“The Christmas Visitor” by Anneliese Lussert

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Author: Anneliese Lussert

Illustrator: Loek Koopmans

Summary: When a man dressed in rags shows up at Simon’s door, Simon looks down on him and turns him away.  His ailing wife, Sarah, takes pity on the man and offers him what little she haa in hopes it would be of comfort to him.  In return, the strange visitor performs a miracle that heals Sarah.  Astounded, Simon realizes he might have missed out on something bigger and more important than himself.  Despite his discomfort, he follows the stranger on a journey and finds a treasure that transforms him forever.

Discussion Questions:2dfe5aeb4edc75940eab249e9abcd49c

  • Who is the visitor that shows up at Simon’s door?  Why does Simon turn him away?
  • Whose footprints/voice is Simon following?  Why does Simon decide to follow?
  • What does Simon have to give up in order to help the people he meets on his journey?  Do you think it is difficult for him to help others?
  • How does Simon’s character change from the beginning to the end of the story?  What lessons does he learn on his journey?
  • What connections can you draw in this story about you and and your relationship with Jesus/God?
  • Have you ever felt God calling you to do something or help someone?  Is it always easy to hear God and what he wants you to do?
  • Discuss a time when you heard God calling on you to do something or help.  How did you know God was talking to you?  Did the task require you to sacrifice something?  Did you follow his voice/footsteps and obey, even though it might’ve been difficult to do or required some sacrifices on your part?
  • What are some examples of sacrifices you might have to give in order to help others as God asks?  Why do you think God makes it hard sometimes for you to help others or do his will?
  • If doing God’s will is sometimes difficult, why do you think we should still do it?  What are some benefits of following God’s will, helping others, etc?
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Assessing Collaboration

Starting in February, 3rd through 5th graders were put into groups of 3 or 4 to collaborate on author studies.  They were given guidelines on what information they need to include in their final presentations, and groups were given graphic organizers to take notes on.  I taught a lesson on collaborating using Google Slides, where group leaders have to create the initial document and share it with group members using school email addresses. Group leaders also have to work with their members to figure out who will work on each slide: one introducing the author, one on his/her life, one on his/her writing, etc.

Group Assignments: I made up the groups based on what I know about the students’ personalities and performance.  Though the students groaned a little about not being able to work with their friends, I wanted each group to have a good mix of high and low kids. Because there is a considerable ELL population at the school, I also made sure they didn’t end up in their own group.

Working in Google Slides: Setting up the project in Google Slides proved to be a big learning curve for the students, even for those who are usually tech-savvy. We also ran into problems where students were working outside their assigned slides, or deleting them accidentally/on purpose. Even though Google apps have a “See revision history” function that allowed us to restore lost work, it still created some tension among the students. This was a good way for students to learn what it’s like to collaborate in the “real world”: they needed to be responsible and accountable not only to and for themselves but to and for their teammates as well.  In the real world, even if honest mistakes can be reverted, one still has to deal with possible repercussions.

Group Dynamics: Because students did not get to choose their teammates, certain groups worked more effectively than others. I allowed students to decide their roles on their own based on how confident they are about their abilities to create and share Google Slides, as well as their ability to lead other group members.  For the most part, the natural leaders of each group emerged and were able to help their members stay on task effectively.  Some groups, on the other hand, did not work well together at all, and the constant battle within the group are clearly reflected in their finished products/presentations. There is usually a lack of content, effort, and cohesiveness.

As we come to the end of this group project, I posted a survey in Google Classroom for each of the students to complete. I am hoping that this final piece of the assignment will not only give me insight as to the success (or lack thereof) of their collaboration process, but also allow the students to assess their own contribution (or lack thereof) to this experience.  Findings will be posted soon!

 

For more on assessing collaboration, see:

Siko, Jason. “Assessing Collaboration: More Than Just Lip Service.”MACUL Journal Winter 36.2 (2016): 8-9. Web.

Lesson Plan: “Sparrow Girl” (Sara Pennypacker)

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Sparrow Girl 
Written by Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by Yuko Tanaka

Based on China’s “Great Sparrow War” in 1958, Sparrow Girl tells the story of Ming Li, one young girl’s effort to save innocent birds that were hailed as the farmers’ enemies.

Discussion Questions/Classroom Connections:

  • Define “food chain” and discuss different examples of food chains in nature.  Are different links in the food chain equally important?  Why or why not?  Have students create a poster of a food chain (allow for research time) and present it to their class.  (Incorporate digital technology by letting students create food chains using a diagram or chart tool in Word or similar programs.)
  • How does this story illustrate the importance of maintaining nature’s food chain?  List some of the ways sparrows are important in the story.
  • Read the author’s note about the real-life event that inspired this book.  Why did Chairman Mao declare war on the sparrows?  What did he want the villagers to do?
  • Discuss how, in the book, even though Ming Li felt that destroying all the sparrows was a bad idea, she didn’t speak up, and neither did Older Brother.  Why didn’t they?  Talk about different kinds of governments and leadership.  What kind of government/leadership do we have in the United States?  Can people speak up against something they might disagree with?  (Is this freedom true for all people across the US, or are there some groups that might be more oppressed?)
  • Compare the US government/leadership to the kind we read about in the book.  Have students research different types of governments around the world and present findings in class.  Is there a “best” kind of government?  What are some pros and cons of each type?
  • Why is “being able to speak up” important?  Have students discuss different ways this might apply in their lives.  For example: do they feel like they can speak up if they felt a rule at home or school was unfair?  Should they be able to speak up against a parent or teacher if they thought it was unfair?  Why or why not?
  • Discuss various imagery used in the book: Ming Li’s father describing her brain as being small as a sparrow’s, her worries scratching at her like a monkey, sparrows falling from the sky like raindrops/teardrops.  Why does the author (or anyone) use imagery like this rather than just describe something plainly?  Have students start with a piece of narrative writing, and make it richer by adding some imagery throughout.

Other Resources:

 

 

 

Reading & Teaching Esperanza

My daughter is reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan in her 6th grade ELA class and since it’s been on my list of books to read for a couple of YEARS I decided to read it with her.  It is a story that draws readers in almost immediately, and one that many can identify with and that many of us can learn from.  I found the audiobook version on YouTube (see below) and plan on playing it for my younger daughter.

You can find numerous teaching resources online (here’s one from Scholastic) and it would be perfect for lessons in character, perseverance, historical fiction, immigration, the Great Depression, or Mexican culture.  I love that my daughter’s ELA teacher has parents bring in various food items that serve as chapter titles so students can try different foods.  (A more elaborate activity could be to have students/parents bring in food items for a fiesta like the one detailed in the book.  Guest speakers from the community can also be invited to talk about their immigration experience or any personal connections they might have to this time in history.)

Other topics mentioned in the book that can be further discussed

  • Class divides: Why does Esperanza say that in Mexico there’s a river between her and Miguel?  Does the same divide exist in the US?
  • Immigration, migrant workers
  • Working conditions for migrant workers: Why do workers strike? What are pros and cons of striking?
  • Segregation
  • Dust storms
  • Discussion of various symbols in the book — the mountains and valleys in the blanket Esperanza is crocheting, the meaning behind her name, etc.
  • Other books about characters that had to persevere through difficult circumstances… For example, read Listening for Lions (Gloria Whelan) or The Higher Power of Lucky (Susan Patron) and discuss similarities and differences between the stories and characters.

Digital Citizenship: Student Exit Tickets

This week I got to go into 4 different 6th grade classrooms to deliver lessons on digital citizenship.  The media specialist and I decided to have students fill out exit tickets at the end of the class to see what they have learned, what they are still wondering about, and/or what they think we could talk more about next time.  Here are some sample tickets.  I’ll only post 6 here (they are all anonymous) but you can see a longer list of the most common responses here.  I feel like the students were really engaged and listening to what we had to say, but at the same time I feel heartbroken that these babies (yes, 6th graders are still babies!) already have to deal with such serious issues (cyberbullying, suicide, online predators, etc.).  We try our best to protect our kids, and we equip them with all these tools that they can use to protect themselves, but are those bubbles strong enough to keep them safe?

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Digital citizenship presentation for middle schoolers

This is week 2 of my 5-week placement at a middle school.  So far, I’ve been doing vastly different things than when I was at the elementary school.  Enjoyable, but different.  For one, I haven’t had a chance to really interact with the students, except for yesterday, when I went into a 7th grade health class and co-taught a digital citizenship seminar with the health/PE teacher.

It was good practice for the five 6th-grade classes I will be teaching this Thursday.  While I think I did okay on Monday, I think Thursday will be better because I will be teaching from material I put together myself.  (Talking off someone else’s slides was not ideal because I didn’t know the little anecdotes the teacher had to go with his points.  He had to interrupt me a few times to tell his stories…which made me feel/seem unprepared, even if I knew the topic well!)  Anyway, here’s a link to my presentation.  I am hoping that whoever sees it will give me some feedback of what to add, what to take out, etc.  I will have these 6th-graders for about an hour (I believe), and I don’t want to lose their attention or run out of things to say before the hour is up.  Thanks in advance for your feedback!

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1VeWo0rtqadRAzrPdKNPpJCZSshARvYppIgoyUSTHoD0/edit?usp=sharing