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Volume VI: What Are They Reading?


Reading the Renaissance
Zuri M. Bryant
Helen S. Faison Arts Academy Intermediate Campus

This curriculum unit is designed to promote the Harlem Renaissance and the migration of African-Americans to northern cities. The “New Negro Movement,” the original name of the Harlem Renaissance, prompted a wave of creativity in writing, art, and music among African-Americans that spanned 1919 to roughly 1930. The Harlem Renaissance is most known for being a social movement against racism, but it was more. America was introduced to a variety of talented artists of many genres who would forever make their well-earned marks in this country’s history.

The activities in this unit, which will span a period of six weeks, will consist of a considerable amount of history as well as writing. Research and technology are mandatory to the unit. I teach Eighth Grade Communications in an arts academy. Our school collaborates with Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG), a local arts organization, to integrate the arts into the curriculum. The MCG teaching artists are my extra classroom resources, when necessary. Communications classes in my school are 90 minute blocks so there is ample time to complete activities. These lessons can also be broken up to fit with a particular literary period. I’ll teach the unit right after winter break so the end will coincide with Black History Month activities at the school.


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Developing Strategies to Encourage All Students to Become Avid Readers
Marlene K. Cabiness
Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School

Teachers work hard to create effective lesson plans, especially for struggling students. Teachers may become stumped in finding new and innovative methods of ensuring student success not only in the classroom but also on standardized tests. Today’s teachers exist in a modern society where curriculum rigidity and testing are the norm.

Students are still facing literacy deficit. Every educator, if asked, has at least one tactic for teaching reading to non-readers and students who perform below grade level. Within a new world of thinking come new techniques for success in reading. When teachers cannot reach students through contemporary measures, it may be time to think outside the box and become innovative by choosing a graphic novel or two. Do graphic novels give the same message and comprehension as a standardized text? Do graphic novels make the reading easier? Encouraging student success can be achieved by allowing students to draw and incorporate graphic images. Many of them doodle during class time anyway, and graphic novels are the perfect opportunity for them to use those skills.


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Student Use of Storytelling to Write Autobiographies including Connections to their Community and Exploration of other Communities
Jessica Colbert
Langley High School

Storytelling and autobiography will work in tandem in this unit to accomplish student analysis of their own experiences with special regard to place.

This curriculum unit will ask high school students to tell their own story. This unit on storytelling will lend itself to students eventually writing their own autobiographies. There will be special emphasis on the student details about place. By place, I mean, asking students to really explore how their environment, their home, their street, their neighborhood, their city, their state, affects them. I often talk with my colleagues about the perception that Pittsburghers are notorious for not traveling outside of the Pittsburgh region. It is even more apparent when speaking with adults who have grown up in the city that have never left the side of town they grew up on. Many of us never/rarely travel to the opposite side of town, regardless of the less than ten minute car ride and less than thirty minute bus/trolley ride. Residents who grew up on the South Side don’t normally go to the North Side. It’s not that there is any bad blood or distaste for people or places on opposite sides of the river, there’s just no interest in exploring or experiencing things elsewhere. Our students are the same way and, often times, experience a more severe isolation. Many of our students do not have the means to travel except by foot and possibly bus, if fare is accessible. They rely on transportation of older family and friends and they, too, often do not have access to transportation. So, they are, like so many of us, stuck on their side of town. Many of my students have never even been outside the city. Washington, PA is less than one hour away and my students could not tell you where it is or anything that happens there. This is why each student’s story will include information about place.


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Reading and Portfolios
Let’s Make a Connection
Ellen Connelly
Pittsburgh Mifflin

This curriculum unit is designed for middle school students and is specifically targeted for sixth grade Communications students. This unit explores the relationship between reading and portfolio writing. Students fulfill selected portfolio requirements while reading required novels and exploring selected periods of time in our nation’s history. Students are directed to online and print sources to complete their understanding of reading and the writing process. Throughout the course of the unit specific district standards are met in the Communications area.


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Juveniles and Justice as Portrayed in Literature
Using Multiple Texts to Encourage Critical Literacy
Barbara Keener
Pittsburgh Oliver High School

The unit is designed for English 1 students, but has a built in flexibility for other grade levels. As presented, this unit is based on the curriculum requirements for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, but could easily be adapted to suit the requirements of another district. The recommended reading list is theme-based and the purpose is for students to read a variety of sources centered on the theme of justice as perceived by young adults throughout various literary ages. The purpose of the unit is to engage all students and promote accountability in the classroom by encouraging all levels of students to contribute to the learning process via literary circles. The unit is designed to encourage student centered learning with the teacher acting as a coach. When students assume ownership and responsibility, it increases their comprehension and increases their level of critical literacy.


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Phonemic Awareness
Rhymes and Chimes in Kindergarten:
A Link to Beginning Reading Success
Toya West
Pittsburgh Lincoln K-8

Current research indicates that a child’s level of phonological awareness is a good predictor of beginning reading success. Research suggests that one of the best indicators of how well children will learn is their ability to recite nursery rhymes when they come to kindergarten. This unit is a guide for using nursery rhymes as an effective way to provide and encourage phonemic awareness in kindergarten students. The basic activities will expose the students using auditory and visual activities to promote phonemic awareness and language development through the fun and natural appeal of nursery rhymes. The activities can be implemented in 10 to 15 minutes throughout the daily schedule. The unit includes procedures, a list of activities, resources, and student assessment.


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From Pictures to Words: Linking the Right Brain to the Left Brain to Create Meaning
Elouise E. White-Beck
Pittsburgh Allderdice

This unit is intended for use in a high school English class. While it is designed to coax reluctant readers into reading and writing through the use of pictures, it can also be used with accomplished readers to explore another aspect of learning. The research section of the unit explores how the human brain learns to read and examines several books on the topic in an attempt to aid teachers in reaching students who are experiencing various obstacles to reading. The lessons in the unit plan use graphic novels, printed comics, and film clips. A wealth of bibliographic information is included for those who wish to pursue the study of the graphic novel.


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Reflections in The Hill District
Dana R. Williams
Pittsburgh Miller

As a teacher at Pittsburgh Miller, an African Centered Academy, it is my job to help my students gain and maintain a sense of identity, purpose, and direction. It is my goal to be able to convey to the students as sense of who they are, what their purpose is in life, and in which direction to go to achieve that purpose. It is my belief that the foundation of these goals comes from knowledge of their history and how it shapes their present lives and future selves.

The unit I created will be taught within a communication classroom. The introductory lesson of the unit would be used to re-familiarize the students with the principles of the Nguzo Saba and why they are important to them on their way to becoming good citizens of our school, our community, and our world. The succession of the lessons will be to introduce the students to several “Hill District Natives” through biographical cards, multimedia sources, and oral history. Each lesson will be based around one particular “native”. After reading and discussing the accomplishments of that particular person, the students will be asked which principle of the Nguzo Saba they believed the ancestor reflected most. After conferencing and brainstorming with each student, the collective whole will be walked through the writing process. The writing pieces will reflect the relationship between a particular ancestor and how they demonstrated a Nguzo Saba principle in their lives. Each student would be responsible for seven writing pieces, which would be combined into a class book.


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Chatham University
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IMGALTTAG Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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