Educator Feature: Kate Bowen

Educator Feature: Kate Bowen

Inquiry Based Learning and Picture Books

Kate Bowen is an educational leader with the California History-Social Science Project, and brings over thirty years of experience as a teacher. This month we asked Kate to share her favorite tools, skills, and strategies to support inquiry-based learning throughout the year. Having taught elementary school in Davis and served as an educational leader with CHSSP and beyond, Kate contributes her years of expertise and keen insight into the world of elementary learning.  Here at the CHSSP Statewide Office, Kate develops innovative teaching and research practices and connects other educational leaders throughout the state to our resources through our conferences, workshops, and institutes. 

This month we asked Kate for her favorite tools, skills, and strategies to support inquiry-based learning throughout the year.  The top four include:

  1. Close Reading Markers  encourage student interaction with text. These can be used before or after lessons to assess or refresh knowledge. 
    • Prep note: Run on card stock and laminate for students to use throughout the year.
  2. Collaborative Conversations are helpful to use for speaking and listening standards - I usually pick one panel, i.e. Politely Disagreeing, for the focus of the conversation about a particular topic.
    • Prep note: Run on colored paper and fold into a booklet for each student to use throughout the year. Click here for instructions on how to put the booklet together.
  3. Evidence Bookmarks to provide sentence starters that students use when writing evidence-based sentences.
    • Prep note: Run on cardstock, laminate and use throughout the year.
  4. 3-2-1  is an inquiry strategy to use with visual primary sources . It consists of: 3 things I notice in the image, 2 things I notice when looking more closely, and 1 question I have about the image. Great strategy that can provide success for all students, and is an especially successful strategy for English Language Learner students.
    • Prep note: Grab sticky notes.  I usually have students use a sticky note for their responses and share.  

If you follow our Facebook and Instagram, you will notice that we feature beautiful new picture books with annotations and suggestions for the classroom throughout each month. Kate is behind these selections! She chooses each book with care and considers how teachers might use it in their classroom and how students might experience it. Keep an eye out throughout the month for her newest book suggestions. Last month, features from #KatesBookClub books included:

Alejandria Fights Back!  La Lucha de Alejandria! by Leticia Hernandes-Linares and the Rise Home Stories Project.  Many people in el barrio are leaving because they can no longer afford their homes, and “For Sale” signs are popping up everywhere. Mami receives a letter saying that their rent is increasing and they'll have to move out too.  Alejandria knows it isn't fair, but she's not about to give up and leave. Join Alejandria as she brings her community together to fight and save their neighborhood.  This great title highlights some of the housing inequities that people experience in our country and is a great example of how students can participate in local government.  In Spanish and English.

Between Us and Abuela:  A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins.  This is a heartwarming tale of multicultural families, and the miracle of love.  Maria is traveling with her mother and younger brother, Juan, to visit their grandmother on the border of California and Mexico.  For the few minutes they can share together along the fence, Maria and her brother plan to exchange stories and Christmas gifts with the grandmother they haven't seen in years. This story provides a clear image for students of what life on the border is like.  Pair with My Two Border Towns.

Dear Primo:  A Letter to My Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh.  Two cousins, one in Mexico and one in America, share letters about their lives.  This book includes beautiful artwork and a glossary of Spanish words. Dear Primo provides a unique entry point for students see how their similarities are greater than their differences.  This could also pair well with a "pen pal" activity.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales.  This book is a celebration of what immigrants bring with them when they leave their homes. A story about family and a story to remind us that we are all dreamers, bringing our own gifts wherever we roam. The main character finds a home in the library that is filled with classic and notable titles (have students look carefully for some beloved books!). Here, she learns to read, speak, and write to "make our voices heard." California author.

Hear My Voice:  The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States/Excucha Mi Voz:  Los Testimonios de los jovenes detenidos en las frontera surena de los Estados Unidos compiled by Warren Binford.  What a collection of primary sources!  Every day, children in migration are detained at the US-Mexico border. They are scared, alone, and their lives are in limbo. Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz shares the stories of 61 of these children from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Mexico, ranging in age from five to seventeen—in their own words from actual sworn testimonies. The book is in English on one side; flip it over, and there's a complete Spanish version.  Incredibly moving.  Be sure to read the Foreword and Amplifying Children's Voices sections.  Includes Questions to Ask & Things to Think About section as well. Classroom appropriate, but hard to read/hear.

Playing at the Border:  A Story of Yo-Yo Ma by Johanna Ho.  Inspiring story of Yo-Yo Ma, who challenges conventions, expectations, and beliefs in order to build bridges to unite communities, people, and cultures. A beautiful picture book biography to enjoy and share in the home and the classroom.  Yo-Yo Ma performed at the US-Mexico border at the Rio Grande on April 13, 2019, as part of his multi-continent “Bach Project” tour to prove a point—through music, we can build bridges rather than walls between different cultures.  I literally could not love this book any more.  Fabulous read, and so many connections to be made - immigration, different cultures melding together.  Don't miss the back story.  California author.

We would love to hear how you are using these books and learning strategies in your classroom, and how your students are responding to them! Send us an email at 


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