Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching The Children of Willesden Lane
Resources to help you teach the book in middle schools and high schools

Chapters 20–26

Classroom Video:
A Structured Conversation

The Children of Willesden Lane calls on readers to understand more than Lisa’s journey from Vienna to London—it asks them to apply this understanding to becoming a citizen of the world. To do this, students need to hear one another's perspectives on the story, not just the perspective of the teacher. Setting up structured conversations about readings from the book can help. Structured conversations encourage students to compare their own responses with those of others, to anchor what they say in the details of the text, and to forge connections to larger frames of meaning.

In the video, Jane Percival leads her seventh- and eighth-grade students through her own adaptation of the “Grand Conversation” outlined on page 40 of the curriculum guide. Students have been exploring the yearlong theme “What makes a community?” and have just finished reading Chapters 20–24 in The Children of Willesden Lane. This school is an arts-centered public charter school where interdisciplinary inquiry is central to the instructional approach.

  • Students read from their response journals, and discuss their reactions to Chapters 20–24 in the book.
  • Jane fosters conversation with thought-provoking questions such as “What was particularly intense for you in reading the book?,” “What do you gain from this being a memoir rather than fiction?,” and “How has reading this book enlarged your view of history?”
  • Jane concludes with a restatement of the central question of the curriculum guide: “Why don’t some groups of people, or whole countries, reach out in a time of crisis?” Student conversation turns to a broader and more historical perspective and begins to touch on what it means to be a citizen of the world.

Questions for Reflection

  • What evidence did you see that Jane’s structured conversation helped students learn from one another’s perspectives on the text?
  • What did Jane do to help students develop the background knowledge necessary to see the story in historical perspective? What other techniques would you try?
Teacher Jane Percival sits with her students during a presentation


Teacher: Jane Percival
Grades: 7–8
Subject: Language arts
Location: Haydenville, MA

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