Saturday, January 7, 2012

Making connections

This week was one of those weeks in reading that you look back on and think, “Yes, I did something good here.” And man, are those weeks needed sometimes! We started the week, as I talked about here, with our reading resolutions. My students are loving the ALA Challenge! Looking over my classroom with eleven-year-old kids laying all around and reading books from the 40’s and 50’s, I had to smile. I loved hearing some of them sharing with each other, “You’ve got to see this illustration!” or “My book is called The Matchlock Gun! I wonder what it’s about.” So much fun.

Tuesday I began using different activities from a new book for me called Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements by Michael W. Smith and Jeffery E. Wilhelm. Some friends of mine had been discussing it on Twitter this summer. I had asked if I could use it in fifth grade, it states on the cover that it is for grades sixth through twelfth. They thought I would be able to pick and chose some activities, so I purchased it and am grateful I did.

I used some of the character activities this week. Wednesday we had a lesson where the students look at a handout with five characters. Each character has a short paragraph detailing the person’s name, favorite subject, what career they would like, and a short statement. The students have to rank the characters from 1-5 based on whom they would most want to room with at summer camp. It was interesting to see how they would pick a person “because they like American Idol and I like American Idol.” My co-teachers and I would discuss the need to go further. What type of person do they seem to be? Would this be the type of person you’d want to stay with?

Then on Thursday we did an activity that lists four people and has a short paragraph detailing something about that person. From those actions, what type of person can you infer that they are? We "jigsawed" this activity and then came back to the group and spoke about the person each group studied. The kids did an amazing job talking about their chosen character. My favorite part came the next day, however.

See, on Friday I was working with my new RTI group. I teach an enrichment class on Reading and Relaxation. (Yoga is involved some days) I was sharing one of my favorite books with the group, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. This group of 20+ kids is made up of some students from my three reading classes, and they’ve heard this book before. But about 1/3-1/2 of the group is from the two reading classes I don’t have and I was introducing this story to them. I got my red had from Jen Vincent on, and began to read. When I was done we took the vote as I always did, how many kids would be #teambear, how many #teamrabbit. Team rabbit was at least 60% of the class, maybe more. And several students who had been staunch #teambear fans had switched. What had happened? Had Jen Vincent somehow infiltrated my classroom and brainwashed the group? So I asked, and I was surprised by the answer.

Flashing back to Thursday, one of the characters had been Paul.  Here is what his section said:

Paul (from Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut)
[The dog] bit me [Paul]. So I got me some steak, and I got me the spring, out of a clock. I cut that spring up in little pieces. I put points on the ends of the pieces. They were sharp as razor blades. I stuck ‘em into the steak-way inside. And I went past where they had the dog tied up. He wanted to bite me again. I said to him, “Come on, doggie-let’s be friends. Let’s not be enemies any more. I’m not mad.” He believed me.
Pg. 40 from Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements

The group that had that section had been horrified. I remember one boy looked at me and said, “The dog bit him and now he’s going to kill the dog? Where is the fairness in that?” We had large group discussions on this. They wanted to know more about this book, more about Kurt Vonnegut. Honestly, I haven’t read anything by him. My aide had, and she shared with the students. The discussion flowed.

Jumping back to Friday and my RTI class discussion of I Want My Hat Back, we continued to discuss the bear and the rabbit. I asked again what changed some of my student’s minds.

One child raised his hand and said, “You know, it’s like Paul from that ‘Slaughterhouse’ book – who was that author?”

“Kurt Vonnegut, “ I answered.

“Yep, Paul took revenge on the dog but he went overboard. Don’t you think that is what happened with the bear here? I don’t think I’d want him for my summer camp roommate like we did in that mini-lesson on Tuesday, would you?” the student asked.

I looked at this student, and at this group of kids who were staring at me in my red hat, and my eyes welled up a bit. These kids get it, not every day, but they did this week. And that’s what makes me want to come back again Monday, and all the days after that. Sometimes when I least expect it, they start applying what I’ve been teaching in ways I didn’t expect them to. And that is where the magic lies. A fabulous conversation followed.

And for the record, Jen, no matter what they said, I am still a card carrying member of #teambear. But thank you for creating the video for me to show them Monday morning. J