The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 1 - Page 49



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Henry's Freedom Box: A Meaningful Read Aloud


Kristen Dejong

My kindergarten students and I recently shared a very meaningful read-aloud experience that I would like to share with you. I teach at a very diverse school and my class embodies students of all races and cultures.

I have been reading Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine to my class of five- and six-year-olds for three years now. I always choose to read this book right around Martin Luther King Jr. day because it is very relevant to what Dr. King was fighting for during the Civil Rights Movement. This story is based on true events relating to the underground railroad and the slave trade. I preface the book by telling students that we will be hearing a story about a special boy named Henry, who didn't always have an easy life.

Prior to reading this time, we had been studying right versus wrong and standing up for what you believe is right. We had written our own I Have a Dream speeches and displayed them in the hallway. Although they are young and barely at the beginning of their educational journey, I believe kindergarten students can comprehend and understand much more than we give them credit for. I try to give my students as many authentic experiences that relate to the real world as I can. I LOVE when they ask questions too.

On one particular day, I was reading right after lunch and I had their full attention. We briefly talked about what we had been learning, and how this might connect to our story. I wrote the words Henry's feelings on the board and told them we would come back to this to make a list about the main character in the book. As I read, I stopped to ask them questions about the book.

In the beginning of the story, Henry's master allows him to have some freedoms that other masters do not allow their slaves. For example, he was able to meet a woman he loved, get married, and have children. However, the first hardship Henry faces in the story is having his family sold to another master and taken away. My students are very empathetic and simply could not believe this. They immediately wanted to have a conversation about this (which we did quickly) and then I kept reading.

Henry ends up inside of a shipping box as a last resort to escaping slavery and heading up North. Although the story has a hopeful ending, it does not have a happy beginning or middle. My students and I talked about this. I believe I had their attention more than I would have with a traditional picture book because of the real emotions and sadness that the book encompasses. We completed our list of Henry's feelings. Some of their ideas were sadness, hope, and fear. We talked about why our nation does not practice slavery anymore and how public figures like Dr. King helped to end inequality such as this.

This was a great learning experience for my students that they still talk about. They beg me every day to read Henry's book again. I had several students ask me even more questions after I was finished reading. I feel as though this is a text that can be used for several different lessons, and for many different grade levels (depending on how deep into understanding you go). This book would also very valuable for a character study.

Kristen deJong and is a third-year Kindergarten teacher at Bayless Elementary in St. Louis County. She is currently pursuing a Master's in Literacy through Missouri State University with the goal of also receiving my reading specialist certification. Reading and everything it entails is her passion, inside and out of the classroom.



See next page for References

Description: Storyline Online is an award-winning online platform for students, parents, and teachers alike. Created by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation (SAG), it is an online tool that shares high-quality books with a worldwide audience. Each story is read by a professional, well-known actor in conjunction with creative illustrations. Almost every book comes with activity guides developed by literacy specialists to use in school and at home to increase literacy development and skill acquisition. Not only do the guides include reading and writing activities, but they also incorporate cross-curricular tie-ins and cooking activities!

Kimberly Schaller is a 2nd-5th special educator in Marionville, Missouri who is working towards a Master's Degree in Literacy at Missouri State University.


Platform: iOS, Android, Chrome OS, Computer

Category: Teacher Apps and Interactive Language Learning

Grades: Pre-K through 12th Grade

Cost: Free

Rating: 5 Stars

Description: Duolingo is a fun and interactive computer program or app that I love using in my classroom. I have a classroom that is a melting pot of students from all different countries, ranging from Pakistan, Venezuela, Guatemala and more. I love the amount of culture in my class, but it can also be difficult when I only speak English. Duolingo has proven to be an amazing help to my English language learners. I give them time each day, approximately 15 minutes to work on Duolingo and better their English skills. My students simply type in which language is their native language, what language they want to learn, and after that it’s all fun. The program was built to hold students’ attention by being in the form of a game and beating levels, while learning at the same time. I have personally seen the impact of this program firsthand and would recommend this to any classroom, and any age group.

Heather Highfill is a Middle School Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at Ballenger Creek Middle School in Frederick, Maryland who graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor's degree. She is currently working on a Master's degree in Literacy through Missouri State University online classes.

The Missouri Reader has published a review of SeeSaw in the past, but we wanted to revisit this app and its use with non-English speaking families.

Using SeeSaw to

Connect with Families

SeeSaw is an app that has gained a lot of attention for its use as a student driven portfolio tool. Students take pictures and record videos of what they are learning in the classroom. Each time a child makes a new post, their family receives a notification. The child’s family member can then like or comment on the child’s post. Every listening and speaking standard can be taught and mastered through the child’s use of SeeSaw.

What makes SeeSaw better than other portfolio tools? Seesaw is completely free for parents and families, but even better is its ability to automatically sync to the default language of the phone. For example, if you have a parent who reads and writes in Spanish and their phone is set to Spanish as the default language, it automatically translates SeeSaw messages, and posts with written text for you. This makes connecting with the families of emerging bilingual students a breeze.

One amazing illustration of this in this classroom is K-1 ESL teacher, Dana Maple’s use of SeeSaw while helping a kindergarten newcomer from Uzbekistan. Ms. Maple used SeeSaw to help her student acclimate more quickly to our school by taking pictures and videos throughout the school day and writing a comment about what was happening in each one. The student’s mother was somewhat bilingual, but her phone was set to Russian. When she received each notification, she was able to read the comments written in English by Ms. Maple, in her first language, Russian. When her daughter got home each night, they would watch the videos together and she would explain what was happening and the proper classroom routines for unpacking her backpack, sharpening a pencil, lining up, and other classroom activites.


Platform: iOS, Android, Chrome OS, Computer

Category: Teacher and Student Apps, Digital Portfolio, Home-School Communication

Grades: Pre-K through 5th Grade and beyond

Cost: Free!

Rating: 5 Stars (4,929)

Description: SeeSaw is a student driven portfolio tool that is free for classroom teachers and families! SeeSaw connects parents with what their child is learning at home. Students share stories they’ve written, science experiments, math strategies and much, much more. The possibilities are endless!

Victoria Poor is a first grade teacher at Branson's Cedar Ridge Elementary and a graduate student in the MSEd Literacy program at Missouri State University