(This is the introduction to Shana Brown (Yakama)’s teaching unit, “A Thousand Celilos: Tribal Place Names along the Lewis and Clark Trail.”)
Outwardly, one would presume that it is a social studies curriculum, and it is. This four-week unit, however, uses the local tribal history and legends as the vehicle to teach targeted reading and research skills.
The unit elevates local tribal literature, experience, and oral history to mentor text status, worthy of the rigor that the Common Core requires. One cannot merely dismiss the literature with a patronizing pat on the head as the “nice little folklore of a once proud people.” The literary and informational merits of the selections stand on their own.
In Episode 1, students discover the history of Celilo and its place names. They listen to— and teach others—the Ichiskiin pronunciations of these place names. They understand and are able to explain the importance of connecting past to present and future.
Episode 2 delves into narrative nonfiction and students practice the skill of comparing traditions, jobs, practices, and views of people living in the 1950s to today, as well as Indian and non-Indian values. This episode is important early on, because it also tackles issues as complex as “what to call a Native American?” to why Indian costumes can be offensive to many tribal people.
Episode 3 continues how to tackle complex text and, most importantly, how to infer bias with the differing points of view of tribal people and Lewis and Clark’s description of the landscape and Celilo Falls, what they called “The Great Mart.” Group research into community places begins. They develop their own essential questions about their communities.
Synthesis of research and drawing conclusions are the goals of Episode 4, with each student research team analyzing and evaluating their resources.
Finally, Episode 5 allows student research teams the time required to determine how they will display their findings and the answers to their essential questions. I leave it to the teacher to determine how best to exhibit the students’ discoveries: a school-wide “museum exhibit,” a classroom gallery walk, or small group presentations. Though I have never quite been courageous enough to undertake a community gathering, it seems to make the most sense. To that end, I provide my best guidance on how to undertake such an event.
A word about Independent Reading: The text choices for independent reading come from your classroom collection of local history resources. Students use these texts to practice skills learned in class from your Celilo mentor and to read aloud texts.
A word about Nonfiction Reading: This unit of study will not have been students’ first exposure to nonfiction. If it is, you may need to spend more time scaffolding strategies to refocus when meaning is lost (word attack skills, identifying the differences between narrative and expository nonfiction, determining main idea and supporting details, drawing conclusions, etc.)
You’ll be teaching [your students], in this unit, to read rapidly, to evaluate and compare resources, and to construct in-depth, critical understandings of research topics. To do that kind of high-level, critical, analytical work, students need to read more than one text on a subject. They must become expert both at gathering information and at analyzing how that information is conveyed, so they can evaluate texts rather than simply summarize them. All students are expected to keep a reading journal to record their reading thoughts. All students are expected to conduct independent reading (text is entirely their choice) outside of school, every day for at least 30 minutes.
– Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Reading Curricular Calendar, Fifth Grade, 2013-2014