Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 6: Historical and Cultural Context - Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Connecting History and Poetry
Field Tips
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Teaching Strategies


Teachers use interviewing to contextualize literature, build background knowledge, and help students connect their schoolwork to their communities. Interviews with experts, scholars, and community members become, in effect, additional texts for study.

In Stanlee Brimberg's classroom, the students use a range of disciplines (anthropology, history, archaeology, and language arts) to study the topic of the African Burial Ground. They interview and take notes from several different sources. As they work, the students learn to craft open-ended, provocative questions, take strategic notes, synthesize information, and create their own poetry.

Interviewing in Stanlee Brimberg's Classroom

Prior to students' interview with historian and scholar Christopher Moore, Brimberg shows Moore's documentary video, The African Burial Ground: An American Discovery, and discusses note-taking. "How do you know when something's important?" he asks. He also shows how to take notes while paying attention to the source. (In this case, the source is a video, but later in the unit sources will include the author himself, and two contrasting graveyards the class will visit on a field trip.) Brimberg asks each student to take notes on a specific time period from the video. The students watch the video, then combine their notes into a comprehensive time line.

By collaborating on the time line, the students create a reference for the unit, review information, spark new questions, and learn to treat classmates as resources. Once the time line is complete, Brimberg prepares the students for the interview by asking them what they know about Moore, discussing the etiquette of interviewing, and asking them to write open-ended questions.

The Interview
During Moore's visit to the classroom, the students ask questions ranging from "Why was the burial ground excavation such a big discovery?" to "What kind of work did slaves do in New York or New Amsterdam?" and "What relationship did the Native peoples have with the African Americans?" As Moore pieces together the complex and largely untold story of the African Burial Ground and the experiences of African slaves in early New York, the students take notes. They will later use the notes on this interview and the video to write poetry about the African Burial Ground.

Tips and Variations for Interviewing

  • Brimberg recommends asking students to practice -- interview a teacher or peer, as a group or in pairs -- before the real interview. They can use their notes to write a short report. The students might next interview people in their school or family. Finally, they can interview someone they don't know.

  • The students can also practice interviewing by staging a press conference or talk show. The teacher or a student can play a character or themselves; the class can invent questions and take notes.

  • When the students interview in the community, the teacher should provide guidelines for respectful behavior.

  • The students should practice strategic note-taking by anticipating what information they will find and writing these projected category headings in a notebook with space beneath for notes. Even if the information they receive does not fall exactly within these categories, this method should provide them with more focused notes.

  • The students can create common abbreviations, such as one- or two-letter codes, for key topic words to make note-taking more efficient.

  • Afterward, the teacher might ask the students to evaluate the interview.

Benefits of Interviewing

  • Interviewing can build background knowledge and provide cultural and historical context for texts.

  • Interviewing connects schoolwork with the world.

  • Interviewing builds reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. As students ask questions and take notes, they listen carefully for the speaker's main ideas as well as the supporting details.

  • The students work with a "real" audience, and honor their experiential knowledge.

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