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Approaching Literacy: The Lives of Walt Disney, Helen Keller, and Dr. SeussbyStephanie Johnson
Biographies are an account of one's life. I plan to look at biographies of Helen Keller, Theodor Seuss Geisel and Walt Disney. The chronological details will be explored to account for how their interests evolved into great achievements. Each of these individuals contributed to American culture through the enrichment of children's lives. I choose them because of my interest in children, and I want to know why they chose to enrich children as I have. The gifts they have will be used in the unit to facilitate different strategies related to literacy. The gifts I am talking about are characteristics or skills the three individuals possessed to realize their accomplishments. This includes their personalities which helped focus these accomplishments.
Walt for instance is animation and performance. Walt had several difficult experiences before he became successful in animation. Helen triumphed over physical and environmental disadvantages. The lack of her parents knowing how to assist her was difficult. So she started off really as a lost child. Her new journey, with Anne Sullivan as her formal teacher, started at the age of seven, the same age as the students I teach. Theodor's is writing. His writing is special because of the rhythm and rhymes involved. He also experienced failure through the rejection of his peers. His peers and some of his teachers thought he was the least likely to succeed. All of these individuals will fit into the categories my student will recognize. They also have something just as significant as their gifts and that is they all do something with stories. Helen helps the blind with reading. Walt likes to tell through animated pictures stories and Theodor liked writing them. Their love for literature and reading has made it better for children everywhere.
How can you tell a life story and give it a sense of history? We will explore the specific biographies through daily journal entries. This will let the students keep a daily account of their own lives while also practicing grammar skills.
In our classroom, we will explore informational text and expository writing, which are part of biography. This type of writing and reading builds knowledge of the natural and social world; it builds vocabulary and other literary knowledge. Using biography, I want to build an atmosphere of enjoyment for factual information. I want to initiate discussions with the use of queries, such as, what is the author talking about or trying to say? Some of the other literary strategies included in this unit will be segmenting the text (through reading, stopping and discussing), and marking (attention given to important ideas to be discussed), re-voicing and rephrasing of ideas to add clarity to my students thinking, annotating (filling in information not provided in the text), and recapping and summarizing to reinforce main ideas.
In the arts integration section of this unit we will make Braille words on paper and animation flip books. We will also do some Readers Theatre. This grade level loves to do this acting out of stories. The enjoyment of some of Walt Disney's movies will show how animated film has evolved. Art integration is a part of the school's curriculum. This is when you pull significant information about skills that are from an art base such as animation. The use of Braille is another way of learning how to read. Making these things will add more of a tangible connection to Walt and Helen. Theodor's love for writing will be explored in the Readers and Writers Workshop. This section of the unit will blend all of the seriousness of a biography with the fun of what these individuals love to do.
My class is an urban inner city first grade classroom. I teach at an Arts Integration school. Some of my students have some challenges related to academic achievement and environment, so extra interesting activities and creativity always help. I will have a group of thirty students. They have a mandatory 90 minute block of reading and 45 minutes of differentiated instructions daily. The differentiated part involves teaching specific skills related to reading on a particular student's level. Reading involves all the literary components, fluency: writing, speaking, grammar and phonics. And also a 45 minute of Drop Everything and Read is when the students can be read to or read a book of their choice. This will be when the biographies will be read. Each biography will contribute to a part of my student's lives. Walt will contribute technology and art; Helen will show the need to continue their education through a character attribute which we call citizenship. Theodor will contribute to their academics through literacy exploration. He won several awards for his books. I plan to discuss each individual based on the type of accomplishment that addresses my students' needs.
Biography is the reconstruction in print or film of the lives of real people.
Different Forms of Biography
Some definition of forms of biography follows and will be used in the classroom to explain different ways you may see biography every day. These are the simplest examples of this genre and actually you wouldn't know that you're doing them unless you have taken a course in biography. Some of the ones that we will be using are listed below.
Diary is a form of autobiographical writing, a regularly kept record of the account of one's activities and reflections. Written primarily for the writer's use and has frankness about it. Diary can be written in several different ways. It can be just keeping a record of the daily weather.
This type of writing is an account of day to day events or a record of experiences, ideas or reflections kept regularly for private use. A journal also can include daily situations that pertain to a specific theme.
A narrative is a story that is created in a format that goes from a sequence of events. A narrative means to recount. The story and narrative can be synonyms. It is somewhat like an expository paper which informs explains, describes or defines. I will be reading stories to my students using a narrative format.
This form can be through a photographic biography. Helen Keller has one. The story can be told through motion picture or on film. The History Channel, Biography Channel, A&E and History International are all forms of media biographies. The online biographies are not in chronological order they are media sources about an individual events in his or her life. The development of documentaries, docudramas and interviewing has also made shape to today's forms of biography. It makes it easier to access biography.
We will also look at the biographer's craft such as
- - Plot change: Look at the conflict in the plot and how it helps with change and growth in the characters. This can be a career change or a move to a different city. I will make reference to this is the changes in Walt Disney's career from driving an American Red Cross truck to writing for a newspaper. In essence it is the order of events in a story.
- - Use of dialogue: How is the dialogue used? Is there conversation or just narration. Does the dialogue advance the plot I want to explain that the way a biographer uses his dialogue is unique because some may tell a story and others may draw you in with questions about their subject.
- - Sequencing and time: This goes with history and society and how they influence lives. Where and when did the story take place? The use of setting can help the story along and add excitement.
- - Inter-textual links between the text and the illustrations: Are pictures part of the story? The three books I have chosen have illustration throughout. If the story is colorful so should the pictures be. My students will use illustration to make inferences about the story.
- - Compare and contrast writing styles of the biographers: How are the stories written? Are they alike or different? I plan to use this to ask questions concerning the purpose of the author.
- - Characterization: Who are the characters in the biographies and what part do they play? How is the character admirable or how is he despicable?
- - Format of the story: In the format of the story the writer can have a passive or active voice. The active voice is more descriptive and alive and it can be heard through narration. It helps that biography come alive. I plan to have an example of each type of writing.
- - Point of view: This will help with telling the story and gives the story some direction. This view can be from the writer's view or the individual's view based on moments in their life. Would you have taken a specific incident in the subject's life and written about it or did whole life writing?
These points are important to the teaching of the biography. My students will be looking at them through carefully crafted questions. Learning more about authorship and some of the qualities that accompany it will help in comprehending some of the writing techniques in stories. All of the individuals I have chosen are public figures in America's culture. Each of these individuals represents a social world of their own. This is best stated by Lee in relation to a portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol. It has rows of her head endlessly across it. Relating this to her biography, Lee writes: "a highly appropriate version of her life story: endlessly exposed, instantly recognizable, and unable to communicate anything except what has been constructed for public consumption." This is a picture that describes biography and how biography tells everything about an individual.
The Biographies of this Unit
Let's talk a little about her background so you have the basic knowledge about her. This is a biography in this unit and this part is to give you prior knowledge. Helen as a young girl is blind and dumb at nineteen months from a rare disease. She worked to improve the lives of the blind and the disabled. Martha Washington, the family cook's daughter, may have been a crucial help because of her friendship at an early age until Helen was 6. Martha and Helen had made 60 homemade signs that she and the family used. Alexander Graham Bell, who discovered the telephone and worked with deaf and blind children, had the opportunity to work with Helen. Helen's parents employed a tutor named Anne Sullivan. Anne taught Helen formally. Helen was an author. She wrote her first book at age 11, "The Frost King." Then at age 22 she wrote The Story of my Life. Helen appeared in many plays, including one which went around the world called Deliverance. She also did some vaudeville acts. She won several awards: The Presidential Medal of Freedom and The National Women's Hall of Fame. She was the first death and blind person to receive a B.A. She has a foundation named Helen Keller International which helps with funding vulnerable people who are blind. She worked very extensively for blind causes. She visited wounded soldiers. She worked for women's causes and the rights of others. She helped found the American Civil Liberties Union. Helen stayed involved with social issues and helped with fostering change. Helen was chosen for this unit to give an example of achievement with obstacles present.
A very famous man when he died, Walt was an optimistic guy. He was known for seeing the entire picture. He was born in Chicago, Shortly after his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. He had four siblings. He enjoyed drawing and art. He was selling small sketches of his work at an early age. Instead of doing his school work, Walt would be doodling pictures of animals and nature. He enjoyed trains because he lived so close a train line. He use to build miniature ones, and worked on a train during the summer selling things. In high school, he was on the school paper, and at night he attended the Academy of Fine Arts. Walt came from a farming family in which his father worked very hard, and they had very little money. Walt use to tell stories to his friends and draw on a chalk board as he told them. He also would sneak out of his home and do comical skits. At age sixteen, he tried to join the military and was rejected because of his age. He joined the American Red Cross and went to France. When he came back to the States, he produced short animated films. He had a studio in Kansas named the Laugh-O-Gram Studio. After this he moved to Hollywood, and he and his brother Roy went into business together. He created the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It was said that his own enthusiasm made it easier for him to believe in himself. He married one of his employees, named Lillian. They had two children. All of the biographies I read stated he enjoyed quiet evenings at home with his family. Then he created Mickey Mouse. While he had made Mickey Mouse, he also made his first silent film Plane Crazy. About three years later, Mickey Mouse made his appearance. He went on to make small films. Five years later he made Snow White and added Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ushered in the animation phase for Walt. His mother died by accident in the home he had just purchased for his parents. This did not deter him but hurt him deeply. He built a studio and hired countless people. This studio helped in WWII with making propaganda films. He went on to make Mary Poppins and opened a park called Disneyland. His accomplishments include 26 Academy Awards and 7 Emmy Awards. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal.
Theodor Seuss Geisel
This person goes by the name of Dr. Seuss. He was born in Massachusetts. He was inspired by his mother's stories. His grandfather was a brew master for the city. His family didn't experience hardship until WWI and Prohibition. He uses the streets of Springfield as a back drop to his pictures. He went to college as a teenager. He was editor for a short time. He also went to England to school. He came home and became a cartoonist and also created advertisements. Then WWII came along he was too old for the draft so he helped with making war training movies. He also had a drawing poster contest that would promote the war. This is where he learned art animation and did animation trainee films. He started writing for Vanity Fair, Life, The Saturday Evening Post and other magazines. His first children's book was rejected 27 times. Ted's first wife died and he married a childhood friend. He wrote 44 children's books that are translated in 15 languages. His books were made into 11 children's TV Specials, one Broadway musical, and one motion picture. He has Academy awards Emmy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. He was hired originally by a curriculum company to help children read. This gave him his breakthrough as an author. He did books that are considered to be beginner books. He uses poetic meters in his stories along with a well crafted illustration to match the words. He also touched upon social issues with his stories such as The Lorax on environmental issues, How the Grinch Stole Christmas for anti-consumerism and Sneethes on equality. Dr. Seuss books are still used in homes and in the schools.
- Helen Keller, The Story of My Life (New York: Pocket, 2005), 3-98
- Whitney Stewart, Who Was Walt Disney? (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 2009), 2-72
- Thomas Fensch, The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss: The Life and Work of Theodor Geisel, (Minneapolis: New Century Books, 2001), 5-87
My objectives are influenced by my core curriculum that I teach. The core does include biography and all of the objectives included within this unit. The reading objectives I have are in three parts. I would like to achieve fluency practice, phonics and writing. The first objective is to use a story to analyze its content. This can be through story structure, retelling, and discussion. The second is to analyze author's purpose through developed think-aloud questions. To discuss some of the biographical techniques used in writing a story I will talk about the author's craft. Did the story tell about a whole life or did it start in the middle? The students will be exposed to books that are appropriate to the reader's level. Dr. Seuss books will be used to practice fluency. The practicing of fluency is a way of practicing the ability to read accurately with expressive phrasing and comprehension. The students will identify the main idea, through journal entries on the reading of the day. They will have the ability to place things or events in order. A visual timeline will be done after each biography. Exposing them to a visual example of this type will help with their understanding of sequence in a story. They will note and discuss specific details of this timeline. They will use clues from the illustration to anticipate the meaning of the context. This is a form of inferring throughout the stories. They can also use the language experience approach by integrating literacy skills. They will be able to describe basic story elements (character, setting, plot and point of view). This will be drawn out in the Readers Theatre. They will be able to construct meaning orally from open-ended probes. The students will practice phonics skills by reading different books. Phonics practice is a big factor in getting my students to be more literate with vocabulary and reading. Phonics connects the sound to the spoken word. It is my intention to build on the words in the class and make word families from them. I would also like to place emphasis on Dr. Seuss's style of writing about which I will talk more about in the strategy section. That can be used in their writing journals. Speaking of writing; the students will write a personal narrative on being a first grader. They will follow the guidelines set in my school district's curriculum. We will also include the Writer's Workshop. The combination of the Reader's and Writer's Workshop sounds much better to me for this unit. These workshops help the students focus on certain skills and practice them all at one time. It is sort of like the differentiated instruction that is done daily in my class. Actually it is called Intervention Instruction; students are taken at their reading levels and put into a group to learn specific skills to make them better readers. The reading objective will also be a part of DEAR time, which I will explain in the strategies section.
The next group of objectives is Arts Integration related. One of the objectives is to make a simulation of animation through a flip book and story board. This is one of the pivotal moments in Walt Disney's life. The next would be to identify themselves through the use of art materials and to understand that these materials can be used as a symbol of time. This will help students look at animation as something that has become important over time. They will also look at two films with animation in it of their choice but the goal is for them to tell me about the animation as well as the literary components of the film. To explain arts integration more, I will try to define it a different way. This means that I will use the arts to help with learning. The goal of this approach is to teach awareness of the arts and how this medium can help you learn about other content areas. The goal of arts integration is to increase knowledge of the subject of animation while concurrently fostering an appreciation for visual and performing art. This type of education has existed in different forms. I experienced this when I went to the Gateway to the Arts. The arts were related to the reading curriculum. The concept was to take a piece of art and pull your subject area out of it, such as math, reading or science. For example: say you have a painting; you would use the painting to teach your subjects (reading, writing, math, social studies) from it. I would hope by including this experience, the students can appreciate the hard work that the individuals we are studying did. An art exhibit of the student's portraits will be done after they complete it.
The students will also use web sites that are interactive. The websites have a story building site on it and all of them have biographies of all of my individuals. These web sites can be used during differentiated instruction because it has a phonics and comprehension component. The Helen Keller Museum website deals with history and time. It also can teach about how blind students read.
I believe that working with these goals will help with the understanding of what a life is and how a biography is written. This will help me develop a community of learners and teach them to see that they can create their own lives, through creativity, like the creative people they will be learning about. I will be trying to blend reading instruction, explanation, and demonstration.
The strategies in this unit will consist of three parts: reading, writing and arts integration. I will assert that these components can cover many things. I have narrowed them down in my objectives. The first thing I would like to discuss is the phonics and fluency. I will talk about them together because it is the best way to do it. I will have the students read Dr. Seuss books. Let's discuss his style of writing and why it is important. He uses three types of tetrameter (a meter with four beats): anapestic, trochaic and iambic He often wrote in anapestic and sometimes trochaic. It is a form of poetry with syllables that are soft and strong. He also used rhyming. The silliness of his word order made it interesting for students and children to read. The challenge will be for them to connect the sounds to the spoken word. That is to make a phonetic connection. There are several skills related to fluency that are needed. That is accuracy, rate, and prosody. After reading his basic primers, students can advance with his books up to the third grade level which makes them good for progress monitoring. The phonetic strategy will be for the student to blend the word's phonemes into words that are on the pages of his book. The books can be read as a group, and one book at a time can be introduced so each student has a copy. The purpose would be to use it in a literature circle. After the reading a discussion on setting, problem solution, or beginning, middle and end. A Word Family Wall of the words in his book can be done. This wall will also list the words we will learn from reading the biographies and about what a biography is. They will also have the opportunity to have a free read. Let the students pick any of the Dr. Seuss books to read. This will introduce the Readers Workshop and I will later talk about the writing aspect of it.
The class will be instructed on one specific skill—let's say sentences (statement). The skill is taught through demonstration. It can be through the use of a sentence out of the book or just a simple sentence with a capital letter and a period. Next a mini lesson should take place to connect the skill as a strategy. Having the students say a sentence and write one. Finally the teaching point (skill) is modeled. Students actively engage in trying out the skill. So to recap: they should watch a demonstration of the skill out loud then independently read, then share the skill by doing their own demonstration. Some skills that can be observed include drawing a story. It can be done in a sequence format. So that is one, but you also can use other graphic organizers. Some are characterization charts, story mapping and setting maps, trait charts, and attribute webs. These charts can be used to organize the information as you demonstrate the skill. Also, have the students themselves read to the group. They can also lead a choral reading or an echo reading. These strategies will help with the fluency.
This is set up exactly like reading but has some different skills that we want to touch upon. Several steps are to be taken during the writing process some of them are basic but I will list them nonetheless. There are five different steps in writing. The first step is the prewriting stage. In this stage the student should think about it. This can be done by making a list. Brainstorming the purpose for writing your paper and coming up with ideas; who will be the audience that will be reading it. The second stage of the writing is drafting. In this stage start writing down your thoughts. This is where the student can get his/her voice. The sentence fluency is constructed. The third stage is revising. This is when you make it better. You also want to make it clear. What you're trying to say and read it aloud. This is the best part of writing because everyone revises their writings. The fourth is proof reading. This is when the correct grammar is made and the conventions of the paper are done. Finally the publishing of your paper is done. You can share it with others. Some useful ways can be using the Authors Chair.
I believe that writing occurs when it is a balanced. There are several things that can be added in the classroom and you can find it in most schools writing curriculums. There should be modeled writing, shared writing, interactive writing, guided writing and independent writing. The personal narrative is one of the papers we will write. It is a requirement of my grade level and will help with some of the qualities that a biographer has such as a voice.
The next strategy I would like to discuss is technology. Since my students already do computers on a daily to weekly basis, these activities will enrich them. I will be using each individual's interactive website. Helen Keller's website is a museum it has a timeline that exist with a pictorial biography to accompany it. The students will be entering this website for two purposes. One will be to read the biography section and the second will be to learn about blindness and there way of communicating. The website is operated by the American Foundation for the Blind. The use of a ladybug that goes all over the website called Braille Bug will provide an educated exploration for my students. www.afb.org/braillebug/hkmuseum.asp
The next website is Walt Disney's website. At this website you can read his biography. This also has different pictures of pivotal moments in his life. Walt had a love for cartoon characters and animation. I intend to expose my students to animation through his films and the making of an animation flip book or story board. His web site has information about his personal life. Also about how Mickey Mouse was created. The kid site is www.disneygo.com and the animation site for the teacher is www.justdisney.com
The last site is Dr. Seuss's site. In this one it is interactive as well and you can do a memory game, story maker and read Dr. Seuss's biography. It is very colorful. Some of the places to visit on this web site are the playground. The Playground has click and play games, quote maker, print and play and the story maker. Some other interesting things on this sight are catalog, events poster and music. It can be found at www.seussville.com
The technology component is as important as any other part of the unit because it provides a student centered approach to the unit. That is the students can do it themselves.
The strategy for adding Art is to involve some of the activities that the individuals did themselves. This is to better understand how they are done from the classroom. This is when you take something such as Braille and create yourself. The animation will be the major arts integration work that my students will do. The process is important. Learning how to and experiencing this will help them learn how to do it. Animation is basically illustration at first. A storyboard is available for the whole story to be drawn on. Then the stories vocals are matched with the drawings. After the vocals are matched the film is made. I plan to use two films of my student's choice. They will see one of the films first then discuss animation then the last one. After the first one they will make animations with the art teacher and me. We will learn the complete process. Then they can look at the last film.
Three activities will be given as an example of how the content of this unit can be distributed. The three will take about a week each or more depending on any extra activities. To introduce biography to the classroom the student will pick someone in the classroom and draw a portrait and write three sentences about them. The questions for the sentences should be crafted to ask personal information. That information can be such things as how many siblings, favorite games or places to go. Then let each introduce their portrait to the class. After this introduce the word biography, define and explain the basic components of this genre. This reference could be to Hermione Lee's book on biography. It states some of the expected pieces in this type of story. At this time introduce a diary and give each student one. You can purchase them inexpensively at a dollar store. Give examples of their use and tell the students that they may write anything daily about themselves in them. Let the students know for the next several months we will be reading about three individuals biographies. They are Helen Keller, Walt Disney and Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). As you read each of their bios, state their special interest or group involvement. I would start off with Helen Keller. The biographies of these individuals can be found in your school library or at the public library.
Lesson 1 Helen Keller
Read the biography Helen Keller by Nigel Hunter. Chunk the story and ask questions along the way. The questions should promote comprehension strategies. Those questions can be through the writer's craft. Take in consideration of the setting, mood, characterization and point of view. Also ask questions that sum up what a page may have said about a particular time in her life. Ask about pictures or illustrations and the details. Encourage the students to talk to each other about the story. Ask how do you think Helen learned how to read? This should lead into a discussion about her education and how she read her stories with Braille. Helen's special interest was promoting AFB- American Foundation for the Blind. To celebrate this in our class room we will be making a Braille sign with the help of the Art Department. At this time introduce The Helen Keller Museum website. It has a pictorial biography. Let students explore the site. Discuss Braille and embossing. Tell the class we will be getting a sign made in Braille that reads First Grade Room 101. One example of the process of making Braille can be found in the appendices. (Accessed July 22, 2010 ehow.com)
Lesson 2 Walt Disney
Introduce Walt Disney movies show two examples. Let the students take a survey on the ones that they most like. The class will dictate which movie will be shown. Show the movie of their choice. Tell them that you will show the other ones later on in the year. Introduce Walt's biography Walt Disney Creator of Magical Worlds by Charnan Simon. Continue to use some of the reading concepts that will help with comprehension skills as discussed in the strategies section. Tell about his love for making drawings and telling stories with pictures. He enjoyed movie making He also made the famous Walt Disney characters Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Minnie. These characters were used in animation films. They may name the other ones. Introduce his website and how it can be used. We will make a Flip Book which is an early form of animation. The direction for making the book will be in the appendices. (Accessed July 22, 2010 ehow.com)
Lesson 3 Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr.Seuss)
Introduce Dr. Seuss. I happen to have a hat that goes with one of his stories. The biography about him can be read with much drama. Continue with asking questions to solicit comprehension skills. Read the biography The Boy on Fairfield Street How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss by Kathleen Krull. This biography starts as most fairy tales do, that is with "once upon a time. This is a great time to talk about the way stories or poems are written, since he writes in a poetic form. This is also an opportunity to talk about how the biography is written. Introduce the website Seussville and show how to use the story maker. State the fact that Dr. Seuss enjoyed writing in a special tempo and rhyming style. His stories helped students learn how to read. He wrote books like our readers. At this time all of Dr. Seuss books should be made available on the reading shelves. A list of some of the appropriate ones will follow. These books can be used for different reading levels. After reading about Dr. Seuss, introduce dolch words.
Dolch words are words that are frequently seen in sentences and reading material that is based on the level of the reader and their books. Most of the words cannot be sounded out. They have no particular phonetic pattern. They are also called Sight Words These words should be posted in the room and flashed several times a week. This will help the students read fluently. There are forty one words.
There are 41 sight words in the Dolch first grade word list:
after, again, an, any, as, ask, by, could, every, fly, from, give, giving, had, has, her, him, his, how, just, know, let, live, may, of, old, once, open, over, put, round, some, stop, take, thank, them, then, think, walk, were and when.
Dr. Seuss Books
Bartholomew and the Oobleck
And to Think I Saw that on Mulberry Street
The Cat in the Hat
The Foot Book
Fox in a Sox
Gerald McBoing Boing
Green Eggs and Ham
Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!
Hop on Pop
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Horton Hears a Who
The King Stilts
There's a Wocket in my Pocket
Daisy- Head Mayzie
Yertle the Turtle
Oh the Places You'll Go
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