Recent Posts

Friday, May 21, 2010

Alternative Assessments for Reading Comprehension

Joe Bower wrote a nice post on an Alternative to Traditional Multiple Choice Reading Comprehension Exams at his For the Love of Learning blog. If you're a teacher in any way responsible for assessing student reading comprehension, read on!

In his post, Bower provides a simple diagram illustrating the recursive relationship of Reading, Questioning, and Thinking. But too often our students' take on assigned reading is that they will read the assigned text, and we (the teachers) will assume the role of interrogators, firing a barrage of questions to evaluate comprehension.

Bower says questioning is, in fact, important, but it's the self-questioning function of the reader that makes the difference. Students must read with "mindfulness." That's because "Questioning brings on an acute need for more reading, which causes more questioning, requiring more thinking."

And as far as assessing reading is concerned? Joe says
I provide reading excerpts with zero questions because I ask my students to read and show their thinking. I double space the text and remove the left-hand margin almost entirely so that I can double or triple the right hand margin. This provides students with the space they need to show their thinking.
And to support this effectiveness of that strategy, he provides some pretty convincing student samples.

So if you haven't jumped over to Joe's site, do so now. He's got some original thoughts on grading and testing which are worth a read, and might even influence your own classroom practice.

If you're looking for a professional resource which might help you "make the jump" to connecting reading with metacognitive written responses, I recommend Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children's Literature, K-8, by Lynne R. Dorfman and Rose Cappelli (Stenhouse). Using the strategies in this book, students become much more conscious of their own thoughts as they read, and the authors provide many excellent resources to serve as starting points for these approaches.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Propaganda: Powers of Persuasion

I recently posted about Admongo, an excellent collaboration between the FTC and Scholastic, aimed at helping students understand the techniques of persuasion used in everyday advertising. I also posted about real-life uses for persuasive writing and persuasive writing using picture books.

But when does persuasion become propaganda? Is it only when the "other guy" does it? For teachers who want to teach the power of persuasion, propaganda can't be ignored. The fact is, propaganda runs both ways. Americans have been guilty of it since before our nation was born, thanks to the creativity of Paul Revere (see his Boston Massacre) and Benjamin Franklin (his handiwork pictured here).

Will it surprise you to discover that one of America's most beloved children's picture book writers was decried as a propagandist? Theodor Seuss Geisel, also fondly and widely known as Dr. Seuss, was in fact a political cartoonist for a New York newspaper called PM. According to the online World War II Database:
it’s clear that he was concerned about Germany's aggressive military actions in Europe, his countrymen's isolationist leanings, and after the Pearl Harbor attack, his country's continued internal bickering about the best way to fight the war.
Contrary to what we often see on the big screen, a large portion of America felt that our nation had no place in "Europe's war." America's apathy, and the isolationist philosophy of an organization called America First, are attacked in a Geisel cartoon of October 1, 1941. The caption read, "...and the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones... But those were Foreign Children and it really didn't matter."

Anyone recall what happened in a little place called Pearl Harbor just two months later?

If you take a look at the whole collection of Geisel's political cartoons, they are pure Seuss, through and through. But some observers would say they're also racist and biased. Is that part of the propaganda, or just a symptom of the country's ills at the time? Was Geisel as guilty as Nazi propagandists? Or was he simply pushing every button he could think of to get Americans to pull their heads out of the sand?

Quoted in the PBS Independent Lens production The Political Dr. Seuss, Geisel had this to say about the wartime drawings:
When I look at them now, they're hurriedly and embarrassing badly drawn. And they're full of many snap judgments that every political cartoonist has to make between the time he hears the news at nine AM and sends his drawings to press at five PM. The one thing I do like about them, however, is their honesty and their frantic fervor. I believed the U.S.A. would go down the drain if we listened to the America-first-isms of Charles Lindbergh and Senators Wheeler and Nye. And the rotten rot that the Fascist priest Father Coughlin was spewing out on radio. I, probably, was intemperate in my attacks on them. But they almost disarmed this country at the time it was obviously about to be destroyed.
Racial stereotypes weren't uncommon in pro-war American cartoons. Cartoons created at the time picture the enemy nations of Nazi Germany, Japan, and Italy as either unrepentant monsters or stereotypical buffoons. Der Fuehrer's Face and Hitler's Children: Education for Death (both are embedded below) are prime examples. Is such racism allowable and excusable in a time of war in order to raise war bonds, enlistments, and a country's morale? Or was it again, simply a mirror of society?

An equally odd footnote to history involves another of America's favorite sons, Walt Disney. An ardent military hard-liner and a lover of aircraft, Disney had eagerly read Alexander de Seversky's Victory Through Air Power, a best seller which pitched long-range aircraft as the future of warfare. In an effort to sway the U.S. military itself, Disney poured the finances and efforts of his own studios into an animated version of the book which, while not a box office smash, provided convincing arguments for the government to reconsider its reliance on sea and land warfare. The 1943 animated feature's climax showed "Alaska-based animated superbombers wreak Disneyesque destruction on Tokyo," an eerie premonition of what would befall Japan two years later. Propaganda, or persuasion? (View a short portion of the feature length animation below).

Personally, I would spend a good deal of time discussing subtler persuasion techniques before delving into propaganda, which so often forces its point through fear, racism, stereotype, and phobia. But if you're working with older students on a unit dealing with World War I or II, or almost any "hot topic" since then, it's a study worth your while. Below are a few sites I'd recommend; please feel free to suggest others.

Recommended Sites:

Stereotype and Fear in World War II Era Cartoons:
Der Fuehrer's Face

Hitler's Children: Education for Death

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sustained Silent Reading: On the Verge of Extinction?

At (“TWRC” rhymes with “work” and stands for think, wonder, reflect and connect), Julie Peterson has posted some excellent notes and reflections on Silent Reading which she gleaned from the International Reading Association’s 55th Annual Convention in Chicago.

She also goes a bit into the idea of stamina in reading, which I took a shot at a few weeks ago here.

Check out Julie's whole article; definitely worth a read! Also be sure to see some of her earlier posts for some real gems in the areas of reading and instruction. You can also follow her on Twitter.