Pattie Sloan, West Salem High School Language Arts Teacher, relaxes in the sun during spring break. Having taught in Texas, California, and Oregon, she has discovered the beauty of integrated learning, meaning that a novel never exists of and for itself. A novel woven into the context of human experience and choice is moving, motivating, and a spring-board for compassionate action. Pattie’s life goals include reading daily, pursuing writing, and building her writing repertoire by studying her favorite authors’ moves. Her fall back plan is signing back up for Tina Tuner or Neil Young.
Joan Flora (pictured on the right with her daughter Katie) is a literacy specialist with Canby School District. She’s been avid reader, writer, and teacher for 25 years. Joan works to simplify her life style enough to produce one can of garbage annually. Seriously. Currently, she’s at 25+ cans, so she’s got her work cut out for her. On the bright side, she’s great at composting. Pattie and Joan met through colleagues at the Oregon Reading Association’s winter conference. After a 45 minute conversation about literature and social action, they knew they had to explore their own learning together, which is how this blog came about.
To inquire about booking Pattie and Joan for a workshop, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
We focus on literacy / social action education for grades 6-12 and beyond:
- Why engaging in social action matters–and how to dig in
- How literature and non-fiction connect to social action–and how to begin
- What close reading looks and feels like in a secondary classroom
- How discussion and collaboration deepen reading comprehension
- Facilitating authentic reflection and doable action
- How to plan reading / social action connections
- Low stakes writing to invite all students into writing
- How writing helps us all stand up in our own lives
- How to ease the way to authentic writing
- How to coax great writing via visual thinking
- How assessment and feedback deepen students’ ability to write and think
We will gladly work with you and your organization to tailor a workshop and/or presentation that meets your needs.
Interview with Portland Council of Reading Association, The Reading Forecaster, Spring 2013, by Joan Flora
Connecting Literature to Societal Issues
Ressi Miller (RM) and Pattie Sloan (PS) of West Salem High School connect the canon of literature to local and global events in their English classrooms. According to Sloan, “Literature was not created in a vacuum but from an extraordinary set of historical and societal issues.” Re-connecting with those authentic issues creates a rich learning environment that stimulates critical thinking and social action. Connecting our required texts with current autobiographies allows teachers and students to develop social awareness and empathy for issues they must face when they leave the classroom.
PCIRA: We appreciate all connections you make for students, parents, and colleagues between literature and social just issues, but it’s an overwhelming concept. Where can teachers begin?
RM: It’s always good to start small and grow from there. We’ve been doing this for over eight years, so we’ve grown in our work to connect Huck Finn to Road to Lost Innocence and Escape From Slavery for the global issue of human trafficking.
PS: We connect Of Mice and Men with Breaking Night and The Autobiography of Dr. Donna Beegle to study poverty in Oregon and in America. The problem of teaching literature without social context is that you lose the author’s message. I could concentrate on the themes from that book instead: “The American Dream is Dead,” for example. But I don’t believe that’s what Steinbeck was after. After all, if Of Mice and Men is relevant and if the American dream is dead, why would we insist that young people meet educational standards to gain options and footholds into life after high school? We wouldn’t, but we don’t believe the dream is dead, and we do believe Of Mice and Men is relevant to our students, so social context is our vehicle.
PCIRA: What types of student actions evolve out of your classes?
RM: Students organize blanket and coat drives as they study poverty and homelessness with Of Mice and Men. When they read, This is Our World, Too, they did a sock drive at Old Navy and collected 200 pairs of socks for the homeless in only two hours. When they read, The Road to Lost Innocence and Escape from Slavery with Huck Finn, they raised money to free Dinka slaves in the Sudan.
PS: Our students write letters to newspaper editors and attend legislative sessions in Salem to call attention to human trafficking in Oregon. Because of their involvement with the Senate, they were able to give research and give testimony on the human trafficking and Bill 427. The lobbyist informed me that the bill passed be-cause of the students’ testimony. I do not know if that is true, but I will take it!
PCIRA: Trafficking in Oregon?
PS: When one in ten in the world is a slave, it is a little naïve to believe it can’t happen here in Oregon. I know that trafficked women staffed a nail salon in Seattle. We know that traffickers in Portland will approach one out three young homeless people. And we know that young people, trafficked by the cartels, are now bringing in drugs from Mexico.
PCIRA: That’s overwhelming information. How do students respond to such reports?
RM: They get motivated and involved. Part of our work is to teach students that they are not victims. They can impact change and we facilitate their work.
PCIRA: Let’s get back to your idea of starting small.
PS: I began by writing a grant to get companion books to parallel-teach with my required curriculum. I write grants in the summer to cover the costs of the books.
PCIRA: Sounds like you do a lot of reading, too.
PS: But once we began this work, it was hard not to find text to connect with our required reading. Once we made the connection to social justice issues, the texts were finding us, nudging us for our attention.
RM: It’s been a very energizing process for our students and our community, as well as for us.
PCIRA: How can other educators learn more from your work?
RM: We’re beginning a blog with Word Press and will be launching it in late August. We will be adding to it over the summer and throughout the school year, as our schedules permit. We’ll share the link with PCIRA when it’s live.
For readers who want information on grant writing, consider starting small with ORA: http://oregonread.org/booksvideos-2/literacy-grants/
For information on poverty study, including a “Could You Survive Poverty” quiz by Ruby Payne (page 13): http://www.nchsd.org/libraryfiles/Conferences/2007/FrameworkDayOneHandoutsVersion2.2aSept2007.pdf For another point of view on poverty study: http://www.teach-kids-attitude-1st.com/ruby-payne.html
- Human Trafficking Task Force Teaming Up With UAH Students (whnt.com)
- UN presses Italy on people smuggling (bbc.co.uk)
- Toronto man charged with human trafficking (metronews.ca)
- Human Trafficking: Italy must do more to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation (ionglobaltrends.com)
- Summit Raises Awareness of Human Trafficking in N.M. (newamericamedia.org)
- CFCC students and employees form group to fight human trafficking (wilmingtonfavs.com)