Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Unit of Study About the Medieval Period: Choices & Dilemmas

Visual response to Beowulf (Reilly, 2015)
I. The Slipperiness of Background Knowledge: Whose?  

I have been hard at work designing a fifth grade unit of study focusing on the medieval period.  What motivates me most is the remembrance of a comment a child made last year in fourth grade.  I recorded the child's inquiry this way:

It's early morning in a fourth grade classroom in Newark, NJ and the children and their teacher are at work studying Greek mythology. Beyond the classroom windows the weather hints at the possibility of spring.  But March has already been fickle and most anything could occur. Against the quiet of the classroom you can hear cars and trucks rumble by--the highway that splits this city runs just a few feet from the school. And in this mix of sounds it is the voice of one boy that we must pay attention to.  
He turns and says to his teacher and classmates, "I've been thinking about the myths we are reading. How they are thousands of years old.  Do you think a thousand years from now people will think Christian and Muslim religions are myths, too?" from here

It's occasioning big questions that most interests me when I compose possible curricula.  I know the work is mostly about possibilities and less about certainties as curriculum is complicated conversation.  What gets engendered is almost always more interesting and compelling that what gets written.  So in the unit I'm currently composing I am thinking about the medieval period and why it resonates.  Mostly, I have been thinking how people at the time made sense of the world through spiritual, natural, or religious lens and how these lens would give way (in part) to naming the world through more scientific reasoning and then through valued economic systems.  As I write, I'm cognizant that I want to be leave room in the curriculum for students to be able to generate bigger questions about world naming and faith; reason making and the potential effect of that economic systems have on all of that.

As I write I'm reminded that the way is often not clear when writing curriculum.

II. Lots of Books: Check It Out Circles & Padlet

So, I have been assembling a lot of books, a couple of tasks, and just a few questions to help students get grounded--as best one might.  Here's the initial set of questions that will no doubt undergo revision:

  1. What questions do you think are most important to pose about the this time period?
  2. Based on your reading, what’s important to know about the Medieval period? 
  3. Based on your reading, whose voices are represented?  Whose voices are missing? What do you make of that?
  4. Based on your reading, what were some hardships people at that time faced? Who? How did they respond to these hardships? 
  5. Based on your reading, what seems to matter most to people? What did they value? What did they believe in? 
Initially students will be introduced via Check it Out Circles (Sibberson & Szymusiak, 2003) to two collections of book--the first focusing on information about the time period and the second focusing on people (biographies) who lived during that time. Students will make initial book choices, partner and buddy read. They'll read as much as they like. While reading, I'd like them to be mindful of the questions--their own and the one's for the class.  As this unit is designed for midyear, there's a likelihood that some of these books may have already been read by students and if so, that will surely inform their peers' choices too. Students will post initial understandings of the text(s) and the period through Padlet--so that the larger community of students are able to read what their peers are thinking.  The postings will be organized using the set of questions.  So one could read a question and then read a lot of responses that were informed by reading different texts. As in most of the work I do, students' responses to the questions can take many forms: written, spoken, visual (still & moving), musical and so on... The beauty of Padlet is that one can post and link so media can easily be represented.

III. Book Clubs

After this initial opening, students will have some choices regarding a literary text they'd like to study with a small group of peers. The texts are either from the medieval period or about medieval legends or mythologies. They are brief texts--not novels. The clubs will establish questions, focus, and timelines after making a text selection. Students will have already been taught a set of response tools that they might select to use so as to (in)form their discussions. Whereas a goal of book clubs is for meaningful discourse to occur--the method is not in giving them a set of accountable talk tag lines as I think this may well inhibit thought, but rather a set of tools to help them make sense of text.

IV. Beowulf: Whole Class/Read Aloud Text

Once book clubs are launched, the students will also begin reading Beowulf.  This will be conducted as a teacher read aloud--although students will have copies of the text in hand. Beowulf is meant to be heard. It is here that the question about beliefs and values will be more acutely studied and the use of drama and art making will play a larger role. As students will have experienced a lot of methods of text analysis by this time in the year, they will co-design the engagements that they most value. Knowing some of the students I can imagine the use of Minecraft showing up.  We'll see.

Below is the bibliography of written texts (I haven't curated the visual ones yet). If you have other suggestions, please let me know.  Thanks:)


Whole Class/Read Aloud Text
  1. Morpurgo, Michael. (2006). Beowulf. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. (1180L)

Informational Texts for Partner Reading
  1. Allen, Kathy. (2011). The Horrible, Miserable Middle Ages: The Disgusting Details About Life During Medieval Times. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press.  (850L)
  2. Cels, Marc. (2004). Life on a Medieval Manor. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1070L)
  3. Eastwood, Kay. (2003). Women and Girls in the Middle Ages. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1070L)
  4. Eastwood, Kay. (2003). Places of Worship in the Middle Ages. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1090L)
  5. Eastwood, Kay.(2003). Life in a  Castle. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1020L)
  6. Eastwood, Kay. (2003). Medieval Society. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1060L)
  7. Eastwood, Kay. (2003). The Life of a Knight. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1020L)
  8. Elliott, Lynn. (2005). Medieval Medicine And the Plague. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1150L)
  9. Elliot, Lynne. (2004). Children and Games in the Medieval Ages.  Minneapolis, MN: Crabtree Pub Co. (1110L)
  10. Elliott, Lynn. (2004). Food and Feasts in the Middle Ages. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company.  (1170L)
  11. Elliott, Lynn. (2004). Clothing in the Middle Ages. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1100L)
  12. Elliott, Lynn. (2004). Medieval Towns, Trade, and Travel. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1140L)
  13. Findon, Joan. (2004). Science and Technology in the Middle Ages. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1080L)
  14. Galloway, Priscilla. (2003). Archers, Alchemists, and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed. Illustrated by Martha Newbigging. New York: Annick Press.
  15. Gibbons, Gail. (1998). Knights in Shining Armor. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. (930L)
  16. Groves, Marsha. (2005). Manners and Customs in the Middle Ages. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1090L)
  17. Johnson Sherri. The Medieval Plague. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press. (620L)
  18. Major, John S. (1996). The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History. Illustrated by Stephen Fieser. New York: HarperCollins. (1140L)
  19. Scandiffio, Laura. (2009). Crusades: Kids at the Crossroads. Illustrated by John Mantha. New York: Annick Press
  20. Steele, Phillip. (2009). History News: The Aztec News. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 
  21. Steele, Tara. (2003). Medieval Warfare. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1010L)
  22. Tembeski, Donna. (2005). Medieval Law And Punishment. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1100L)
  23. Trembinski, Donna. (2005). Medieval Myths, Legends, and Songs. Minneapolis, MN: Crabtree Pub Co. (1040L)
  24. Whiting, Jim. Medieval Knights. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press. (620L)
  25. Whiting, Jim. Medieval Castles. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press. (610L)
Biographical Texts for Partner Reading
  1. Ashby, Ruth. (2006).  Caedmon’s Song. Illustrated by Bill Slavin. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. (No Lexile Level)
  2. Conklin, Wendy. (2007). Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler: World Cultures Through Time. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials.(610L)
  3. Demi. (2009). Rumi: Whirling Dervish. Tarrytown, NY: Marshal Cavendish.
  4. Demi. (2009). Genghis Khan. Tarrytown, NY: Marshal Cavendish.
  5. Demi. (2008). Marco Polo. Tarrytown, NY: Marshal Cavendish. (950L)
  6. Demi. (2003). Muhammad. New York:  Margaret K. McElderry Books.
  7. Denham, Joyce. (2008). Saint Francis of Assisi. Illustrated by Elena Temporin. Brewster, MA:  Paraclete Press. 
  8. Engle, Margarita. (2010). Summer Birds The Butterflies of Maria Merian. Illustrated by Julie Paschkis. New York: Henry Holt. 
  9. Goldberg, Enid. A (2009). Vlad the Impaler: The Real Count Dracula. Illustrated by Norman Itzkowitz.  New York: Scholastic. 
  10. Goodman, Joan. (2001). A Long and Uncertain Journey: The 27,000 Mile Voyage of Vasco Da Gama (Great Explorers). Illustrated by Tom McNeely. New York: Mikaya Press. (990L)
  11. Krull, Kathleen. (2010). Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything. Illustrated by Robert Byrd. New York: Viking Books for Young Readers. (1080L)
  12. Look, Lenore. (2013). Brush of the Gods. Illustrated by Meilo So. New York Schwartz & Wade. (580L)
  13. Mattern, Joanne. (2012). Geoffrey Chaucer: Medieval Writer (Primary Source Readers). Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials.  (710L)
  14. Matthews, Sally Schofer. (2001). The Sad Night: The Story of an Aztec Victory and a Spanish Loss. New York: Clarion Books. (950L)
  15. Robertson, Bruce. (1999).  Marguerite Makes a Book (Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum). Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Los Angeles, CA:  J. Paul Getty Museum. (570L)
  16. Ross, Stewart. (2014). Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air. Illustrated by Stephen Biesty. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.  (1150L) 
  17. Rumford, James. (2004). Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta 1325-1354. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers. (650L)
  18. Rumford, James. (2012). From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World. New York: Flash Point. (800L). 
  19. San Souci, Robert D. (2010). Robin Hood And The Golden Arrow. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. New York: Orchard Books. (930L)
  20. Serrano, Francisco. (2012). La Malinche: The Princess Who Helped Cortés Conquer an Empire. Illustrated by Pablo Serrano. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books. (No Lexile Level)
  21. Sharafeddine, Fatima. (2015). The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina. Illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books. (No Lexile Level)
  22. Sharafeddine, Fatima. (2014). The Amazing Travels of Ibn Battuta. Illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books. (No Lexile Level)
  23. Sis, Peter. (1991). Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus. New York: Knopf.
  24. Stanley, Diane. (2002). Joan of Arc. New York: HarperCollins. (980L)
  25. Tembeski, Donna. (2004). Famous People of the Middle Ages. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. (1110L)
  26. Waldman, Stuart. (2007). Magellan's World (Great Explorers). Illustrated by Gregory Manchess. New York: Mikaya Press. (No Lexile Level)
  27. Wisniewski, David. (1999). Sundiata: Lion King of Mali. New York: HMH Books. (820L)

Book Club Texts
  1. Chaucer, Geoffrey. (1982). Chanticleer and the Fox. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. New York: HarperCollins. (840L)
  2. Hodges, Margaret. (1990). Saint George and the Dragon. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. New York: Holiday House. (1080L)
  3. Hodges, Margaret. (1993). The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. New York: Holiday House.
  4. McCaughrean, Geraldine (Retold by). (1997). The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: Puffin. 
  5. Yolen, Jane. (1998). Merlin and the Dragons. Illustrated by Li Ming. New York: Puffin Books. (640L)

Medieval Times and Stories  - Independent Reading Texts
Avi. (2004). Crispin: The Cross of Lead. New York: Disney-Hyperion. (780L)
Avi. (2011). Crispin: The End of Time.  New York: Disney-Hyperion. (690L)
Biesty, Stephen. (2013). Stephen Biesty's Cross-sections Castle. New York: DK.
Bosse, Malcolm. Tusk and Stone.
Bulla, Clyde Robert. (2000). The Sword in the Tree. Illustrated by Bruce Bowles. New York: HarperCollins. (380L)
Coombs, Rachel. (2007). A Year in a Castle. Minneapolis, MN: Orpheus Books. (500L)
Cushman, Karen. (2012). The Midwife’s Apprentice. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers. (1240L)
Cushman, Karen. (2012). Catherine, Called Birdy. New York:  HMH Books for Young Readers. (1170L)
Cushman, Karen. (2011). Alchemy and Meggy Swann. New York:  HMH Books for Young Readers. (810L)
Dalkey, Kara. (1996). Little Sister. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Dalkey, Kara. (1998). The Heavenward Path. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
De Angeli, Marguerite. (1998). The Door in the Wall. New York: Laurel Leaf. (990L)
Demi. (2011). Joan of Arc.  New York: Two Lions. (950L)
Fletcher, Susan. (1999).  Shadow Spinner. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. (710L)
Giblin, James Cross. (1997). When Plague Strikes: The Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS. Illustrated by David Frampton. New York: HarperCollins. (990L)
Grant, K.M. (2006). Blood Red Horse. New York: Walker Childrens.
Gravet, Christopher. (2007). Knight. New York: DK Eyewitness Books.  (1140L)
Green, Roger Lancelyn. (2008). King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. New York: Puffin. (1130L)
Green, Roger Lancelyn. (2010). The Adventures of Robin Hood. New York: Puffin. (1110L)
Gross, Gwen. (1985). Knights of the Round Table. Illustrated by Norman Green. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers. (340L)
Ingle, Annie. (1991). Robin Hood. Illustrated by Domenick D'Andrea. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers. (360L)
Kelly, Eric P. (1992). The Trumpeter of Krakow. New York: Aladdin. (1200L)
Langley, Andrew. (2011). Medieval Life. New York: DK Eyewitness Books.  (1120L)
Lattimore, Deborah Nourse. (1991). The Sailor who Captured the Sea: A Story of the Book of Kells. New York: HarperCollins.
Lloyd, Alison. (2010). Year of the Tiger. New York: Holiday House. (600L)
Macaulay, David. (2013). Castle. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers. (1180L)
Macaulay, David. (2013). Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction, Revised and in Full Color. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers. (1120L)
McCaughrean, Geraldine. (2003). The Kite Rider. New York: Harper Trophy.
Meehan, Bernard. (1995). The Book of Kells: An Illustrated Introduction to the Manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin. London, UK: Thames & Hudson.
Millard, Anne. (2012). A Street Through Time. Illustrated by Stephen Noon. New York: DK. (680L)
Morpurgo, Michael. (2004). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. (1050L)
Morris, Gerald. (2009). The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great. Illustrated by Aaron Renier. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers. (830L)
Napoli, Donna Jo. (1993). Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. New York: Harper Teen.
Napoli, Donna Jo. (2006). Bound. New York: Simon Pulse.
O’Brien, Patrick. (1998). The Making of a Knight. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. (760L)
Osborne, Mary Pope. (2002) Favorite Medieval Tales. New York: Scholastic. (860L)
Parks, Linda Sue. (2011). A Single Shard. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Parks, Linda Sue. (2010). The Kite Fighters. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Paterson, Katherine. (1998). The Sign of the Chrysanthemum. Illustrated by Peter Landa. New York: HarperCollins. (870L)
Paterson, Katherine. (1989). Of Nightingales that Weep. ew York: HarperCollins. (950L)
Platt, Richard. (2003). Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess. Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. (1010L)
Pyle, Howard. (2005). The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. New York: Sterling. (1350L)
Williams, Marcia. (2008). Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. New York: Walker Books
Williams, Marcia. (2010). King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. New York: Walker Books
Yolen, Jane. (1996). Encounter. Illustrated by David Shannon. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers. (760L)

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