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The Big Fresh May 23, 2015 Starting with "Secondly"

Brenda Power

Stories are as important as food and love.

                                                     Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In her beautiful TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes her childhood perception of the houseboy who worked for her middle class family in Nigeria. Her mother told her that the houseboy was poor, and chided Chimamanda when she didn’t eat all her food, describing how hungry the houseboy’s family was and how they would love a plate of food like hers. One day Chimamanda’s family visited the houseboy’s village where she saw a beautiful, handwoven basket made by the houseboy’s brother. Chimamanda was startled that his family had such talent and skill, and that they were obviously so hard-working. Her single story of the houseboy was that he was poor.

For the last 12 years, I have worked in high-poverty schools in Georgia in various capacities. Inevitably, poverty forms a strong storyline for those of us who spend a lot of time in schools where economic need is obvious. We say things like, "Ninety-eight percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch," or "Her mother has two jobs and doesn’t have time to make sure she gets her homework done." But this poverty story line is already well-known, and its familiarity interferes with authentic connections with students, which are essential for teaching and learning.

The problem with single stories, Chimamanda explains, is that they impede relationships. It is very difficult to connect with someone when we only see one dimension of them, when we let our stories “flatten” them. Chimamanda suggests that rather than telling and retelling single story lines about people, we can go straight to a second story, a story that elevates them to the place of shared humanity. By attending to children’s second stories--starting with “secondly”--we can create a more balanced narrative about them, which affects them, us, and our interactions.

The children with whom we work are much more than the income or formal education levels of their families, and we cannot reach or teach them well until we see their second stories first, learning to appreciate the ways they are more like us than different.

What are your students' second stories? What can you do to make your students’ second stories your first memory of your experience of them this year? How will you lead with these second stories as you communicate with the teachers who will work with them next year?

This week we look at student research. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Jan Burkins

Contributor, Choice Literacy

Jan Burkins collaborates with Kim Yaris at Burkins and Yaris -- Think Tank for 21st Century Literacy, where their blog and their instructional resources have drawn a national audience. Their new book, Reading Wellness, is available through Stenhouse Publishers.


Free for All

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Gretchen Taylor is streamlining research check-in with her middle school students by using Google Drive, and in the process gets data that is far more useful for her teaching


Late in the year is a great time to reflect upon what really matters in teaching and learning beyond test scores. Katherine Sokolowski does just that in What I Know to Be True:


You can access Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story" at this link:


Create a DVD professional library instantly and save big with our DVD Bundle Sale. Order the 24 DVD Collection and save 50% off the list prices of individual titles. The bundle includes over 40 hours of video and features Jennifer Allen, Aimee Buckner, "The Sisters" (Gail Boushey and Joan Moser), Clare Landrigan, Tammy Mulligan, Franki Sibberson, and many other master teachers working in classrooms with children. Choice Literacy members receive an additional discount of $100 off the sale price:


Join Lead Literacy or renew your Lead Literacy membership online in May and receive a free copy of Heather Rader's book Side By Side, a $25 value. Offer expires May 31 and is for online credit card orders only:


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Katherine Sokolowski helps her fifth graders build notetaking skills for research:


Jillian Heise's middle school students design text sets late in the school year. It's a great activity for discovering how they have grown as readers, as well as a gift to next year's class:


In this week's video, Andrea Smith helps a group of boys take notes during an owl research project:


In an encore video, Ruth Shagoury interviews sixth graders about their reading at the end of the year to promote reflection:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.