Saturday, October 13, 2018

My response to "Can you recommend a book about Columbus?"

I get email from people asking me to recommend a good book about Christopher Columbus. Far too many books depict him as a hero. He wasn't, but people in the US ignore the horrible things he did (if they know about them, that is!). Sounds a lot like the way people in the US and elsewhere, too, are responding to the current president of the US. Does ignoring the problems in people like Columbus make it possible for a nation to ignore the problems in someone like trump?

Columbus did not "discover" America. That's an easy error to spot. With that in mind, I'm trying to come up with a critical literacy lesson that teachers can do to help their students develop the skills to read critically. Here's what I've roughed out so far:

First, get as many different Christopher Columbus picture books as you can, from libraries, yard sales, or used bookstores. Old or new, it doesn't matter. They're easy to get from online booksellers.

Second, create a large chart. In the first column, put the title of one of the books and do that for all the others you want to use. You can use as many as you want. This is a group activity. If you have the option of putting an image of the cover in that column, do that, too. The second column will be for the year the book was published (you'll need to do a mini-lesson on where to find that information in the book). The third column will be for a page number, the fourth column will be for notes. The chart might look something like this:

Third, create and deliver a short lesson that teaches students that Columbus did not "discover" America. Tailor that lesson to the students in your particular grade level. You can do this activity at different grade levels--using picture books or chapter books. If you use picture books and your students are 6th graders, you can frame this as "the books your little brothers and sisters will see..." Back (at 3:05 PM Central time) to strongly add that picture books are not only for little children. Thanks to Jillian Heise for reminding me of that important fact.

Fourth, put students in groups. Show them the chart. Distribute the books (one or two per group, depending on how many you have). Tell them to look for the first occurrence of "discover" in the book they will use in their group. Write the page number(s) on the chart. Step back to do an overall appraisal of that data: how many books use it, what year they were published in, etc.

Fifth, ask them about the language used to describe Columbus. Add that info to the 4th column, and then invite a discussion about the findings.

So... that's what I have for now. Have you seen -- or done -- this sort of activity with students? If so, let me know! I bet Jess5th has! I'll ask and see.