Friday, October 29, 2010

What is Important About the Common Core State Standards?

Lately, I've been pretty immersed in the Common Core State Standards. I'm trying read up on the research about why and how they were developed. I am thinking about the best way my district can begin to have conversations about them. In listening to others talk about what their districts are doing, I keep hearing, "We just have to get the Standards into the teachers' hands."

I don't know, maybe I am being too cynical, but I have this vision of me handing teachers a binder with the Standards and teachers sliding the binder onto a shelf. I do not mean to say that my teachers don't care about teaching and learning. I am part of a staff that is very caring and committed to student learning. I know they are going to think, "This is just another passing fancy. In a year or two, I can empty the binder and have another empty binder for my collection." Teachers are just busy! If I put the standards into their hands, I think I also need to give them the time and opportunity to talk about them, to dissect them and discuss them. Unfortunately, I am not the one that has the power to do that.

Last Monday, I went to a conference led by the Michigan Department of Education. The purpose of the conference was to give information about the standards and about the assessment that is supposed to be ready to replace the MEAP by 2014. I appreciate that the state put it together. I got some good information and some teaching ideas from the break-out sessions. But the general session that attempted to address the new Common Core test really bothered me. (It bothered me first of all because it was "a suit" reading a power point to me.) I know schools are going to be worried about the new test--what it will look like, who will score it, where will the cut scores be set (this one, I think, could cause some real issues for Michigan. MEAP cut scores in math have been set as low as 32% in the past!)

I think the focus of adopting the Common Core State Standards should be the teaching and learning associated with them. How do we engage in best practices to ensure that our students are learning to be critical readers and thinkers? How do we engage in conversations to make sure that we implement the Standards in a way appropriate for our community, school, and students? The focus should always be our students. But one of the state people, in regard to what was of primary importance in adopting the standards and getting ready for the change in assessment, actually said (and this is when I really started getting hot under the collar):

We don't want to endanger how we prepare for tests.

Seriously? That was the important piece of information I was supposed to take away from the day? The content specialists were saying that the standards aim for teaching the "capacities" of English language arts and "mathematical practices" in mathematics. That sounds like a step in the right direction. But the people at the top are worried about "endangering how we prepare for tests." Nice.

And the consortium that is charged with developing the new assessment asked for $350million to develop the test. They were awarded $160million. No money has been earmarked for administering or scoring. Of course not. Why would the state or federal government ever issue a mandate to schools AND then actually fund it? But we shouldn't worry about that. We just need to remember not to endanger how we prepare for tests. Oh-and one more thing-that the goal of the new standards and the new common assessment is to improve teaching. Because that has worked well for us so far.

Who wants to develop the scale that improves weight loss for me?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Me as a Reader

Franki, Kevin, and Linda all recently blogged about things that define them as readers. Aren't they great lists? They inspired me to create my own.

1. The first book I remember reading on my own was Bears in the Night.
2. I think that book fueled my love of horror novels!
3. I read aloud a book in my first grade class. It was a Tweety and Sylvester book and I remember my teacher marveling over my Tweety voice: "I tawt I taw a putty-tat. I did! I did taw a putty-tat!"
4. I read The Hobbit in 4th grade.
5. I also read A Wrinkle in Time in 4th grade and Madeleine L'Engle became my favorite author.
6. In 7th grade we had to write 7 book reports per marking period. I was in heaven!
7. I was an Anne McCaffrey fanatic in 7th grade.
8. I cannot remember a single book that I had to read in high school.
9. I have never read Shakespeare and I have no desire to do so now.
10. I used to read to my daughters every night. I still read to them, but not as often. (They are 13 and 10 now.)
11. When I read to Genevieve as part of her bedtime ritual, I was the one who fell asleep!
12. G and I cried together when we read about Matthew Cuthbert death.
13. I have read almost everything by Stephen King. But not the Dark Tower books.
14. The Stand is my all time favorite book. It is another book I read in 4th grade!
15. Every year for Christmas I got one boxed set of books. It was my favorite gift to open.
16. When I think one genre is my favorite, I remember all the great books of another genre!
17. I wish I were a published author.
18. I love to read aloud in classrooms.
19. Today I read "Are We There Yet?" a short story from the book Just Annoying. The kids LOVED it!!
20. I remember racing Mike Bachman (not sure what grade it was) to see who could finish the SRA kit first.
21. I loved those SRA kits as a kid.
22. I hate those SRA kits as a teacher!
23. On long car trips, I read aloud to the family. I think my husband likes it more than the girls.
24. I partner-read Red Dog with a 5th grade boy. After it made me cry, he was determined to find another book for us to read together that would make me cry.
25. I don't think I have read a single Patricia Polacco book that did not make me cry.
26. I saw Patricia at last year's Michigan Reading Association conference...and she had THE keeping quilt with her!
27. My personal picture book library has over 800 books.
28. I love meeting authors.
29. I love getting my books autographed.
30. I love sharing autographed books with kids, who then see them as treasure like I do!
31. I was beyond geeked when I book I bought in a whole box of picture books was autographed by Patricia Polacco.
32. I think it is so uber-cool that I can follow and TALK TO some of my favorite authors on Twitter!!! (I'm @mom2preteens if you'd like to follow me!)
33. I fell in love with the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in high school.
34. In college I used the Reader's Guide like a treasure hunt to learn about things I didn't even know I wanted to know about.
35. I find it harder to read longer nonfiction text since I've been online.
36. I love science fiction--especially Heinlein and Asimov. But also Orson Scott Card and Ray Bradbury.
37. Two of my favorite books, The Doomsday Book and Outlander, are an incredible mesh of science fiction and historical fiction.
38. Goth Girl Rising was the first book that ever made me want to write to the author. And I did. Here. (And he read it, because I follow him on twitter! :D)
39. I am addicted to Scholastic book orders and I often will not let myself go into a book store if I know I can't buy anything.
40. I get disappointed when books I've really loved get made into movies. The biggest disappointment was probably The Tale of Despereaux.

I think I will stop at 40. Maybe I will come back and add more at another time. If you decide to blog about yourself as a reader, link back to me!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

6 Word Memoirs from 5th Grade

October 20 was the National Day on Writing. To celebrate, I spent some time with a 5th grade classroom, writing 6 Word Memoirs. They would love to share their work with you!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is it cyber-bullying

Being a mom to a young adolescent is so much different than just being a teacher of young adolescents. And the world of our preteens and teens is so much different now than even 17 years ago, when I first set foot in my 8th grade classroom. We have so many things to worry about as parents. And technology can add to those worries. Thankfully, it can also be an outlet for finding people who can help with answers and advice. That is what I need today!

My 13 year old daughter is on facebook. She handles herself well and she understands (mostly) how to stay safe, how to develop her digital footprint. I like to think that I am right there beside her to guide her. I am her friend on facebook and I do monitor what she says and what others say on her wall. I do not get into her account, as she has given me no reason to think she is hiding anything or doing anything inappropriate. In fact, the issues she is facing right now, she is being very up front with me about. I guess I just need some reassurance that I have handled things correctly and maybe some suggestions on what more I might need to do.

The issue is that there are a couple of high school girls who are posting very catty posts to her wall and commenting snarkily on her status updates. There is nothing overtly threatening to the posts, but I can tell that it causes my daughter anxiety. I recommended that she "unfriend" them. Really, why do you want to invite people into your life who make you feel that way? She did take my advice, but reluctantly. She seems to think these girls will view her as weak if she unfriends them, or that they will think they have the upper hand. I think at this point she needs to ignore them. She is already worrying about next year when she will be in the high school with them!

So at this point, do I ignore them as well, or do I let someone know about the behavior of these girls? And if so, who? I know my daughter is worried, and it is a worry that I share, that if I do say something to the school or to the parents, the backlash from the girls will be worse than what she is currently experiencing.

When these perplexing problems show up, I really miss those sweet little toddler days, when the biggest struggle in her life was avoiding naptime!

Monday, October 18, 2010

First Meeting continued....

If you haven't already, read about the first half of this meeting here...

The second team member to share was the art teacher. After reading the William's article, she realized she wanted to work on giving students wait time after she asked questions. That became a focus for her in the first month and a half of school. It became apparent during the meeting that she does like to jump in when people are speaking and to finish sentences. It really did help our rapport grow that we could tease her when this happened and help her to self-monitor her behavior. In addition, she wanted to decrease the number of times she had to give instructions in her class. To do this, she utilized the tool of Thumbs-Up, asking students to show her non-verbally whether they understood directions or not. This tool helps students to become metacognitive and to think and decide if they really do understand. We talked as a team about building the kind of classroom community that makes it OK for students to be honest when they are confused or behind, so that they aren't giving the "thumbs-up" even when they don't understand something.

Next to share was the 8th grade language arts teacher. She was sharing her new Independent Reading requirement with the group and how she was trying to monitor that with Reading Logs, which were the tools she was sharing. I had had a planning conversation with her the week before about this new part of her classroom requirements, and I could see how her thoughts had progressed since our conversation last week, and also her misunderstandings about how formative assessment might fit into the independent reading requirement. In explaining her reading logs, she talked about how much time her students were required to read. Some probing questions led her to the understanding the giving students a reading log and a goal was not requiring the students to set goals, which is the formative assessment strategy she thought she was accomplishing. It was serendipitous that over the weekend I found a great blog post in which a reading teacher wrote about her students using reading logs to do some self-assessment and for conferencing between the student and teacher. I passed this reading along to my teacher and will check in with her later in the week to see what she thought.

The last presenter for our first meeting was a 5th grade teacher. This teacher was part of the team last year and in a classroom, she would be the perfectionist. :) The tools she shared, I think, really gave the rest of the group a clear picture of how to plan for using formative assessment tools and for using the data that the tools provide. She shared some learning targets she had written for her fifth graders in their science class. The learning targets had been revisited by the students after each classroom activity and once more after the summative assessment. Students were self-assessing their knowledge and understanding of the learning targets. The team was able to suggest to this teacher that she somehow have the students code each time they re-assess the targets, better tracking the flow of their understanding. It is the mark of a good team that even though it was apparent this teacher has a deeper understanding of formative assessment, they still felt comfortable giving her suggestions for improvement, and she was thankful to hear them. This 5th grade teacher teaches ELA as well. She also shared a method of providing feedback to students using twiducate. Twiducate is a social net-working site that is private in the classroom. It has a format similar to facebook. The teacher posted a prompt for students to write about dealing with the book she is reading aloud to them. After their posts, she went back and left feedback comments for them and the students made changes to their posts to reflect what they had learned from the feedback left to them. Several other teachers were eager to learn more about using twiducate for similar lessons.

The last part of the protocol for sharing formative assessment tools asks presenter to reflect on how the data from the tool caused them to adjust their instruction. As a group we kept struggling with this reflection. We realized a couple of times that instruction wasn't adjusted because the tool really wasn't used formatively. In those instances, we all brainstormed ideas for pushing those tools to be formative. Other times, we were just confused about how that adjustment of instruction was supposed to happen.

But then we moved on to our new learning. We looked at chapter three in our formative assessment learning guide. This chapter is about the triangulation of data in order to get a valid picture of what students know and can do. This chapter gave us an "A-HA moment" when we read this:
"The purpose of developing and using assessments and gathering student evidence within The Formative Assessment Process is three-fold. It allows (1) you to know where students are in relation to the learning targets, (2) students to see what they know and need to work on, and (3) you and your students to use this information to make decisions about where to go next with the learning."
And then I knew the problem. When I created the protocol, I was making formative assessment about the teacher only. And it isn't! The huge power of formative assessment comes in the way that it puts the ownership for learning back into the hands of the students. It gives them choice and power. It takes the veil of secrecy off our teaching, letting students in on the "why" of learning. The team discussed how we could revise the protocol to reflect our new understanding.

In addition to the above new learning, the chapter outlines the three types of formative assessment: products, conferences, and observations. I asked the team members to think about their own practice and share where they felt their strengths and weaknesses in using these three types of assessments. After some discussion, I asked the team to start being intentional and trying to use all three types with at least one class. This was their homework.

I had planned to spend a bit more time on the learning portion of the meeting, but the time got away from us and I did not want to hold them any longer on a Friday afternoon. But honestly, I could have. When I said it was 4:30, so we would wrap it up, they were all surprised. How refreshing to still feel ready to share and learn more on a Friday afternoon after a full day of professional development!

The last thing I asked the team to do was to fill out a Ticket Out the Door. The first question was asking them to reflect on the tool they presented (or were going to present) and explain which type of assessment it was. In this way, I was tying what they had done to the new learning they accomplished from Chapter 3 in the learning guide. The second question was asking them to reflect on which tool from today's presentations they could envision working in their own classroom. With this question, I was hoping to build their efficacy as well as have them reflect on their craftsmanship. In the coming weeks, I can check in with them about what they indicated they wanted to try and see how it is working for them.

I have such positive feelings for the year ahead!!

First Formative Assessment Team Meeting

This is the second year that my school district has been involved in The Formative Assessment Process, an initiative by the Michigan Department of Education and Measured Progress. My team last year consisted of three high school and three middle school teachers. As the Literacy Coach in the middle school, I functioned in the role of their coach. At the end of last year, one of my high school teachers became the coach for a full high school team and I opened the middle school team up for new members.

My original three members remained and five new teachers joined the project this year. My team consists of one 5th grade teacher, two 6th grade teachers, three 8th grade teachers, the middle school art teacher, and the middle school Spanish teacher. Math, English Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies are all represented in the team. In a rural school with about 24 teachers, my formative assessment team represents about one-third of my staff. I think that is pretty impressive when one considers that the team is completely voluntary.

Last Friday was a Professional Development day across our district. There were several meetings and presentations throughout the day and the formative assessment team agreed to place our meeting at the end of the day and stay beyond the posted end of the day to accomplish the goals we had set out for ourselves. In exchange for putting in the extra time, they asked to have the meeting held off-site, so at 2:30, we headed for the meeting room of a local restaurant.

We began our meeting with the protocol called Hopes and Fears. We discussed what we hoped to gain from our work together as well as our fears about what was ahead of us. Through this protocol, we came up with our norms. We are a fun-loving group and in addition to the norms that will keep us on track, we entertained some less academic norms as well. We agreed that our one male team member should be reminded at least three times per meeting that he was the only guy. And I was quick to veto the norm that the coach would pick up the tab for off-site meetings!

But we soon got down to business and discussed an article from Educational Leadership by Dylan Williams called Changing Classroom Practice. The team all agreed that the article helped assuage their fears that this process was going to be more than they could handle. We all agreed that each member should consider where they are now in their understanding of formative assessment and set a goal to move forward. We don't all have to be at the same place but we all have to respect where each person is.

The next part of our meeting was the sharing portion. Each team member was asked to bring in evidence of a formative assessment tool they used in their classroom since school began. Each person was given five minutes to share following a protocol I created that asked them to consider and talk about their goal or objective, how the tool was used, with which formative assessment strategy it aligned (activating prior knowledge, goal setting, feedback use, self-assessment, and peer assessment), and how the data from using the tool was used to adjust their instruction. I created this protocol hoping to create some reflective thinking about the tools teachers were selecting and if and how it really was formative assessment. Last year I sometimes felt I was not fulfilling my role of coach as well as I wanted to. Often, the tools teachers presented were very creative, fun activities. But they were not always formative assessment.

It was apparent an hour into the sharing time that we were not going to get through our agenda and through everyone presenting. We decided that four people per meeting would share. That would allow us to explore each tool in depth and not feel rushed.

The first person to share was the 8th grade Social Studies teacher. He shared a rubric he created for a Town Project in the Living Through History program. His goal with this tool was to allow students to have choice in the point values assigned to each criteria on his rubric. As the group discussed the strategy that this tool aligned to, I could really see the thinking being much more reflective and deeper than it got last year. While the rubric was a good one, and giving students some choice in how they would be graded is also a positive thing, the group decided that the actual rubric was not formative assessment. The group then helped this teacher brainstorm some ways that could push his rubric into the formative assessment realm. For example, if the groups had the rubrics from the start of the project, they could use it to self-assess half-way through. The teacher could conference with the groups on their progress and the groups could reflect on areas that they felt needed more work, or in which they lacked knowledge or understanding. That group brainstorming was powerful, as was the safe and respectful way that we recognized the good teaching in what was presented yet were still able to help push the teacher to see through the formative assessment lens.

Come back tomorrow to read about three other teachers using formative assessment tools and to find out what the team learned together!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dear Barry Lyga...

Recently I read two books by Barry Lyga: "The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl" and "Goth Girl Rising." They are two of the most excellent books I have ever read and I thought about writing traditional reviews of them. But this is not a book review blog. And there are many book review blogs out there that do a much better job than I ever could.

Instead, I was reading an interview with Barry on and I came across this quote: "The sequel had to be a better story than the original, in my mind. That's the standard I hold myself to when writing a follow-up--it has to be better than the original." It was serendipitous because as much as I enjoyed "Fanboy and Goth Girl," I found "Goth Girl Rising" to be so much more engaging, fulfilling, suspenseful. That is when I decided that I needed to take a page from the book and write to Barry Lyga. The fact that I follow him on twitter and that he could potentially read this letter (unlike Neil and Kyra's letters to him) both excites and terrifies me! (Or maybe Neil has read Kyra's letters? If not, he should!)

Dear Barry,
Kyra is one of my most favorite characters. Ever. I would have loved her as a teenage girl, but as a (gulp) middle-aged woman, I can relate to Kyra and her story on so many levels.

First of all, kudos to you! As Kyra marveled in Fanboy's ability to relate to and write about a mature woman, I marveled in your ability to capture the feelings, insecurities, and idiosyncrasies of an adolescent female. Though I did not have to suffer Kyra's heart break of losing a parent, I can remember how volatile it was to live through adolescence. The highs and lows, the need to be an individual yet also belong to a group, to feel connection with others but to push those connections away--those are all feelings I dealt with--feelings that are almost universal for many adolescents both male and female.

But Kyra also made me think about my adult roles. My heart broke for her many times throughout the book. I wanted to scream at her through the pages to let her guard down, to let someone in. And at the same time, my mind's eye was seeing students that have come through my classroom and my middle school. Kyra has nothing good to say about her teachers (much like Melinda in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak) but that doesn't mean they weren't good people. For whatever reason, none of them established the connection necessary to help Kyra navigate her troubled waters. And none of them really took the time to get to know her, to understand exactly what she was going through, to find a way to show their compassion for her loss other than through looks of pity. Kyra would be a hard student to like. But as a teacher, I need to remember that every student has a back story that I don't know. Every student, whether their actions are positive or negative, is acting to fill a need. Thank you, Barry, for making me remember that. For reminding me that I need to look at every student as an individual. That every student wants to be known and understood. Every student is a soul to be nurtured, not just a vessel to fill.

But, Barry, where your story affected me the most was through the final stages of Kyra's relationship with her mom. When you finally revealed the last words Kyra spoke to her mom, I lost my breath. That is not just a euphemism; I very honestly could not breathe. The guilt and anger that Kyra had been carrying became so clear in those four words. And then I cried. I am not talking a couple of tears spilling out of my eyes. I mean a full-blown-put-the-book-down-and-sob-out-loud cry. I was crying for Kyra's mom, who wasn't able to be the kind of mother I know she wanted to be. I was crying for the whole future of what Kyra lost when she lost her mother. I cried because life is so fragile that Kyra's world could be any child's world--could be MY child's world. And so, Barry, you taught me another lesson through Kyra: I have to give my daughters the skills, knowledge, and courage to face this world without me. I have to make sure EVERY DAY that they know how much they are loved. I have to give them a support system outside myself that they can rely on in times that I can't be there for them. I am hoping that that day is long into the future, but the actions I take today will help them grow into the kind, strong women I hope they become.

Kyra will get there too, I know. Her support system just took longer to establish itself. Thank you so much for her story.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Music as Motivation

Connecting instruction to student interest is a crucial component in motivating students to learn. Music is one way to create that connection and there are many songs that the classroom teacher can use to introduce concepts in all content areas. This post will focus on social studies, sharing some bibliographies that came from a MAMSE conference (Michigan Association of Middle School Educators) many years ago. These songs were shared by Vincent Calcaterra, an educator at L'Anse Creuse Public Schools in Macomb County, Michigan.

Anything You Want-Roy Orbison (Unlimited wants, needs)
Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind-The Lovin' Spoonful (choice, opportunity cost)
The Road Not Taken-Bruce Hornsby and the Range (trade-offs, opportunity cost) talks about the result of choices made by both the singer and object of his disappointment
Paper in Fire-John Mellencamp (trade-offs, choice)
Look Out Any Window- Bruce Hornsby and the Range (externalities, trade-offs) As we seek new products or increased quantities of existing products, our own desire to satisfy our unlimited wants lead to the production of wastes and residues that, themselves, impose costs.
Please, Please Me-The Beatles (utility, exchange, markets, prices)
Baby, You Can Drive My Car-The Beatles (complimentary goods)
Money for Nothin'-Dire Straits (labor, factor markets, exchange)
Workin' for a Livin'-Huey Lewis and the News (labor, factor markets, exchange)
The Way that You Use it-Eric Clapton (productivity, entrepreneurship, risk)
Money-Barrett Strong or The Beatles (money, scarcity, monetary policy)
If I Ever Lose my Faith in You-Sting (money) The value of fiat money is people's confidence or faith. When people loose their faith or confidence in money, its value and usefulness collapse.
M.T.A.-The Kingston Trio (role of government, fiscal policy, representative government, place, movement, individual rights, historical events, freedom of speech, assembly, petition)
Tax Man-The Beatles (fiscal policy, role of government)
Satisfaction-The Rolling Stones (utility)
You Can't Always Get What you Want-The Rolling Stones (scarcity, wants, needs)
Candy Everybody Wants-10,000 Maniacs (supply, markets, demand, wants)
All or Nothing At All-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (scarcity, wants, risks)
Takin' Care of Business-Bachman Turner Overdrive (wants, scarcity, trade-offs)
Everybody Wants to Rule the World-Tears for Fears (wants, scarcity, trade-offs, utility, decision-making) We want it all and are sometimes upset by the decisions we make to get there. The Problem is, there's always a cost.
Shop Around-The Miracles (choice)

My Sweet Lord-George Harrison (freedom of religion)
Amazing Grace-Judy Collins (freedom of religion)
Tom Dooley-The Kingston Trio (justice)
The Times They are A-Changin'-Bob Dylan (representative government, popular sovereignty)
Contract on Love-Stevie Wonder (rule of law)
This Is My Country-The Impressions (equality, pursuit of happiness)
Keep on Pushing-The Impressions (equality, pursuit of happiness, black pride, civil rights)
Amen & People Get Ready-The Impressions (freedom of religion)
Ohio-Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (individual rights)
Freddie's Dead-Curtis Mayfield (justice)
Gangsta's Paradise-Coolio (justice)
Everyday People-Sly and the Family Stone (equality, diversity)
Someday We'll All be Free-Alicia Keys (individual rights, equality)
Abraham, Martin and John-Dion (equality, justice, truth, diversity)
Cuttin' Heads-John Mellencamp (equality, justice)

Dancing in the Streets-Martha and the Vandella's (location, place)
New York State of Mind-Billy Joel (place)
Chicago-Frank Sinatra (place, location)
My City of Ruin-Bruce Springsteen (place)
This Land is Your Land-Pete Seeger (place, location)
Mercy, Mercy Me-Marvin Gaye (human/environment interaction)
Drive My Car-The Beatles (movement)
American Pie-Don McLean (history, chronology, movement, place)

Foreign policy: Washington Bullets-The Clash; Civil War-Guns-n-Roses; Political Science-Randy Newman
The environment: Big Yellow Taxi-Joni Mitchell or Counting Crows; What's Goin' On-Marvin Gaye; Bogusflow-Beck
Homelessness: Man in the Mirror-Michael Jackson; He Call Home-Candlebox
Child Abuse: Luca-Suzanne Vega; What's the Matter Here?-10,000 Maniacs
Social change: At Seventeen-Janis Ian; Revolution-The Beatles; Smells Like Teen Spirit-Nirvana
Apartheid: Biko-Peter Gabriel; Talk to the People and The Waiting-Johnny Clegg and Savuka
Suicide: Richard Cory-Peter, Paul and Mary; Jeremy-Pearl Jam
Native Americans: After the Buffalo are Gone-Buffy St. Marie; Freedom-Rage Against the Machine

The Battle of New Orleans, Sink the Bismark-Johnny Horton
Auld Lang Syne from Kenny G's "Faith" album
Route 66-Nat King Cole
Alamo-Marty Robbins
The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti and Joe Hill-Joan Baez
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald-Gordon Lightfoot
Allentown-Billy Joel
Youngstown-Bruce Springsteen
Wind of Change-Scorpion
Yellow Rose of Texas-Mitch Miller

So those are the ones included in Mr. Calcaterra's list. I would also add a few:

We Didn't Start the Fire-Billy Joel
Sweet Home Alabama-Lynrd Skynrd
Sunday, Bloody Sunday-U2
Pride in the Name of Love-U2
(Can you sense my love of anything U2? So many of their songs deal with issues of social justice.)
The album Deisel and Dust-Midnight Oil (struggles of the Australian Aborigines)

What songs do you use to connect content to student interest?