Connect the Dots

Despite teaching 170 students at a gifted and talented middle school in Brooklyn, Chris Casaccio finds ways to make connections among art, film, literature, history, and writing. Connecting with each student proves a little more challenging, even for a dedicated teacher like her.
Students in Chris Casaccio’s class use literature, movies, and writing to help them understand what was happening during the Great Depression.


Students collaborate to connect themes common in literature, film, and history.

Chris Casaccio runs a tight ship. Her English class at IS 383 is focused, and her expectations for students are clear: read, listen, think, discuss, and write. She works hard to prepare her detailed lessons and strives to engage each of her students. The students she teaches come from all over New York City to attend this gifted and talented magnet school, and she wants their level of effort to match her own. One student—Michael—has connected with their unit on the Great Depression in ways that have surprised his teacher and his classmates.

Chris began using the novel No Promises in the Wind to tie the English and social studies curricula together. She’s hoping that this coming of age story blending adolescent issues with history will appeal to her students. There are so many themes in this novel that she’d like her students to really get. Will some of her students see how fortunate they are to have the friendship and support of their loved ones? Will others identify with the tensions in the novel between children and their parents? Will they internalize the acts of charity in the story and remember to lend a hand to those less fortunate than themselves? Will they learn the lesson of loyalty?

Read a summary of No Promises in the Wind below:

See the visual aids Chris is using with her students below:

See Chris’s essay assignment below:

See sample essay below:

Sometimes Chris feels overwhelmed by the need to provide meaningful feedback and figure out next steps for so many students. As she plods through the tower of essays on her desk, the finished grades added to her roster look like specks, like ants progressing in orderly columns toward some distant end. She knows that it’s the combination of all the little steps that will help her—and her students—see the big picture in the end.