Friday, March 9, 2012

“Off To Class” Book Review

Recently a colleague introduced me to a beautiful book called Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World written by Susan Hughes.  The book was written for children between the ages of 9-13.  But because of the splendid layout, the intriguing scenarios and gorgeous photographs, this book would be interesting to much older students (and adults).  It certainly kept my attention!

The content of the book is not light and fluffy.  The author, Susan Hughes, begins by stating that the United Nations considers education to be a basic human right.
The overall tone is matter-of-fact and upbeat.  Early on, Hughes poses the question “What do we need to create so that kids, living in these conditions, can learn?” Then she spends the remainder of the book exploring how people have responded to that very question for the children in their communities.  The book is divided into three chapters and each school is described in a two-page spread.  The majority of the schools include a brief narrative from either a student or someone involved in the development of that school.  Included in the book are classes held on train platforms in India, tent schools in Haiti, and a nomadic school in Siberia.  There are also schools next to garbage dumps, schools for AIDS orphans and portable schools for street children worldwide.  In all, Hughes introduces her readers to twenty three schools on five continents.  One of the most fascinating stories was of Dongzhong Primary School in China.  The entire village (including the school) was housed inside a cave!

As a teacher, I couldn’t help myself.  I started a mental list of the ways you could use this book with students, especially ELLs.  So now it is time to commit that mental list to paper (or at least to a blog post).  Let’s start with the text features.  The table of contents is easy to use.  You could certainly use this table of contents to reinforce or teach your students how to locate a specific part of the book.  The mix of narrative and expository text begs for a beautiful and rich classroom discussion about how you can write about the same topic in two very different styles.  The fact “bubbles” break up the text and provide additional information about the country or school.  The maps provide an orientation for the reader.  The resource list at the back of the book could easily be converted into an online activity or incorporated into an interactive whiteboard lesson.  Then there is the content of the book itself! You could use this book to develop students’ oral language and tap into their prior knowledge.  Either before or after reading the book, you could facilitate a classroom discussion on any or all of the following topics:
·         What school is like in other countries (including your students’ countries of origin)
·         Social activism,
·         Distinguishing between needs and wants,
·         Comparing and contrasting life in rural, urban and suburban settings around the world
·         Geography (especially how geography, environment and natural disasters affect how humans live)
·         Human rights and civil rights
·         Majority and minority cultures

Special thanks to my colleague, Margo Gottlieb, for sharing this book!

Written by: Tammy King

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