Monthly Archives: June 2013

Meet the Author!

Christopher Paul Curtis

Several years ago, I took my son (who was around 10 at the time) and the students in my children’s literature course to an author appearance by Christopher Paul Curtis. His book Watson’s Go To Birmingham – 1963 had been chosen for the citywide read program. By all accounts, it was an amazing event!  He read aloud the first chapter of his book (which is hilarious), discussed his inspiration for writing the story, and answered questions.

Afterward, as we stood in line to get his autograph, many of my students commented that they had never met an author before. My son was also enamored. He asked Curtis to sign a poster of the book and to take a picture with him. Later, he hung the poster on his bedroom door. As he grew into a teenager, almost everything about his room changed – all except the poster of Curtis on the door. He didn’t want to take it down. It represented an important moment in his life; one that made a lasting impression.

2013 Poster for the National Book Festival

Meeting an author is a wonderful experience. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the National Book Festival hosted by the Library of Congress on the National Mall every September. Organizers set up large tents representing genres or age groups and scheduled authors who are present over the two-day weekend. Two tents are for children’s and young adult authors. Book enthusiasts from across the country gather under the tents waiting to be wowed by their favorite authors, and every year I am lucky enough to be one of them. This year, the festival will be held on September 21-22, 2013. Check out the list of children’s and young adult authors appearing this year.

Unfortunately, everyone is not able to attend the National Book Festival. Fortunately, each author is videotaped, and the recordings are made available on the website for the National Book Festival. Last year, I heard Patricia Polocco and was simply brought to tears by her powerful presentation. I was able to share that experience with my students by showing the video to my class. Hundreds of author videos are available, so you can bring the power of meeting the author to your students!

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Adapting KWL for Learning through a Disciplinary Lens

One of the most widely recognized instructional routines is KWL (know, want to know, learn; Ogle, 1986); more than a dozen variations have been published of the elegant theme captured in this approach. A challenge teachers face with KWL is that what students want to know is somewhat uninformed because they simply lack sophisticated knowledge of the topic. Adapting the approach to feature disciplinary texts may help lead students toward increasingly deep connections to the content at hand.


One adaptation of KWL is intended to support students as they propose questions about problems they encounter in mathematics. In K-W-C (Hyde, 2006), students identify in the first column “What do you know for sure?” In the second column, they identify “What are you trying to find out?” In the third column, they decide, “Are there special conditions [the C] or precise definitions of words to watch for?” A space below asks students to show how they solve the problem using pictures, numbers, and words.

Social Studies

Critical to understanding history is the capacity to handle dissonance or noise (VanSledright, 2012) between and among accounts of the events that constitute the historical record. Who the actors are and what are their purposes for creating an account are important to historians. KWL can be easily modified to increase understanding of history (or social studies) as a discipline. Source documents, readily available via the Internet, provide differing views and accounts of social phenomena. By dividing the columns into rows for each document (which could include a textbook), the familiar pattern of know – want/need to know – learned becomes a scaffold to assist students as they begin their thinking work with multiple documents. See Figure 1.

Modifying KWL_Wolsey_fig1_Page_1

Figure 1: KWL adapted for analysis of multiple historical accounts.


Scientists often work back and forth between alphabetic texts and the graphs, charts, and other images that accompany and expand on alphabetic texts (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).  KWL is, once again, easily modified to help struggling readers and those for whom English is a second language (ESL) make sense of discipline-specific texts in science.  In the example shown in Figure 2, students work with a single text; a column is added to the KWL chart to highlight the role of graphics within the text.

Modifying KWL_Wolsey_fig2

Figure 2: KWL for science texts with graphics.


  1. Decide what the features of the text might be that are particular to the discipline (for example, science, social studies, and so on).
  2. Adapt the KWL chart to emphasize those disciplinary features from step one.
  3. Choose texts that challenge readers but don’t overwhelm them. Often, more than one text might be helpful at several levels of difficulty.
  4. Make copies of the KWL chart or help students construct their own.
  5. Ask students to read the text and use the adapted KWL chart to guide their thinking.
  6. In small groups, or with the whole class, use the students’ individually created and modified KWL charts to discuss the standards-based concept that is characterized in the text.


Brozo, W. G., Moorman, G., Meyer, C., & Stewart, T. (2013). Content area reading and disciplinary literacy: A case for the radical center. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 56(5), 353-357. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.153

Common Core State Standards Initiative [CCSS].(2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Retrieved from

Heller, R. (2010). In praise of amateurism: A friendly critique of Moje’s “Call for Change” in secondary literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(4), 267–273. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.54.4.4

Hyde, A. (2006). Comprehending math: Adapting reading strategies to teach mathematics, K-6. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Ogle, D.  (1986).  K-W-L:  teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570.

Shanahan, T. & Shanahan C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40-59.

VanSledright, B. (2012). Learning with texts in history. In T. L., Jetton & C. Shanahan (Eds.), Adolescent literacy in the academic disciplines: General principals and practical strategies (pp. 199-226). New York: Guilford.

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