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167. Book-Based Unit Ideas

by Lindsay Lyons
June 11th 2024
In today's solo episode, Lindsay is sharing some book-based unit ideas that can be implemented by educational leaders ... More
Educational justice coach, Lindsay Lyons, and here on the time for Teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling, and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings if you're a principal assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nering out about core curriculum of students. I made this show for you. Here we go. Welcome to episode 167 of the time for teacher podcast. Today, I am really excited to talk about some book based unit ideas. So in this episode, I'm gonna brainstorm how my latest favorite books is like 2023 or 2024 could become engaging units. So we're actually gonna unpack seven of my recent favorite books that I have read in the last year as well as which subject area or areas this might work with in terms of a course, possible themes to explore and possible activities for a unit that would be based on each of these books.

Let's get to it. So, why am I doing this episode? So, you may have noticed I've been doing curriculum mini series and they fall into four buckets. One of those is curriculum. So that's a big piece of the work that I do as an educational justice coach. And I'm really excited about books in my personal life. I read a lot of fiction. I read the nonfiction too, but I generally tend to listen to podcasts and audio books but nonfiction, reading a physical book or an ebook. And I get most of my to be red list ideas from podcast episodes about books. So I love things like what should I read next with Anne Bogle, which is awesome. Um The folks at BNT Brave New Teaching, they do some episodes since that's very education focused. They do some episodes that are very like here's a unit about this text and here's the complimentary text and I love stuff like that. I also love different reading lists that we will see online or curated selections based on theme or identity. I do love the folks that we need diverse books and all of the resources that they put out and create.

I would love to have them on the podcast. I'd love to have any of those folks on the podcast, any of the folks affiliated with any of those shows. So if you are listening or you know, someone who is at those places. Please connect me. I would love to do a theory all with recommendations from other folks. So until I'm the old two ground sources or interview experts, uh like I just listed for recommendations for K through 12 horses or units around books like that. I'm gonna start with my own idea. So that's why we're diving in today and really just kind of testing the waters with this type of episode. I would love to get your feedback on if it feels helpful to you in either as a curriculum planner yourself, a a teacher or um a director of curriculum instruction, an instructional coach, someone who's like co creating the curriculum or from the perspective of a leader who is not directly tied to the creation of curriculum, but is more abstractly or more kind of at a distance coaching, the process of curriculum development and really searching for some ideas for how to spark that innovation and curriculum design from something that actually may be of personal interest or maybe of a student's interest.

Like, what could that pathway look like? I think so much of coaching is about painting the possible and brainstorming what it could be. And so what I, I think would be really cool for this is to just think through, you know, listen as, as we kind of go and, and take it in as you are thinking about the realities of that curriculum design dynamic, whether that's you yourself or coaching someone else and think through what are the questions I might ask, what are the prompts? I might offer to get to the place where you know, I'm I'm listing what is possible and you might come up with a ton that I have missed. So please feel free to share with me any of those additional prompts. Questions. Thoughts about this. All right, here we go. So here are some book based unit ideas. This is by no means an amazing or perfect list. There are many imperfections, as I said, this is a test episode. And so as a starting point, here's where I went, I went to the Story Graph app which I am now using as of 2024 100% of the time. And I did the filter for books that I rated five stars.

I all good reads has that. But I do love the story graph has that. And I specifically looked at the year 2023 because it was a little overwhelming to look at all of the books that I've rated five stars in the history of me rating books. So for the first two months of 2024 as a recording on March 6th, 2024 I just looked at uh January and February's books as well and included those as I selected the books and I started putting kind of these ideas that I'm gonna share with you into words, I was thinking about interesting topics. So what were the kind of topics of the book that really piqued my interest, unique application ideas? Like what are the actual activities students could do with this? How might this relate to traditional curriculum or not traditional curriculum? But um subject specific curriculum and standards I think is what I wanted to say and also racial, gender, national and geographic diversity. Ideally with regards to author and character, identity and setting, as I look through these books, specifically, not so much author there is, it's, it's very white, mostly female authorship here. Uh but character identity and setting was a factor.

And so I think again as a test episode for this, I think this is why I want to look into um additional books go beyond just like what I read in 2023 that I liked. I have so many ideas uh for young adult fiction, particularly over the years, that would, would be a better list and maybe I'll make that podcast episode next. Um I also want to, for that reason, crowdsource authors and crowdsource recommendations from folks like Winnie diverse books to make sure that it is. Uh we have lists and suggestions that do have more racial gender, national linguistic geographic diversity with regards to authorship. OK. With those notes, let's head into the first book I read A Deadly Education, which is book number one in the Sulman series by Naomi Novik, who it has a video game development past which I found fascinating. Um And this is, I heard it described, I want to say on the, what should I read next podcast by a team as they were recommending books to buy for the December holiday season for younger kiddos.

And I think it was described as kind of like Harry Potter but darker, like a deadly or darker version of the Harry Potter. So it is set in a magical school but definitely deadlier. And the characters are definitely more diverse, racially, linguistically geographically, particularly it is a and they get into this a little bit in the book but is a uh not perfect representation of the world's community. And for reasons, as I said, they'll, they'll go into, I don't want to use these spoilers here but far more uh diverse and representative of the world than a lot of books. And so that's an intentional um decision and it, it factors actually really closely into the plot of the book. So I think this could be an interdisciplinary history, el A unit. You'll see that that is my default because those are the things that I taught. I'm super excited to hear uh book recommendations and another idea for other curricular units, but I think the patterns still apply. So keep that in mind as you listen a theme to explore for this particular book.

But also honestly, all three books in the series are amazing. I don't think you're probably going to do all of them. But if you have those kiddos who want to continue on their own really good series to get them into. Um, but a theme to explore in this one and throughout the rest of the series is I question, is it ever OK to sacrifice a life if it saves an entire community? And actually just on my run this morning, I was listening to a pot save the People episode and they were talking about rugged individualism as this principle that the United States particularly holds up as this, you know, perfect thing. And, and they quoted Fannie Lou Hamer and I believe in 1971 speech where she is talking about how no one is free until everyone is free, right? And so this idea of, oh, that's what they were talking about. They were talking about uh current events again, this is being recorded March 6th, 2024 where Ghana had just passed legislation that was going to criminalize being gay. And you could spend like up to five years in jail for like particular things related to that.

And I, I was just thinking about that their conversation, the hosts of the podcast who were talking about, you know, can we um the host of the podcast being black? Can we as black individuals support and be excited for trips to Ghana, the support of Ghana if it's not for everyone, right? If it's not for queer black folks, right? And I think that that is a really interesting current event connection that you could use. But if you're reading this in or listening to this in, you know, a year from now, I do think that you can find another current event that relates to this. And as in, you could also pair it with, you know, the classic text such as like the lottery or other things that kind of think about that notion of rugged individualism. You could pair it with a lot of history events. Um That kind of think through the decisions maybe a government has made about few versus many so lots to unpack in there. It's also magical. I think I said so. Really fun. OK. The next one is I Lazzo by Darcy Little Badger.

And this is that in a magical alternative America, you'll see a lot of my uh fantasy preference for these books coming through. Um Alternative America. It's magical and I love this quote from authors Out loud.com that features the author Darcy Little Badgers. I'm just gonna read this. It. The novel features an asexuals Apache teen protagonist, Ela combines mystery, horror, noir, ancestral knowledge, haunting illustrations. Super cool that the illustrated illustration part of that is, is, is a piece um and to con to continue back to the quote fantasy elements. So I think this could be an interdisciplinary history el A unit. There's a lot of the uh artistic side of things that bring the el a component to life. It is, it is lyrical, it is just beautifully written. Uh The illustrations can make it a really fun art, interdisciplinary project as well. I think the themes to explore include racial justice, national and political justice because it is about indigenous nations and family ancestors.

Also the idea of a comparison between real horrors that exist in the world and also fictional and fantasy horrors. I'm thinking it could pair well with a clip from the TV. Show Lovecraft Country. And I know Lovecraft Country was a book. But I think the TV element is going to be a bit more of a pop culture reference for students and also a bit more engaging. But you could also pair it with the text. I think there are many opportunities with this book to conduct research into the real historical events that are mentioned and really alluded to, they're not mentioned in a ton of depth throughout the story. So having that inquiry based mind reading something and saying, hey, I want to know more about that. This is a wonderful opportunity to have students take on that initiative. And in el a class, maybe they're reading it and in history class, they are taking a deep dive into like, well, what was that actually about? What was the law actually passed and what you know, all that kind of thing? It is a beautiful kind of organic inquiry based frame and starting point for a ton of research into specifically the United States political decisions with regard to indigenous communities and the settler colonialism and the settler colonial past and present um that exists in the United States.

The next one seems even more uh frivolous I think than maybe some of my uh other choices here that I questioned. But this one, I do have a purpose for. So it's one Italian Summer by Rebecca. So, and actually I listened to Lauren Graham read it on audio book and I just, I was a Gilmore Girls fan. So Lauren Graham reading, it was just amazing. I liked it for in addition to the Lauren Graham reading. To me, the interesting and fantastical concept of going back in time to meet and spend time with be in space with a younger version of one of your parents. So I don't wanna give too much away, but that's already like a big piece. But this book is a fictional book. It does have that fantastical element and I, I like it as kind of a even a non-academic. Like if you have sel block or sel curriculum, this could be a super cool sel unit that is complementary to it or if you don't have a set curriculum, which I kind of love design your own everything. But if you're designing your own SDL block or you're a counselor who pushes in, this could be a super cool you know, you even give them just like a piece of this text or, or present to them the concept or let them listen to an author interview or something about the writing of it.

And um you could do it there. You could also work for eli to be more formal and structured. Now, activities that students could do, could involve writing or creating in some way, it could be like a video creation or whatever historical fiction account of an important figure that exists today or the recent past. So picking a person that, you know, close to you. Awesome. If you were doing this in a more historical lens, you could definitely say like, you know, I imagine this person, you know, that is in the spotlight, it's a celebrity, it's a person that has is big in politics, whatever and, and we're gonna go back and like see a formative experience that they had and what would that formative experience be like you can bring some fiction around that. But also there are many emotional components of the story mostly. I think that the idea of coping with one's grief that could be really helpful for students to talk about to compare their own coping strategies or, or grief moments with those of the character in the book, it could offer up some opportunities for sel conversations or journal proms where they are thinking through and learning about ways to deal with emotion that are healthy Hello, this is Leah coming in to talk about today's Freebie, the independent reading selection guide.

You can find it now at the blog post for this episode, www dot Lindsay, Beth lions.com/one 67. Now back to the show. All right. The next book is the Book of Delights Essays by Ross Guy. Oh, my gosh, beautiful book. These essays are gorgeous. They are short, they are filled with emotion. The author wrote almost one essay per day for a year, just kind of as a I think or like what would this experience be like themes addressed in this text are so many, I can't even list them, but predominantly what comes to mind a few months after reading it and what I most remember strong themes of racial justice, environmental justice, grief and joy. There is a wide variety of the human experience packed into these pages. In addition to just having a beautiful style, the author writes so beautifully, the author writes in big ways and small ways. So sometimes it'll be like this tiny little thing in their life that they are just noticing and they just want to write about it, right?

And then it might lead them to this really big discussion of this really heavy thing. And it all started with this just small noticing of, you know, what, whatever it is like a plant and and side of the road. So there's so much potential there again, I think really could be part of the L A unit because it is so lyrical and they are essays, but they are really poetic and just the writing style and the authorship. Oh, it's so good. You could unpack pieces um for, for the artistic style, you could also unpack p pieces for the, the depth of content and actually bring it into more of the history or the science space with the racial justice, environmental justice pieces. You could make it again part of an sel or curriculum space where you're really dedicated to the emotional development of your students. And that's the f the lens you use to focus on it. I think there's so much you could do there. Um written by a black man. Ross Gay has been interviewed on many podcasts, I'm sure, but I listened to his interview on, we can do hard things and I fell in love with a book before I even read the book.

So that's actually a really good listen. If you want to hear how it impacted um the folks, the hosts of we can do hard things and how they've been putting this concept of the light into practice in their everyday lives. It was super cool. OK. Next book Walkable City by Jeff Spec. Now this book, I don't know if I've mentioned this on the podcast before, but I have been talking about this. People in my personal life are just like, would you like stop talking about Walkable City, please. It is probably my most referenced book of any, any book I've ever read. It is something that I think I think about often because it relates so closely in such detail with how I experience daily life living in a small city. It is. Let me tell you about the book. Here we go. So it is a research and experience this really like a handbook almost for how to make cities thrive. So the author Jeff Stack is I don't remember the name of this, but like a a city planner person.

And in short, he has found in his research and all of the things that he has advised and the projects that have been completed by the cities he's worked with. But the answer is to make cities star if you make them more walkable. And so environmental science would an absolutely great fit subject wise, but it could honestly work for like a design class or a social justice youth leadership or advocacy course. There's so much potential in here for not just learning about the things he's referencing, but for taking action. And I think really they listen to an author interview and what should I read next with spec and it was really good because I think it also illuminated his desire for the book to really be uh a template for folks to actually put it into action. It's not just information for information's sake, themes that are included in here. Of course, environmental justice, also socio-economic justice. I think his second revision of the books, if you're looking at multiple editions, go for the second one or the most recent one because those dive into more socio-economic factors as well as the environmental pieces.

I think the first version he notes in in the book, in the revised version that there was kind of an absence of that or it didn't go into as much depth. In the first version, there are lots of opportunities here to research further into the scientific phenomena and the studies that he cites throughout the book. So that's a great opportunity there. But it could also culminate as I said in an advocacy project. This is where the students would literally use evidence from the book to argue for implementing something. So one of the many ideas in the book that he references as ways to get the cities to be more walkable to be thriving, literally choose a location, a part of their community, find the appropriate, you know, whatever it is the town council, whatever to go advocate for that change in their community and using kind of like a claim evidence, reasoning skill block where they're saying this is what we need to change. And here is why because this book cites this research, whatever lots of potential there for some really cool stuff. OK. Next we have fire keeper's daughter. Now this is actually at least a du technology.

I'm not sure how long this series is projected to go. But the second one either just came out, it's recently coming out, um, or soon to come out. Number one. Anyways in the Fire Keepers Daughter series by Angeline Bully. The main character of this fictional novel is biracial. She's an un enrolled tribal member and she witnesses a murder and agrees to go undercover in a federal investigation. So, again, fictional, um, oh, the audio book is excellent, really good. And the author herself is an enrolled member of the Susa Marie tribe of chips. And she writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which calls the up themes include identity and belonging. There's also racial and national justice. So a lot of living adjacent to the reservation, a lot of being in and out of the community as a biracial indigenous girl, as well as well as a white girl like her biracial miss um is both indigenous and white. And so what does that mean? Right. And what are the family dynamics of that?

So shocks a lot about the importance and complexities of family and community. She talks about gender based violence that's experienced in the in the story, generational trauma, grief and healing that's related to that generational trauma and grief. Uh matriarchy. The importance of elders is really critical here which I distinguished um in my brain as is maybe not just included in the community, but yes, a piece of the community and something else that could be specifically examined by students. I think again, this could be a great interdisciplinary history el A unit to really need to contextualize all of the things that are happening in the story. Even though it's a fictional story with what has happened historically, with indigenous communities, particularly in the what is currently known as the United States. The last one I will share is Ink and Bone. This is number one in the Great Library series by Rachel Keane. I like, I like this book a lot because of the world that it painted and I love the world creation aspects of fantasy. I've read, I think four or five of these series while they continue to be good.

My preference is just the, the first one is good because of the concept that it raises and there's, there's kind of a lengthening of the series that I, I couldn't quite feel myself continuing to get into. So I do think yes, there's a lot for students to read. If you're having them read for reading's sake, they may fall up after a while if they're like pursuing this independent reading after you introduce it in the class. But INGE super interesting kind of dystopian future novel and it imagines what the world would be like if the Great Library of Alexandria had not been destroyed. And that started, I needed to have this information because I did not know it it started with Caesar's troops setting it on fire in 48 ce or common era. So the themes that are happening within this, I think a big theme is should access to information, be controlled and by whom like who gets to control information. So really interesting question to pose to students also, what's the ideal balance of control and freedom? So there's a lot of control, there's a lot of people thinking freedom and like what are the values that underpin that?

So discussions of, you know, safety and belonging and freedom and access? I I think this would be also really cool as an fel unit that gets at the underlying human needs, right? And so I think of the base needs acronym that I always think about. So belonging, autonomy, survival, enjoyment, right? Which are present in which groups and which are not and where do we land as a society, right? Like what do we need as a society? So again, interdisciplinary el A has your projects always were exciting with many of these but also that students could write their own alternative fictions centered around a major turning point in history would be a very cool project based on this book. So the el a component of course, with the writing of the fiction and then the history being like, I have to choose the major turning point. So you need to know about big turning points in history and know enough about the historical context to make that decision. But then they could also use the same structure. So again, both El A and history, which is that the author inserts artifacts, she calls them Samara between each chapter. And so they are fictional because it's a fictional world, but they are quote unquote historical documents, fictionalized historical documents.

That kind of set the stage for that transition from chapter to chapter, which I think is just a very cool setup like writing wise. So again, that el a lens but then also they could choose relevant historical documents, which means they would have to research historical documents related to the topic or turning point they chose or if they are doing like slight adaptations to those documents, that could also be cool because it's, you know, a fictional alternate reality. So like how would this important historical document have changed if this specific other thing has changed? Right? The turning point didn't happen in the way that we thought it would. Ok. So this has been a super long episode. I just wanted to uh share these ideas, get your feedback. What did you think about this? Uh For more ideas? I will probably if you, you're, you're into this idea of doing book based unit ideas as episodes on this podcast, continue this, hopefully bringing in some guests. And in the meantime, if you want to consider the books you and your students have loved reading lately, you can kind of follow the same format where you just surface the book and name what, what's going on in the book.

What are the themes? What are the subject or subjects that this would be cool to attach to like a course or develop a unit round for a specific course. And then also think about the possible activities that students could do for new book recommendations. Check out the website, we need diverse books. I'll link to that in the blog post for this episode or listen to a podcast episode of what should I read next or uh an episode of Brave New Teaching. Specifically one where they're focused on texts, usually they will be in the title and you can just kind of skim through the titles to find one of those. Now just help you support students to select their own books to read because I'm all about student choice. I am sharing my independent reading selection guide with you for free. That's gonna be linked as well on the blog post for this episode. So you can get all of those links at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/blog/one 67. Until next time. If you like this episode, I bet you'll be just as jazz as I am about my coaching program for increasing student led discussions in your school, Shane Sapir and Jamila Dugan, talk about a pedagogy of student voice in their book Street Data.

They say students should be talking for 75% of class time. Do students in your school talk for 75% of each class period? I would love for you to walk into any classroom in your community and see this in action. If you're smiling to yourself as you listen now, grab 20 minutes on my calendar. It's a brainstorm how I can help you make this big dream a reality. I'll help you build a comprehensive plan from full day trainings and discussion protocols like circle and Socratic seminar to follow up classroom visits where I can plan witness and debrief discussion based lessons with your teachers. Sign up for a nerdy no strings attached to brainstorm. Call at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/contact. Until next time, leaders think big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the Teach Better podcast network, better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better.com/podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

167. Book-Based Unit Ideas
167. Book-Based Unit Ideas
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