Tag Archives: teachers college

Making Envisioning Tangible

28 Sep

My in-laws came to visit this weekend, and we started talking about books.  My father-in-law doesn’t visualize when he reads.  At all.  “I don’t really understand what that means,” he said.  Although he’s highly educated and successful, he also doesn’t read for pleasure.  The two are probably connected.  It’s hard to get lost in the world of the story, to “become the character” if you’re not experiencing the sensory details of the world as you read.

How do you make something invisible, visible, to students who don’t naturally envision?  We do think-alouds to try to make our thought process more explicit, but that’s still asking children to turn words into pictures.

A few years ago, Jennifer Serravallo did a great session at Teacher’s College on using media to help engage students and teach them reading strategies.  She talked about using instrumental music to teach children plot–having them notice how music tended to start gentle, then reach a rising crescendo, and then gradually fade away.  Music has an amazing ability to make us feel strong emotions, and we can also connect it to images, Fantasia style.  So we kick-started our envisioning work this year by listening to soundtracks and painting what we envisioned.

We started off by listening to three diverse themes:  the soundtrack from Titanic, Psycho, and Amelie.

After listening to each one, students shared what colors, images, and actions it made them imagine.  I didn’t tell students where the music had come from (and none of them had seen those movies) and it was pretty amazing how similar their envisioning was to the film.

Titanic:  I envision calm water, a pond with fish lazily swimming.  I envision a forest with peaceful animals.  I see green and blue swirls floating in the sky.

Psycho:  I see someone being chased through a huge maze.  I see jagged lightening in a red and black sky.

Amelie:  I see a bread store in France with Eiffel tower behind it.  I see someone playing the accordion in Europe.  I see children playing.

Each student then got four small squares of white construction paper and a set of watercolors.  I played the next few themes multiple times, with the lights dimmed, while students painted what they were visualizing.  Some of the songs made you want to get up and move, but I asked them to keep all the action in their mind so they could focus on what they were imagining.  We listened to the theme song from Up (cheerful, upbeat), Jaws (menacing, danger), Last of the Mohicans (bravery, war, courage), and Harry Potter (curiosity, fantasy, magic.)  For better or for worse, they knew most of these themes.  They were excited to recognize the music, but it did tend to skew their visualizations towards scenes from the movies, so next time I might try to pick some more obscure (or older) films.

After they painted, we glued the squares on a large piece of construction paper and they wrote captions with what they imagined underneath.

photo 3  photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5

We ended the lesson by talking about how the music never told them what to imagine.  They filled in all of the feelings, images, colors, and actions themselves.  Readers do the same thing–filling in the sounds, surrounding scenery, and mood when they’re reading.  As we work on visualizing, we’ll use this project as an anchor for understanding how readers build a picture/movie in their minds while they’re reading.

Primary Source Analysis: Photographs

9 Apr

The first primary resource we dug into was photographs.  They’re the most accessible of the resources, and students can learn a lot through close observation.

In 2012 I went to the Teacher’s College Nonfiction Institute in February, and I learned that one way they approach content area literacy is through historical thinking centers.  Students move around to different stations that have a variety of resources to analyze.  One station might be photos, one might be statistics, one is video, etc.  Each station comes with a task card that has questions for students to discuss and write about.

I wanted to adopt this kind of approach with the class, but I knew that having stations (something new) and primary resources on a brand new topic would be too much.  Instead of having everyone working at a different center each day, I chose to make each day about a type of resource.  The first day would be photos.

I went with the traditional: I do, we do, you do approach.  I put a picture up on the SMARTboard, and then modeled how I would analyze it.  First, I just described what I saw.

“Hmmm…I see a woman standing in front of a house.  She’s pointing at a sign that says, “No Japs allowed here.  Go back home.”  There’s another sign on the other side of the house.  The house has a wrap-around porch.  She’s wearing a dress, it would be considered old-fasioned today.  There are trees all around.”


Then I modeled thinking about, “What does this make me think about this time period?  Does it remind me of anything else in history I’ve learned about?  How is it similar or different from my life today?”

I talked about how it reminded me of America before the civil rights movement, when “No Coloreds Allowed” would be posted up all over the South.  It made me think that the woman thought it was totally ok for that sign to be on her house–she didn’t look ashamed or embarrassed.  Even though her house and neighborhood are similar to how I live today, I can’t imagine anyone being willing to put up a sign like that in my neighborhood.  It would be considered racist and highly offensive.



Then I put another photo on the board.  This time I asked students to describe what they say (pure observation, no analysis yet) to their partners.  After sharing as a class, I asked them to respond to the three questions:

  1. What does this make me think about this time period?  
  2. Does it remind me of anything else in history I’ve learned about?  
  3. How is it similar or different from my life today?

Finally, each partnership received a different photo.  At their desks, they first observed everything in the photo, and then analyzed it.  Initially, some children said they didn’t know what to do.  But when I reminded them that the first thing to do was simply to state what they saw, they were able to jump right in.  After observing out loud for a while, they naturally transitioned into the other questions.

Some of their analyses were quite strong!  Some students compared the housing in the internment camps to the shanty towns we studied during the dust bowl.  Others noted that the baseball team looked similar to our teams today, but they were only made up of one race, and placed in the middle of nowhere (as the camps often were.)  One group saw a family of Japanese waving a flag on a train, and holding up the peace sign, and decided that it was their way of showing the world they were American in a peaceful and positive way.

After discussing the photos, we taped the pictures to a piece of paper and students wrote a two paragraph quick write with their observations and analyses.  I pressed them to use appropriate spelling, periods, and capitals.  I also provided a frame for them to write quickly.  One of my goals in content area literacy is to have students work on their grammar and punctuation (as opposed to only in writing workshop, where my partner is also working on generating ideas, writing craft, themes, and overall organization of a piece.)

2013-04-03 10.10.46Their work came out very well.  And they have a solid picture in their minds now of what the Internment camp period looked like–from the moment people were asked to climb on a bus, to life in the camps, to the communities they left behind.


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