Laina Jones and her sixth-grade students in Dorchester, Massachusetts explore The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Jones uses nonfiction, documentary film, and historical photographs to contextualize the events in the novel and the civil rights movement. The students make deep connections to the literature through drama, poetry, and creative writing activities. Curtis visits the classroom, addresses questions, and leads the students in a writing workshop. The unit culminates with a service learning project in which the students create children's books about the civil rights movement and share them with elementary school children.
In this interdisciplinary unit, Laina Jones helps her students become critical readers by providing them with a strong historical and cultural foundation for understanding the literature. "When you teach multicultural literature, it's important to use a variety of activities to scaffold the learning for students, giving them the opportunity to contextualize the story and internalize the characters' struggles," explains teacher educator Tonya Perry. "It's essential that readers understand the context of The Watsons Go to Birmingham, or else they won't understand the obstacles the family faces."