Monday, February 25, 2013

Using class readers to build empathy and an understanding of learning differences

Successful classroom communities need cultivation to flourish. What all students need to learn is important, but the conditions that allow learning to happen are more of a concern. 

While standards and learning targets dictate the content that must be taught, the teacher constructs the classroom environment. How students and teachers interact creates a climate that supports learning and provides social and emotional safety. 

One way to create a classroom with empathy is through the use of a thought provoking classroom reader. Reading books together creates shared experiences that foster community-building and literacy development. 

Here are a few selected titles to launch into our learning year with a focus firmly on teaching our children the importance of empathy and an understanding of learning differences. 

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper: Eleven year-old Melody has cerebral palsy. She lives in a world of silence-- unable to talk or write. Although she is extremely intelligent, her classmates and more than a few teachers, see her as simple-minded. Out of My Mind sparks powerful conversations about embracing every student in our schools and valuing every child's right to learn. Suitable for year 6 and up.

 The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger: Dwight is a misfit, so weird that the other kids in his year avoid him. For mysterious reasons, Dwight creates an origami Yoda puppet, wears it on his finger, and uses it to dispense advice. The other kids usually avoid Dwight, but they are drawn to Yoda's seemingly helpful wisdom. This book sends the message that all kids have something to contribute. Read aloud The Strange Case of Origami Yoda; then introduce students to Angleberger's sequels, Darth Paper Strikes Back and The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee. Suitable for year 4 and up.

 Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Auggie Pullman is born with Treacher Collins, a chromosome disorder that results in severe facial deformities. He is homeschooled for many years because of his ongoing need for extensive surgery and his parents' fear about how Auggie will be treated. When Auggie begins his fifth year of schooling, his parents decide to send him to a mainstream school. Wonder is a remarkable book about courage, love, and the difference one person can make in the lives of others. Suitable for year 7 and up.

That's like me by Jill Lauren: What do a trapeze artist, an Arctic explorer, and a soccer player have in common? Meet the fifteen kids and adults profiled in That s Like Me!, a collection of first-person accounts of successful people who learn differently. Whether it was reading, maths, writing, or speech problems, each person shares his or her inspiring story of facing the challenge of school, while pursuing important goals. An invaluable resource list for adults and students included, as well as a place for kids to write their own success stories. Suitable to share with all ages.

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