Archive | April, 2013

Japanese Internment Unit

9 Apr

At the end of each school year, we do a unit on the Japanese Internment camps is social studies.  It’s a tiny standard and just a paragraph in our history book, but I spend around three weeks on the subject.  Kids are fascinated by anything having to do with WWII, and the internment camps unit gives me a chance to teach with a lot of primary resources and to connect an event in CA with the work we’ve been doing in writing and reading around civil rights.

The question when we begin is always, “How do I give them the background they need for this huge topic, without overwhelming them with a lot of extraneous information they don’t need?”  It doesn’t help that I took several courses on WWII in college and love the subject.  If I could inundate them with the complexities, tragedies, and triumphs of human behavior that occurred during this period everyday of the year, I would.

But I digress.

I begin with a mini-lecture, which is a brief, 20-minute lecture that is accompanied by many pictures, on how the United States entered WWII.  We talk about how America initially didn’t want to get involved in the war, how there was anti-Japanese discrimination already in existence (frustration from their economic success and the depression, similar to the anti-Chinese discrimination) and how the Pearl Harbor bombing not only created fear and anxiety about the possibility of Japanese spies, it also ignited the simmering racism that was already in existence.

We color code countries for their involvement in the war (red for Axis, blue for Allies) and create two timelines: major events in the war as a whole, and then major events in the interning of the Japanese. I want students to see how what happens in California mirrors what’s happening in the war as a whole.

After the background introduction, we start to dig into primary resources.  I’m spending about a week on different resources, pictures, videos, newspaper articles, and letters.  The great thing about the internment camps is how much information there is available.  There’s not so many resources from the time period when you’re studying the CA explorers!  The class really gets into seeing pictures and videos from the time period!

We do a couple of days on propaganda during the war, and we wrap it all up with a final project where they write a journal from the perspective of a Japanese American child during the time period.

I’m looking forward to sharing our work in the coming weeks!

Food For Thought

1 Apr

The Atlantic had an interesting article from E.D. Hirsch, reflecting on the Core Knowledge program, the Common Core, and close reading, titled, “How Two Poems Helped Launch a School Reform Movement.”  The crux of the article is the idea that the single most important factor in comprehension is prior knowledge–deep seated background knowledge.  According to Hirsch, when researching effective writers, what he ended up discovering was what made an effective reader.  The answer, was 10% technique (strategies) and 90% background knowledge.

It’s an important reminder that even though the common core recommends students learn the skill of close reading, a strong background in “core knowledge” is necessary for students to succeed.  Struggling students typically have a much narrower band of prior knowledge in traditional educational areas.  In our rush to teach students how to analyze text, we need to be careful not to forget that everything we do is tied to our prior understandings, beliefs, and feelings.  Prioritizing the strategies and “process” of reading, over the content, could do students a grave disservice.


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