A Case for Reading - Examining Challenged and Banned Books
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- Instructional Plan |
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Any work is potentially open to attack by someone, somewhere, sometime, for some reason. This lesson introduces students to censorship and how challenges to books occur. They are then invited to read challenged or banned books from the American Library Association's list of the most frequently challenged books. Students decide for themselves what should be done with these books at their school by writing a persuasive essay explaining their perspectives. Students share their pieces with the rest of the class, and as an extension activity, can share their essays with teachers, librarians, and others in their school.
T-Chart Printout: This printable sheet allows students to keep notes on parts of books that they believe might be challenged, as well as supporting reasons.
Persuasive Writing Rubric: Use this rubric to evaluate the organization, conventions, goal, delivery, and mechanics of students' persuasive writing. The rubric can be adapted for any persuasive essay.
Persuasion Map: Use this online tool to map out and print your persuasive argument. Included are spaces to map out your thesis, three reasons, and supporting details.
From Theory to Practice
There are times that the books that are part of our curriculum are found to be questionable or offensive by other groups. Should teachers stop using those texts? Should the books be banned from schools? No! "Censorship leaves students with an inadequate and distorted picture of the ideals, values, and problems of their culture. Partly because of censorship or the fear of censorship, many writers are ignored or inadequately represented in the public schools, and many are represented in anthologies not by their best work but by their ‘safest' or ‘least offensive' work," as stated in the NCTE Guideline.
What then should the English teacher do? "Freedom of inquiry is essential to education in a democracy. To establish conditions essential for freedom, teachers and administrators need to work together. The community that entrusts students to the care of an English teacher should also trust that teacher to exercise professional judgment in selecting or recommending books. The English teacher can be free to teach literature, and students can be free to read whatever they wish only if informed and vigilant groups, within the profession and without, unite in resisting unfair pressures." This is the Students' Right to Read.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Selected books as examples (from the most frequently challenged books list)
- Because this lesson requires that students read a book from the ALA Challenged Book list, it’s a good idea to notify families prior to starting the assignment. See the example family letter for ideas on how to notify families.
- Bookmark the websites listed as resources to refer to throughout the lesson.
- Compile grade-appropriate books for students to explore using the Challenged Children's Books list. Talk to your librarian or school media specialist about creating a resource collection for students to use in your classroom or in the library.
- Copy T-Charts and/or bookmarks for students to document passages as they read.
- Test the Persuasion Map on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool.
- be exposed to the issues of censorship, challenged, or banned books.
- examine issues of censorship as it relates to a specific literature title.
- critically evaluate books based on relevancy, biases, and errors.
- develop and support a position on a particular book by writing a persuasive essay about their chosen title.
- Display a selection of banned or challenged books in a prominent place in your classroom. Include in this selection books meant for children and any included in the school curriculum. Ask students to speculate on what these books have in common.
- Explain to the students that these books have been "censored." Ask students to brainstorm a definition of censorship and record the students' ideas on the board or chart paper. When you have come up with a definition the group agrees on, have students record the definition.
- Brainstorm ways in which things are censored for them already and who controls what is censored and how. Examples include Internet filtering, ratings on movies, video games, music, and self-censoring (choosing to watch only 1 news show or choosing not to read a certain type of book). Discuss circumstances in which censorship would be necessary, if any, with the students.
- Provide the students’ definitions for challenged books as well as banned books. (Share these American Library Association definitions: “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”)
- After the students have seen the ALA definition, have the students “grow” in their own definitions. Ask them to revisit their definition and align it with the one presented by the American Library Association.
- Invite the students to brainstorm any books that they have heard of that have been challenged or banned from schools or libraries. Ask them if they know why those books were found to be controversial.
- Students should then brainstorm titles of other books that they feel could possibly be challenged or banned from their school collection. Allow time for students to share these titles with their classmates and offer an explanation of why they think these titles could possibly be challenged or banned.
- Share with the students a list of banned books.
- Take an informal poll to see how many books from the list the students have read or heard about. Elicit their responses to the books on the list:
- Did they find them to be entertaining, informative, beneficial or objectionable?
- Can they suggest reasons why someone would object to elementary, middle school or high school students reading these books?
- If desired, complete the session by allowing students to learn more about Banned Books Week, additional challenged/banned books, and cases involving First Amendment Rights.
- From a teacher-selected list of grade-appropriate books from the Challenged Children's Books list, have groups of students select one of the books to read in literature circles, traditional reading groups, or through read-alouds.
- As the students read, ask them to pay particular attention to the features in the books that may have made them controversial. As students find quotes/parts of the book that they find to be controversial, they should add them to their T-Chart, along with an explanation of why they think that this area could be controversial. On the left side of their T-Chart, they will list the quote or section of the book (with page numbers); on the right side of the T-Chart, they will write their thoughts on why this area could be seen as controversial.
- You may also choose to invite the students to use bookmarks (in addition to or instead of the T-Chart) , so they can record page numbers and passages as they read.
- After the students have completed the reading of their book, have a group or class discussion on the students' findings that they recorded on their bookmarks or T-Chart.
- Next, explain to students that they will be writing a persuasive piece stating what they believe should be done with the book that has been challenged. If students read the book in groups, they could write a team response.
- Share the Persuasive Writing Rubric to explore the requirements of the assignment in more detail and allow for students' questions about the assignment.
- Demonstrate the Persuasion Map and work through a sample book challenge to show students how to use the tool to structure their essays.
- Provide students with access to computers, and allow students the remainder of class to work with the Persuasion Map as a brainstorming tool and to guide them through work on their papers. If computer access is a problem, you may provide students with print copies of the Persuasion Map Printout.
- Encourage students to share their thoughts and opinions with the class as they work on their drafts. Students should print out their work at the end of the session.
- Invite students to share their persuasive pieces with the rest of the class. It is their job to persuade teachers, librarians, or administrators to keep the book in their collection, remove the book from their collection, or add the book to their collection.
- For an authentic sharing session, invite parents in for a panel discussion while the children present their thoughts and opinions on the matter of challenged and banned books.
- Students can discuss the books after each presentation to draw conclusions about each title and about censorship and challenges overall.
- If the students read their selected books in Literature Circles, the group members can take on the following roles:
- Concerned Parent
- The concerned parent is interested in how controversial materials affect school children. The concerned parent wants to maintain a healthy learning environment for students.
- Classroom Teacher
- The Classroom Teacher needs to select books that will both match the interests of the students and also meet the requirements of the curriculum. The Classroom Teacher needs to listen to the parents, and also follow the rules of the school.
- School Library Media Specialist
- The School Library Media Specialist selects library materials based on the curriculum and reading interests the students in the school.
- School Lawyer
- The School Lawyer is concerned about how the students’ civil liberties would be affected if the School Board decided to ban books.
- Students can elicit responses and reactions from peers, teachers, administrators, librarians, the author, and parents in regards to the particular book they are researching. Ask students to focus on the appropriateness of the book in reference to an elementary school collection.
- Discuss Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico and how after the decision from that court case public school districts around the country developed policies concerning book challenges in elementary, middle, and high school libraries.
- Students can play the role of the librarian and decide where a challenged/banned book should be shelved. For example, the challenged book may be a picture book, but the “librarian” might decide that the book should instead be shelved in the Teacher Resource Section of the library. An alternative for Sessions Three and Four for this lesson plan is to ask students to write persuasive essays explaining where the book should be shelved and why it should be shelved there.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- As students discuss censorship and challenged/banned books, and as they read their selected text, listen for comments that indicate they are identifying specific examples from the story that connect to the information they have learned (you should also check for evidence of this on their bookmarks or T-Chart). The connections that they make between the details in the novel and the details they choose as their supporting reasons for their persuasive piece will reveal their understanding and engagement with the books.
- Monitor student interaction and progress during any group work to assess social skills and assist any students having problems.
- Respond to the content and quality of students’ thoughts in their final reflections on the project. Look for indications that the student provides supporting evidence for the reflections, thus applying the lessons learned from the work with the Persuasion Map.
- Assess students’ persuasive writing piece using the rubric.