Earlier this year, my students were involved in a pilot program that focused on writing informational text. Students researched topics centered on teen activists as well as issues from the community and around the world. The pilot program was for a specific time frame and while participating in it, we were unable to extend activities from the unit. The work was intense, but very rewarding. One the pilot program was completed, one underlying thought resonated with my students: "Wouldn’t it be great if we could take on a cause to rally around?"
I am always looking for new books to support our units of study and to include in my classroom library. Recently, I was introduced to Gaby, Lost and Found, written by Angela Cervantes. I was immediately drawn to the book. Social issues are woven throughout the text and told in such a way as to prompt the reader to become an advocate for Gaby and her causes.
The book blurb invites the reader into Gaby's world: “When Gaby Ramirez Howard starts volunteering at the local shelter, she takes great pride in writing adoption advertisements. Her flyers help the dogs and cats there find forever homes: places where they’ll be loved and cared for, no matter what."
Gaby is in need of a forever home herself. Her mother has recently been deported to Honduras and Gaby doesn’t know where to turn. Meanwhile, Gaby’s favorite shelter cat, Feather, needs a new place to live. Gaby would love to adopt her, but if Gaby doesn’t have a place that feels like home to her, how can she help Feather?
Pearls of Wisdom — Remember to update your reading list for your units of study. Notice what your students are reading or are not reading. Survey your students as why a book did or did not resonate with them to keep your library current.
Once again, I had an “aha!” moment. Gaby, Lost and Found would be great to pair with the informational unit that my students were involved in, or as a great springboard for the historical fiction unit that I teach on immigration at the end of the year. My inner voice gently reminded me that my students were still looking for a way to complete the work from the informational unit, thus the decision was obvious: Gaby, Lost and Found would be the fiction pairing for this unit.
Normally I would have my students select a community service issue to become involved in, but since this is my first attempt at this particular class project, I made the executive decision to have my students champion the identical cause as Gaby — helping out at a local animal shelter. While Gaby was able to volunteer at a shelter in the book, I know that my students will not be able to do this because of their ages. This is not a roadblock however, just a way in which my students will have to be creative in how they will assist our local shelter.
I am planning with the end in mind. What is the take-away that my students will hold onto as they go through this unit? Other than knowledge, what insights will they gather and what might be the grassroots or positive impact they could gain as productive members of society?
As I approached this unit, I began to look for nonfiction resources to support and enhance student awareness, (as well as mine), on the issue of animal shelters. I will be using excerpts from the following books:
I am sure my list will grow as I continue my research and get input from my students.
Instructional support I can provide my students to guide them through the inquiry process on their topic include:
Brainstorming ways to help shelters, such as ways to volunteer or fundraise (create anchor chart)
Researching animal shelters
Interviewing animal shelter staff with student-generated questions
Possible culminating activity: Adopt a shelter (survey students)
It is my hope that after reading this book my students will recognize that kids have voices too, and that they can make a positive difference not only in their school, community, state, or country, but maybe even in the world.
As always, do you have any ideas to share that empower our students to make a difference? If so, please share!