reading in novels, and author research
Developing Graduated Assessment Rubrics
Whole-class activity: Graduated rubric development, part 1
Small-group activity differentiated by readiness: Graduated rubric development, part 2
Exploring the Process of Writing Historical Fiction
Narrowing an Idea
Artifact analysis or story brainstorming differentiated by interest
Writing Historical Fiction
Whole-class review of the Critical Work Skills Rubric
Mini-lesson on the writing process
Independent research and journaling differentiated by interest, readiness, and learning profile
Mini-lesson on literary formats for the culminating product assignment
Independent writing differentiated by interest and readiness
Anchor activity: Revision
Independent study extension opportunity
Reflecting on the Unit and Sharing Finished Products
Reflective partner work
“Publication” of the differentiated products
LESSON SEQUENCE AND DESCRIPTION
Unit pre-assessment. About one week before the scheduled beginning of this unit, ask students to complete an exit card or journal entry in response to the following three-part prompt:
The pre-assessment portion of any differentiated unit is always an interesting time. I often discover that I have misconceptions about my students' existing knowledge, understandings, and skills. An exit card is a simple strategy to help me get inside students' heads. Students write responses to these prompts on an index card (I use a different-color card for each of my sections) and drop it in a shoebox on the way out the door.
* Students' responses to the first two prompts serve as the basis for the first lesson in this unit. Responses to the third question help me determine who will need historical documents or artifacts supplied to them in order to fully participate in the unit.
Note: Students use reflective journals throughout this unit. These can just be 20 pages of notebook paper stapled together, or they can be bound composition books. On the left-hand pages of the reflective journal, students record procedural information, research notes, drafts, and so on. On the right-hand page, they record personal reactions and reflections, sometimes in response to teacher-supplied prompts.
* Students who “don't know what to write” in their reflective journals benefit from the Reflective Journal Sentence Starters (see Sample 1.1, page 48). Distribute these in a handout or post them in the classroom.
* The students' reflective journals provide invaluable information about what and how they are learning; I revise the lessons continuously, based on what I read in student journals. These journals aren't graded, but their thoughtful completion is one of the unit's indicators of success. I read the journals regularly, taking home only as many as I can read and return the next day, so that students will have them in class. When students are preparing for literature circles or reading, I use the unstructured time as an opportunity to conference with them about their journals.
* = Differentiated Component
I think ...
I wonder ...
What puzzles me is ...
I am unsure about ...
What's interesting is ...
What's hard about this is ...
One place where I will grow is ...
A strength for me is ...
Something I need to work harder on is ...
It was great when ...
I was surprised that ...
I learned ...
I already knew about ...but learned that ...
Others say/do/think/want ...
I am concerned that ...
I am affirmed when ...
I feel secure when ...
It's okay that ...
I think what will happen is ...
This is different because ...
I feel connected when ...
It made me think of ...
I could visualize ...
I figured out ...
Reflective journal writing. Have students record and respond to the following guiding question on the first left-hand page of their reflective journals:
What aspects of historical fiction make it a unique genre?
Sample responses might include “a wealth of historical detail, although not all of it is accurate”; “characters that fit the time and place in which they are set”; and “a story line that's intertwined with historical perspectives or events.”
This particular prompt targets two important unit generalizations (see page 24).
* Concept attainment activity differentiated by readiness.Divide the students into homogeneous groups of three students each, based on the exit card pre-assessment of background knowledge:
Concept attainment is an instructional strategy that enables students to construct the meaning of new concepts rather than just memorize definitions.
When creating these three-person subgroups, I also make sure that group members are relatively homogeneous in terms of reading, writing, and thinking skills.
Give each group a folder of excerpts from the five pieces of historical fiction at the core of this unit (Roots, Cane River, The Joy Luck Club, Daughter of Fortune, and The Storyteller's Daughter) and four excerpts from other genres (perhaps Shakespearean drama, science fiction, modern young adult literature, and epic poetry). Label the five pieces of historical fiction as “Examples of Historical Fiction” and the four other pieces as “Nonexamples of Historical Fiction.”
I determine which excerpts should go into each folder based on the readiness of the students in each group. Less proficient readers and writers receive more accessible excerpts of historical fiction and “nonexample” excerpts that are very obviously from different genres. More sophisticated readers and writers receive more challenging levels of text and other, less obvious nonexamples.
Based on the readiness levels of the groups, provide students with tiered scaffolds (in this case, graphic organizers) to help them complete a comparison matrix:
Very Concrete Thinkers
Give these students a copy of the Historical Fiction Comparison Matrix (see Sample 1.2, page 49), which includes specific comparison criteria in the column headings.
Developing Abstract Thinkers
Give these students a slightly different version of the comparison matrix with only some of the criteria filled in. (For example, fill in the column headings “Setting,” “Point of view,” and “Language,” but leave the rest open for students to decide.)
These students should not require scaffolding on this task and therefore don't needed any criteria filled in. They will probably still benefit from having a blank chart.
“Scaffolding”—providing thinking support for students who need it—is an instructional technique that enables all students to participate in respectful, appropriate tasks. Scaffolds take on a variety of forms, including supplemental materials, highlighted text, and graphic organizers. Be aware, though, that some students do not need scaffolds and that providing scaffolds can sometimes limit students' thinking.
Direct all small groups to do the following:
Definition sharing, discussion, and consensus. Reconvene as a whole class and have the groups share their small-group working definitions. Discuss the various definitions and then combine and refine them as necessary to create a whole-class working definition of the historical fiction genre.
Ask students to record the definition in their reflective journals, writing it beneath the guiding question that they recorded at the beginning of the period and the criteria they recorded in their group.
The guiding question, criteria, and definition all go on a left-hand journal page.
Point of View
Connections to Unit Concepts
(Culture, Values, Traditions, Heritage, Change)
Reflective journal writing. Redistribute the excerpts from the novels and ask students to reread them and then to record and respond to the following prompts in their reflective journals:
Although I want students to enjoy the storylines in these excerpts, I also want them to keep the unit concepts in mind. The first two of these guiding questions bring the concepts to the forefront.
* I find that allowing students to choose a book to read is highly motivating. I have been consistently pleased to see many of my reluctant readers get excited about a book they have chosen.
Collect all the reflective journals at the end of this lesson and set up heterogeneous literature circle groups based, if possible, on students' first-choice book.
Overview of literature circle roles and expectations. Explain to students that for the next several weeks, they will be reading the novel that they found most intriguing based on its excerpt. Throughout the “reader's workshop” portion of the unit, they will be working in literature circles with others who are reading the same novel.
When I allow a student to work on a novel that is well above his or her reading level, I support that student by providing a reading partner or an audiotaped version of the novel.
Review and model the format and expectations of literature circles. Distribute the Literature Circle Role Sheets (see Sample 1.3, pages 50–54) and go over the roles students take on when they meet in literature circles. Make sure students understand that they will rotate these roles for literature circle meetings, meaning everyone will have the opportunity to work in areas of expertise and of challenge.
Ask students to sum up the expectations for each of the roles on the left-hand page of their reflective journals.
Next, review how the literature circle meetings will be assessed and distribute the Literature Circle Assessment Rubric (see Sample 1.4, page 55) and the Continuum of Literature Circle Skills (see Sample 1.5, page 56). Ask students to react to this method of evaluation on a right-hand page of their reflective journals.
If possible, model a literature circle meeting for the students and ask them to use the rubric to assess the group's performance.
The literature circle is an instructional technique that helps teachers meet a variety of student needs. It gives struggling students peer support in comprehending text, and the open-ended discussion format encourages deep thought and exploration from advanced students. However, all members of each literature circle must understand that success lies in their willingness to prepare and participate. Be very explicit abut expectations for performance and behavior. Samples 1.3, 1.4, and 1.5 support students new to the technique and those who function best in structured environments.
I ask colleagues to help out with this, and we use the role sheets to plan a conversation around one of the excerpts.
Background knowledge self-assessment. Tell students that reading is a process through which the reader combines what's on the page with his or her own background knowledge. The influence of background knowledge helps to explain why different readers often have different interpretations of the same text. Ask students to respond to the following prompt on a right-hand page of their journals:
What background knowledge are you bringing to this study of historical fiction? It may be things you have read or experiences you have had. How will the things you have learned or experienced influence your work?
Because background knowledge influences reading comprehension, I'm careful to reconsider students' readiness to read particular books in light of the background knowledge they have. I'm especially interested in what my English language learners have to say here.
Meeting date ___________________________
Assignment (p. _____ to p. ______)
Others in your group _________________________________________________
Like a great host or hostess at a party, your job is to keep the conversation flowing. You should prepare for your role by developing a list of questions that your literature circle group can use as a starting place for discussion. Remember that you want to help people talk about the big ideas in the reading and share their reactions. Usually the best discussion questions come from your own thoughts, feelings, and concerns as you read. Think about finding connections between the text and the unit concepts of culture, values, traditions, heritage, and change. You may also use some of the general discussion questions below to develop topics for your group.
Here are some model questions. Caution! Your group can only use these once:
Self-Evaluation: Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5. (Five = outstanding, 3 = you got the job done but you didn't really have to work at it, 1 = you did the bare minimum just to make it look like you were working.) Circle the number that you think is appropriate.
How well did you prepare? 1 2 3 4 5
How well did you participate? 1 2 3 4 5
Justify the score you gave yourself:
Adapted from Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groupsby Harvey Daniels, © 2002, used with permission of Stenhouse Publishers.
Your job is to locate at least three places in this section where the author has deliberately used an “author's tool” in order to affect the reader. Tools include literary elements or techniques: characterization, vivid description, metaphors, setting, tone, mood, and so on. After finding at least three places where tools are used, fill in the chart below. When you meet with your group, you will read the selection that incorporates the author's tool aloud to your group, identify the literary element or technique being used, and lead a discussion about how well the author has done his or her job.
Below, reflect on the power of each tool. Did the author make a good choice? Did he or she use the tool well? What kinds of reactions did people have to the tool?
Self-Evaluation: Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5. (Five = outstanding, 3 = you got the job done but you didn't really have to work at it, 1 = you did the bare minimum just to make it look like you were working.)
Circle the number that you think is appropriate.
Your job is to be on the lookout for words that are unusual, puzzling, used in a different way, or essential to understanding this section. Try to figure out the meaning of these words from the context clues around them. Then look up the words and check to be sure that the definition makes sense in what you'e reading. Write your own definitions and make sure that you really understand the words before you meet in your literature circle group! Lead your group through a discussion of the words and their meanings. Here are some things you might talk about:
Sentence it was found in:
Meaning in this context:
Plot Mapper/Detail Organizer
Your job is to draw some kind of thinking map or graphic organizer that could be used as “notes” for what happens in specific sections of the text. You can draw or create a diagram, a web, an outline, or any other kind of graphic organizer you want. Use a separate sheet of blank paper for your work and attach it to this form. BE NEAT. Every member of your group will receive a copy of the organizer you create.
When you meet in your literature circle group, show your organizer to the other group members without comment. Everyone in the group will examine it, try to connect it to their own ideas about the reading, and clarify or correct anything with which they disagree. After everyone has had a say, you get the last word: Change the organizer based on the group's input or leave it as is. Remember, though, that your work is the permanent record of this section of the book, so it should be accurate.
Before you begin, make some notes of important aspects of the story that you will include in your organizer:
Your job is to use your own thinking, the text, and the things said by the people in your group discussion to develop, share, or capture the “big ideas” or generalizations about historical fiction and the unit concepts of culture, values, traditions, heritage, and change that results from your meetings. What you're trying to record is the “a-ha's”—the things that people in your group realized or learned as they worked and talked with one another.
Statements of big ideas often start like this:
Big ideas developed:
Names of people in group _____________________________________________________________
Selection/text being discussed __________________________________ p. _____ to p. ______
Members of the group consistently
Members of the group
Introduction and discussion of the Critical Work Skills Rubric. Begin by explaining to students that throughout this portion of the unit, they will work independently and at their own pace to read their chosen novels, record their thoughts and reactions in their reflective journals, and meet in their literature circle groups.
The purpose of this session is to set the standards and expectations for the “reading workshop” format of the next several class sessions. Being clear about processes and procedures is an essential component of successful differentiation, even at the secondary level.
Use the Critical Work Skills Rubric (see Sample 1.6, page 57) to show students how their time management during reading workshops will be assessed.
Ask students to paste the Critical Work Skills Rubric on the left-hand side of their reflective journals. On the right-hand side, they should respond to this prompt:
Why are the critical work skills indeed “critical” in a classroom where students are working with different materials and at different paces?
* An excellent alternative to a predesigned or teacher-designed rubric is to work collaboratively with students to determine appropriate behaviors for a classroom where everyone is working on different things at different times and the teacher is not always available to answer questions and monitor behavior.
* Literature circle meetings differentiated by interest. Give students time to meet for the first time with their literature circles and ask them to create a preliminary schedule for reading and meeting. They should create a group chart in which they will record which group members will take on which literature circle role for each segment of the reading, and they should copy the group chart into their reflective journals. These schedules should be updated regularly.
Remind students that they should use the left-hand pages of journals to record procedural information, research notes, drafts, and so on. On the right-hand pages, they should record personal reactions and reflections.
Students feel empowered when they are allowed determine—in collaboration with their literature circle groups—how many pages they will read each day and when—within limits—they want to conduct their literature circle meetings. The charts showing the schedule students have committed to lets me know on which days I must be free to observe and assess literature circle meetings.
* Reading in novels differentiated by interest. Students whose literature circle groups finish early should start reading their novels.
You are consistently prepared with the necessary materials.
You are inconsistently prepared.
Your lack of preparation interferes with your ability to participate.
You are highly engaged in your work (sometimes you seem to be “lost in it”).
You are visibly engaged in your work.
You are inconsistently engaged in your work.
You express and show acceptance of the challenge your tasks present and support others in their own growth.
You express and show acceptance of the challenge your tasks present.
You express or show a lack of acceptance of working at your own level of challenge.
You are completely self-directed and do not require reminders to stay on task.
You are self-directed and rarely require reminders to stay on task.
You require reminders to stay on task.
You use resources (peers, librarian, teacher, other supports) responsibly.
You use resources (peers, librarian, teacher, other supports), but may sometimes seek support from the teacher that you could have gotten elsewhere.
You use resources (peers, librarian, teacher, other supports), but often seek support from the teacher that you could have gotten elsewhere.
Your reflective journal is up to date and shows exemplary evidence of critical thinking and growth.
Your reflective journal is up to date and shows thought.
You are falling behind in your reflective journal and/ or you are not recording thoughtful reactions and reflections.
Note: This rubric is based on the work of my friend and colleague, Christopher J. Potter.
* Reading and literature circle meetings differentiated by interest. Students work both individually and collaboratively in groups to comprehend, analyze, and react to their novels while also considering the work and responsibilities of a writer of historical fiction.
Because students are reading different novels and are meeting on different schedules, flexibility is the key word during this portion of the unit.
The day-to-day flow should look something like this:
* Some students find the freedom of this kind of classroom environment empowering; others find it overwhelming. Some are appropriately challenged by the opportunity to work and think independently. Others need scaffolding. I maintain a file folder containing 10 copies of various materials (graphic organizers, background information, sample journal responses, etc.) to distribute to students if they need additional support.
Students must know what role they will fulfill in each of their literature circle meetings (as roles will be rotated each time) and must prepare for each role appropriately.
* The way students prepare for literature circle meetings may be differentiated. Some students benefit from having and completing the Literature Circle Role Sheets (see Sample 1.3) prior to their literature circle meetings. Students who don't need as much scaffolding may only need to place sticky notes in their texts to mark the key ideas and passages they want to discuss.
The literature circle roles of Conversation Captain and Concept Connector (see Sample 1.3) are particularly important in helping students to explore this unit's concepts of culture, values, traditions, heritage, and change, as well as some of the key principles and generalizations.
Based on what I know about students' readiness in regard to the material they are reading and the role itself, I may set aside time to ensure that each group's Conversation Captain and Concept Connector are prepared.
Ask students to tape-record or videotape their literature circle meetings. Tell them that they will be able to review the meetings when they are creating products, and that they can include the tapes in their portfolios.
These tapes also serve as a permanent artifact that I can look to as a source for feedback and evaluation.
* Individual or small-group coaching sessions based on readiness needs. Hold small-group mini-lessons or individual conferences with students who need additional support or challenge.
Possible lesson or conference topics include think-alouds (see Glossary, page 357), making connections, determining vocabulary meanings in context, and drawing inferences.
Possible lesson or conference topics include the subtleties of irony, extended metaphor, and other sophisticated literary devices, and the evaluation of a piece from a literary perspective.
Students should record notes from these mini-lessons on the left-hand pages of their reflective journals and react or respond on the right-hand pages. Remind them to comment on connections they are making between their reading and writing and the unit concepts and generalizations.
One of the most beneficial aspects of the reading workshop is that it gives a teacher time to address student skill needs directly.
* Reader response options and sharing differentiated by learning profile and interest. Throughout this phase of the unit, students must complete three Differentiated Reader Response Options (see Sample 1.7, p. 58), tasks coordinated to Sternberg's triarchic intelligences: creative intelligence, analytical intelligence, and practical intelligence (see Glossary, “intelligence preference,” page 353). Each category of tasks includes some options that reflect the unit concepts and generalizations.
Require students to complete at least two tasks that incorporate the unit concepts and generalizations and then allow them choose whatever else appeals to them. Distribute copies of the Reader Response Options Rubric (see Sample 1.8, page 59) to help guide students' development of high-quality work.
These tasks are an opportunity for students to show me what they are thinking in ways that honor their learning profiles. As a creative thinker myself, it has always been easier for me to plan creative tasks rather than analytical or practical ones. By stretching my own thinking, I have come to see how students can become excited to show me what they're thinking about their novels based on learning profile.
Expand the assignment, if desired, by allowing students to select options that they've designed themselves.
For example, students commonly ask to write and perform a song or create a piece of artwork.
Once students get started on these tasks, ask them to meet in small, same-novel groups to share their ideas. At the end of the unit, ask students to choose their best work and submit it for evaluation. Use the Reader Response Options Rubric as the basis for evaluation.
This is a time when students' understandings of the unit concepts and generalizations will come sharply into focus. I sometimes ask them to write in their reflective journals about how their classmates' understandings of the concepts are the same as or different from their own understandings.
* Anchor activity: Author research differentiated by interest.Have students who have completed their reading and discussions conduct research on the authors who wrote their novels.
Anchor activities (see Glossary, page 349) are a great strategy in a differentiated classroom, as students often complete tasks at different times. It's important that anchors not be “busy work.” The activities must connect to what students need to know, understand, and be able to do.
Ask students to focus their research on how the novels were written, what steps the authors used, and any research methods the author employed.
A school librarian can be a helpful partner during this anchor activity.
Students often think that good writing “just happens.” Researching the work of real authors helps them see the depth of background work necessary before the writing even begins.
Artifact collection and reflective journal writing. Throughout this lesson, students should be working at home to collect family artifacts: household items, old photos, letters, diaries, birth certificates, marriage licenses, family trees or histories, family stories, and so on. These items will be instrumental during the upcoming brainstorming and research phases of the unit.
If possible, model this “collecting” activity for students by bringing in personal family artifacts to share.
When I first created this unit, I participated in this activity myself, working to uncover information about my family's history and sharing artifacts of my own. I have written short pieces of historical fiction based on my own family's history and have kept a reflective journal of my own. I believe that students benefit from seeing teachers do these kinds of activities and this kind of thinking.
* Prepare a classroom collection of artifacts to be used by students who do not have access to these items from their own family's history. Resources to explore include the collections section of the Library of Congress's Web site (memory.loc.gov), the local historical society, or the school librarian.
I know that some students may not be comfortable gathering their own items or may be unable to do so.
Students should use their journals to record the things they are finding, how they found them, and their reactions. Share with students that they will be writing a vignette, short story, or chapter of historical fiction based on an artifact or story from their own family or on photos and letters from the artifact box.
Tasks for Creative Thinkers
Tasks for Practical Thinkers
Tasks for Analytical Thinkers
Your submitted product
Your submitted product reveals insightful, unique, and/ or personal connections to the unit concepts of culture, values, traditions, heritage, and change.
Your submitted product reveals that you have made some strong yet obvious connections to the unit concepts of culture, values, traditions, heritage, and change.
Your submitted product reveals that you attempted to make connections to the unit concepts of culture, values, traditions, heritage, and change, but your connections were muddled or weak.
Your submitted product shows evidence of craftsmanship, revision, and the creative yet appropriate use of technology and/ or interesting materials.
Your submitted product shows evidence of revision and the use of appropriate tools and materials.
Your submitted product appears to be in draft stage and your choice of tools or materials was uninspired.
Note: This is an optional lesson to include if students do not have prior experience creating a rubric. An excellent resource for clarification on the procedures for writing a rubric is available from the Intranet of the Chicago Public Schools:
Because creating a good rubric is vigorous work, students need to evaluate something fairly concrete before moving on to the more abstract task of creating a rubric for historical fiction.
Rubric development practice. Begin by distributing copies of a blank rubric and some kind of treat. One popular approach is to use several kinds or brands of chocolate chip cookies.
The “Write a Rubric for Chocolate Chip Cookies” exercise is widely used in professional development circles. An overview of this idea is available at www.teachervision.com.
Break the class into self-selected groups of three. Using the overhead, review the key parts of a rubric: the criteria for evaluation (down the left-hand column), the score or statement of quality (across the top), and the descriptors (in the rest of the boxes). Students should record this information on a left-hand page in their journals.
Ask: What criteria would you use to evaluate a chocolate chip cookie?
To get the juices flowing, distribute several different brands of chocolate chip cookies, asking students to take just one bite of each cookie because there is going to be lots of cookie tasting but no more cookies!
Ask students to share their ideas for evaluative criteria: cookie texture, cookie size, the quality of the chocolate, the number of chips per cookie, and so on. Write suggested criteria on the board. Then have everyone agree on which criteria they want to use and ask them to fill in the criteria columns of their blank rubrics.
Next, ask the small groups to discuss which kind of chocolate chip cookie they like the best. Group members should collaborate to write descriptors about what makes that cookie excellent—describe the texture, size, quality of chocolate, number of chips, and so on. (Tasting helps here.) Have them continue on to rubric descriptors for a chocolate chip cookie that's good but not great and then for one that's not so good. Share the rubrics and discuss the descriptors.
Distribute one new cookie to all students (use a brand they haven't yet tasted). Ask them to evaluate it using the rubric and then share their evaluations. If they have very different opinions about the quality of the cookie, discuss why. Is it the differences in the descriptors? Is it that some important criteria were omitted from the rubric? Let them know that in the “real world,” rubrics are usually revised several times.
Remember that students are using the left-hand pages of their journals to record procedural information, research notes, drafts, and so on. The right-hand pages are for personal reaction and reflections.
* Anchor activities: Reader response options and sharing, reading in novels, and author research. If there is still time in the class session, give students the opportunity to finish any work (reading or discussion, reader response options) that they still have to complete.
Whole-class activity: Graduated rubric development, part 1. Explain to students that in this lesson, they will create rubrics for historical fiction. Collectively, they will develop the descriptors for excellence at three levels:
Creating these rubrics is an exercise in community-building. Students need to understand that it is possible for someone to do an excellent job at the practitioner level, an excellent job at the apprentice level, and an excellent job at the novice level.
* At this point in the unit, based on students' previous work and their self-assessments, I decide what level of work I expect from each student. If certain students have surprised me with unexpected effort or achievement, I encourage and support them as much as possible so that they can continue to work at a higher level.
Ask students to reflect on the idea of graduated rubrics and, on the right-hand pages of their journals, comment on what they find appropriate or inappropriate about them. In addition, ask them to identify which level they think they should be asked to work (practitioner, apprentice, or novice) and why.
Distribute a blank rubric with “excellent professional-level,” “excellent apprentice-level,” and “excellent novice-level” as the quality descriptor column headings. The final criteria heading should be “Mechanics.”
Teachers who don't differentiate regularly may encounter resistance to the idea of setting different performance standards for different students. (This can be a touchy issue for adolescents, who are usually highly attuned to “fairness.”) I stress that I'm interested in helping each student grow as a writer; I'm not interested in comparing anyone to anyone else. All students, regardless of the level at which they are working, can create excellent work and be successful in this portion of the unit.
As a large group, work to fill in the mechanics descriptors for each level. These should be similar, because excellent work at all levels is revised, proofread, and edited, and therefore does not contain errors that will interfere with the reader's comprehension.
Completing and discussing the mechanics portion of the rubric as a group is my way of stressing that writing is much more than mechanics, and that mechanical errors are not what sets professional work apart from novice work.
* Small-group activity differentiated by readiness: Graduated rubric development, part 2. Put students in like-readiness groups and ask them to brainstorm (recall) the criteria for historical fiction. List the criteria on the board, then chunk and refine it.
Ask students to work in their groups to write descriptors for these criteria as they would be found in excellent practitioner-level work, using the novels they studied as exemplars. They should then record their ideas for excellent apprentice-level and excellent novice-level historical fiction.
Collect the students' work and then combine and refine it to create the evaluation rubrics you will use to rate their finished products.
Asking students to help create a rubric develops their critical thinking and evaluative skills. Plus, when students participate in rubric development, assessment becomes something that is done with them rather than something that is done to them. In the differentiated classroom, assessment tools like rubrics help students focus on growth and working for quality rather than on “getting it done.”
I opted for like-readiness groups here so that students would feel comfortable working at a common level of critical and evaluative thinking. An alternative would be to group the students working above grade level together (so that they can push each others' thinking) and place the rest of the class in mixed-readiness group (to provide peer scaffolding for students who find this type of thinking exercise difficult).
* Anchor activities: Reader response options and sharing, reading in novels, and author research. When groups finish, they should work on wrapping up anything left over from the reading workshop portion of the unit or continue to research their novel's author (see Lesson 4).
Note: Prior to this lesson, create new homogeneous groups based on reading level—a change from the heterogeneous, interest-based composition of the literature circle groups.
* Concept attainment activity differentiated by readiness. Tell students that they are about to discover that writers use a long and rigorous process to produce quality work. Break students into their readiness groups and distribute folders containing written and audiovisual interviews with authors of historical fiction.
At the beginning of this lesson, I point out that we are now shifting our focus from being consumers and critics of historical fiction to becoming producers of historical fiction. The purpose of this activity is to familiarize students with the processes and procedures professionals use to create historical fiction.
The interviews should be “leveled”—that is, matched to the groups' reading-skill level. Here is an example set of materials for each readiness level:
There are many resources on the Internet that can help teachers create collections of leveled articles. I try to provide options for audio and video streaming at all levels, as many learners prefer these formats.
When matching students to articles and streaming audio and video via the Internet, I consider several factors. First is the complexity of the content itself. (For example, Isabel Allende tends to use sophisticated vocabulary even in interviews.) I also consider the complexity of the Web site. If it contains lots of links, has very busy graphics, or appears crowded, it can be easy for students to get confused or follow a link to a place that they don't need to go.
Ask students to read the material in their folders and access the audiovisual material and then, using chart paper, create a list of procedures used by writers of historical fiction. Urge them to add important thoughts or recommendations of interviewed authors.
Students should post their group charts around the room and then use highlighter pens or sticky dots to indicate the procedures and recommendations that they can replicate while they are working on their own piece of historical fiction.
Some of the students get this information from the reading phase anchor activity. Others encounter these ideas in the folder readings.
Have one member of each group report out to the whole class about how their group has decided to proceed with their writing assignment.
I choose the group reporter randomly: the person wearing the most blue that day, for example.
Reflective journal writing. Have students write on the left-hand pages of their reflective journals about which procedures for writing historical fiction make sense to them, how they will use their family artifacts and stories to get started, and which tools and resources they have access to outside of school.
Remind students that they will need their artifacts and family stories (or materials from the artifact box) for the next lesson.
I go around the room and read students' responses in order to prepare for the next lesson.
* Artifact analysis or story brainstorming differentiated by interest. Tell students that the time has come to select a detail from one of their family stories or one specific artifact on which to focus. This detail will be the basis for their culminating product: a short story, vignette, or chapter of historical fiction. Remind students that their writing should clearly reflect the culture, values, traditions, and heritage of their family.
The purpose of this lesson is to help students analyze their family artifacts (or the artifacts in the classroom collection) and gather details from their family stories, if applicable.
As students begin the process of writing their own piece of historical fiction, all four of the unit generalizations take center stage. Students will reflect on these ideas in their journals as they work through the next couple of lessons.
If writing your own piece of historical fiction (or bringing in a local author to do so), do a think-aloud in which you share your family artifacts with the class, “thinking aloud” about the information and ideas you have so far. The think-aloud should include discussing the story idea you plan to pursue and the kinds of information you will need to research.
Get students started by asking them to set up a T-chart graphic organizer on a right-hand page in their reflective journals. In the space above the bar on the left-hand side, they write “Important Details in My Family Stories/Artifacts,” and below it, they brainstorm a list of details that might provide the basis for an excellent piece of historical fiction.
A “think-aloud” (see Glossary, page 357) is a comprehension-building strategy in which a competent reader verbalizes the connections, inferences, reactions, and questions that go through his or her mind while reading.
Above the right-hand bar, they write “How/Where I Could Find Out More,” and below it, they brainstorm sources for more information: family members, online sources, print sources, and so on.
When their T-charts are complete, students should highlight the details they want to focus on. Review all highlighted charts and note what each student will be working on.
The school librarian is an excellent resource here. I've had our librarian come to class and meet with students to discuss their projects and research.
Reflective journal writing. On the right-hand pages of their journals, students should respond to the following prompt:
A family's heritage, values, and traditions are captured in its stories. Tell what you have discovered about your family or through your research that has had an effect on your life or the way your family is today. What similarities and differences are there between the way your family has changed over time and the way the family you read about changed over time?
This journal response is important as it prompts students to connect to the “big ideas” in the unit.
Whole-class review of the Critical Work Skills Rubric. As a large group, review the Critical Work Skills Rubric (see Sample 1.6). Let students know that they will again be moving into a workshop environment; this time, it will be a writer's workshop.
This lesson transitions students into the creative phase of the unit, where they'll focus on writing historical fiction.
Mini-lesson on the writing process. Review the phases of the writing process, letting students know that when writing historical fiction, the brainstorming phase also includes collecting historical details about the setting, clothing, technology, culture, traditions, and values of the time period in which they will set their writing. Remind them that they may very well have to return to research after writing a draft, or even after revising it.
Sometimes, in an effort to teach the writing process, we give students the impression that writing is a linear process (brainstorm, write, revise, edit, publish) rather than a recursive process (brainstorm, write, brainstorm, write, revise, brainstorm, write, edit, write, brainstorm, etc.). It is important that students understand how real authors “use” the writing process. A good online resource about the craft of writing is Creative Writing for Teens: www.kidswriting.about.com/library/weekly/?oonce=true&.
* Independent research and journaling differentiated by interest, readiness, and learning profile. Students who need to continue work on their T-charts should do so. Others can move on to research.
Again, the school librarian can be a good resource.
If necessary, provide scaffolds to help students scrutinize their primary source documents.
Remind students to record information in their journals in a format that makes personal sense to them. Ideas might include the following:
The U.S. National Archives Web site (www.archives.gov/digital_classroom/lessons/analysis_worksheets/document.html) contains excellent guiding questions.
If students need a journal prompt, ask: What connections have you discovered between your great-grandparents' or grandparents' values and traditions and your own? Your family has certainly changed over time, but how has it remained the same?
When I write along with my students, I share excerpts from my own journal entries in response to questions like these and then ask students to react. Another idea is to ask students to share and discuss their entries in small groups. It is through these discussions that students come to really understand the unit's concepts and generalizations.
Mini-lesson on literary formats for the culminating product assignment. Students also need to begin thinking about which of three literary format options is the best fit for the idea they are pursuing: a vignette, a short story, or a chapter from a novel.
Explain the factors they should consider:
Tell students that even if they decide on a format now, they can always change their minds later in the writing process if the format doesn't seem to suit their ideas.
By the time students reach high school, chances are they have written many short stories and read many chapters; they are likely to have far less experience reading or writing vignettes, which makes them a more challenging option. Additionally, a vignette that meets the criteria for excellent practitioner-level historical fiction is a rare thing. (Ernest Hemingway did it.) For examples of vignettes, see In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal, a collection of vignettes edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones.
* Independent writing differentiated by interest and readiness. During this phase of the unit, students work on writing their chosen piece of historical fiction, using the appropriate rubric as a guideline for excellent work.
Continue to provide whole-class modeling by sharing the development of your own work and excerpts from your reflective journal.
This part of the unit is flexible, with time added or subtracted based on students' progress and needs.
Tell students that they may submit their finished pieces when they feel that they have written to the best of their ability and level. Evaluate completed work immediately and insist on at least one “improvement cycle.”
I might ask one student to work toward a higher level of excellence within her level (practitioner, apprentice, or novice) and ask another to lift his work to a more advanced level.
* Individual or small-group coaching sessions based on readiness needs. Throughout the writing workshop class sessions, schedule “writing conferences”—basically coaching sessions—with individuals and small, homogeneous groups of students. Review their progress and provide mini-lessons on basic skills and the writer's craft, based on emerging needs. Ask students to record what they learn from these lessons on the left-hand pages of their journals and to react or reflect on the right-hand pages.
Anchor activity: Revision/Independent study extension opportunity. Give students who have completed quality work the option of revising or expanding their historical fiction as an anchor activity. This should include several opportunities for self- and peer review.
Students might also opt to continue to develop or expand their historical fiction as an independent study.
Reflective partner work. Tell students that the purpose of this last session is for them to really delve into how reading and writing historical fiction has revealed aspects of themselves.
Bring in a partner for this activity and have the partner go through your reflective journal, reading passages aloud and stopping to discuss with you any “interesting things” noticed. These might include entries that are particularly revealing of your personality, the challenges you faced, and your breakthroughs or triumphs while reading and writing. Add your own comments and reactions.
As you and your partner engage in this discussion, a designated student should create a list of the kinds of topics addressed and comments shared. Post the list on the board so that students may refer to it during the next activity.
A colleague assists me with this modeling.
Now it's the students' turn. Ask them to form pairs with a partner of their choice and go through the process that they have just seen modeled: One student reads aloud from the other's reflective journal, and the partners stop and talk about noteworthy and revealing entries that the reader notices.
Remind students that they should make notes of things their reflective partner points out, along with their own reactions. Then they should switch roles.
Circulate during this activity to hear what students are saying. Provide additional prompts as needed.
Flexible grouping and a learning environment in which all learners feel safe and valued are two important hallmarks of a differentiated classroom. Allowing students to choose their partners at this point in the unit provides yet another grouping possibility, but perhaps more importantly, it ensures that students work with partners they trust.
Reflective journal writing. Using the notes from their reflective partner conversations, students should respond to the following prompt: How did studying the historical fiction genre help you understand yourself better or in a different way?
When time gets tight, reflecting on learning is an element of instruction that tends to be dropped. That's a big mistake, as reflective components are where students really connect to the learning.
“Publication” of the differentiated products. Writing work is not truly complete until it is shared. There are lots of options:
This is a celebration! This unit has most likely challenged each student to grow toward more sophisticated practice.
Designing and teaching this unit was a significant step in my journey toward employing quality differentiation, because it helped me to understand what it means to design learning experiences based on concepts rather than on discrete facts and skills. You may have noticed that I addressed standards 10 and 11(see page 23) in every lesson in this unit. I believe that using these two standards as a consistent foundation helped me push students to become members of a literary community and use literacy skills for authentic purposes. It is these standards, along with worthwhile concepts and generalizations, that enable students—particularly secondary students—to connect with school in a meaningful way.
What was the most satisfying about this was watching the effect that my personal growth in differentiating curriculum had on my students. I saw them stretching, reaching to understand “big ideas” that were just off the edge of their personal horizons. The flexibility of the workshop approach enabled me to ask each learner to consider his or her individual growth (rather than asking them all to complete a common task); it let me support some students while setting others free. I saw my students developing both the ability and the desire to share their personal reactions, connections, and interpretations, and I saw them gaining confidence in their own voices. That is learning for a lifetime—the true meaning of being literate. Risking together, my students and I were more of a learning community than we had ever been before.
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