Monday, October 21, 2013

Always Learning New Ways of Teaching

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As I write this post, I am reminded of a favorite introduction to a book.  The book is The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen, and the end sentences to the intro, titled "Tuning" is this:  If books could have more, give more, be more, show more, they would still need readers who bring to them sound and smell and light and all the rest that can’t be in books.

            The book needs you.


        You can download the entire passage from the link here.
       
         I've been facilitating several book groups over the recent weeks, and want to share one thing I've not done as formally until recently.  As luck, and planning needs required, I've ended up reading Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, two groups in a row, in different classes.  I enjoy the book for so many reasons, its fast but thoughtful pace, the strong voice in this scared young boy that gains in character as the book progresses, and Gary Paulsen's beautiful writing that is so useful to show off to budding writers.  


          Each of those ideas listed above could be a post, but today it's time to talk about
text to self, connections.  There are character traits we identify in Brian (the main character) that I ask the readers to keep track of as we read.  Often, our identification of traits depend upon our look at a main character's interactions with other characters, but this time readers must watch more carefully at only Brian's actions and thoughts. They list and give examples for determined, honest (doesn't lie to himself), persistent, resilient (a trait I suggested so they could know the word), intelligent, brave, courageous, grateful, thoughtful, and adventurous.  Although they give actions to show how he displays those traits, I also ask how having those traits help him survive, which furthers the importance of having them.  
          And in the continuing discussion, I've asked them to imagine how the traits, if they believed they had them, could apply to their own lives. We've had such rich conversations about this, how being brave or courageous could help when they had to do new things, or things they perceived as challenging.  And others shared that being thoughtful would help make friends, or even have friends.  There was more, and this next time, I will ask for a trait they believe they have, and how it helps them (or could help them) in their lives.  Brian is a great role model.  The students are fascinated that he could survive this hard time, and can figure out so much.  We also have discussed that survival pushes ourselves in different ways, and how we are surviving our lives, just not in desperate ways, so need these traits too.  By the way, both groups were mixed genders and the girls have been just as interested in the conversations as the boys.
         I really have never dug this deeply in this particular way. Perhaps it has been the thought-filled readers that have led me down this special path, I'm not sure.  But I'm very glad it happened. I would love to know if you have encouraged this kind of conversation, and with what books?


32 comments:

  1. Thank you so much Linda for your thoughtful and very timely post. I just bought a classroom set of Hatchet from Scholastics for only $1 each. The story line and character traits and story development are so rich and open many doors for honest converstaions with my 6th grade adventure readers. I am printing off your post to have in my Hatchet binder to stay inspired and on target wtih our Hatchet unit!

    Traveling Through Sixth Grade

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    1. Wow, isn't it wonderful when serendipity takes over? I hope your students love reading this together, Joanne! Thank you!

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  2. I love it when students take the book discussions deeper than expected. These discussions depend on many factors, reading and life experience of kids, their listening and discussion skills, and quite often on trust within the group. My this year's wow moments have come from a literature circle group discussing Because of Winn-Dixie. I have let the kids run the discussions and they have talked about how our behavior may mirror other people, how by changing our actions we may change the situation, about loneliness and sadness, about being a risk-taker, about not judging people by their first impression or past actions. I am talking about third and fourth graders.

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    1. I love that book, but have never read it in a group, Terje. Don't you just love lit circles? After these groups, I'll have to help this teacher try them, & your response from third & fourth graders will help. Thank you!

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  3. I would love to listen in to some meaningful conversations like this. Doesn't it just make your heart swell as you hear kids talking about books like Hatchet? They understand what it means to make a connection to a character.

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    1. Yes, I do love these conversations, Elsie. And sometimes I wonder if adults know the students can be so thoughtful? Thanks.

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  4. Love this glimpse into your teaching, Linda. Hatchet is certainly a powerful book. Love what you did here.

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    1. Thanks Katherine. Book love is what much of it is about, isn't it?

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  5. I think our students are really hungry for this type of discussion, Linda - they want to see these literary connections mirrored in real life, and they want to wonder aloud about the themes and characters they read about. It's such valuable wotrk, isn't it - and the rewards are rich conversations and lasting insights.

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    1. You're right, I've found they are eager to speak of "real" things connected to their lives, Tara. It's always a pleasure to teach the groups! Thanks!

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  6. Such thoughtful planning and teaching on your part! Isn't this exactly the type of work we do as readers when we "read for pleasure"? I know I do. This is what books stick with us forever.

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    1. Yes, for sure. I value books very much for what they can 'teach' me about myself & my life. And I want students to think that about books too! Thanks, Dana!

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  7. One of my favorite aspects of being a 6th-8th grade teacher was the conversations revolving around books. I especially loved book clubs, focusing on deep conversations about the books. I noticed your comment on Ruth's blog yesterday that you have Notice and Note but haven't gotten to it yet. I think that you will really enjoy the thinking behind their ideas. Last year when we used their ideas at my school, we were pleased with the results and the impact they had on conversations (although, as can be expected, some students needed more scaffolding than others).

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    1. Amanda, thank you, for the interesting response & the follow-up with Notice and Note-I'll try!

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  8. Wonderful that you can share your deep book conversations with us. I'm wondering it those conversations happen in classrooms where teachers teach with a script in a module of materials that are not selected by the teacher.

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    1. I don't know, Bonnie. I just know that I lead a little, but also follow those paths where students go, too. It is a jumble of decisions. Teachers do know a lot about books, and so often we struggle in the waiting for the "right" time to teach all those things. It connects to my best advice, to bite my lips & keep still, talk less, listen more.

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  9. I love it when conversations about come about and take their own path. One of the books I read which always leads to great talk is Bridge to Terabithia. So many timeless connections and themes even though the story takes such a long time ago.

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    1. I love that book, too, Leigh Anne, and it, in a different way, brings out those conversations I agree. I've only read it with a group once, but it was a good one! Thanks!

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  10. Linda, I commented earlier, but I am struggling with a new computer and it didn't post. Hatchet is a favorite in my class. I haven't thought to relate the character traits as you did. I think I need to have my students look closer and make deeper connections as you are doing. I, too, go where they direct, but I think we can do some steering in the right direction.

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    1. So happy to hear from you that your class loves this book too. I really believe it can be a life-changing book, that hopefully will lead to using this same idea in books they read alone. Thanks Margaret.

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  11. I love that you "asked them to imagine how the traits, if they believed they had them, could apply to their own lives." I bet this reflective sharing sticks with the students a long time - so incredibly meaningful!! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Maureen. They do need to know that books are both enjoyable and can be meaningful in their lives, discussing today & the future, too. It has been a pleasure working with these students!

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  12. What a powerful way to use the book. So often the kids connect on a surface level. You are helping them dig deeper into a book that will enrich their lives and their reading.

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    1. I do hope so, Mary Helen. I believe books are so important in our lives, and want the students to realize that too. Thank you!

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  13. I have not read Hatchet in years, but remember its power well. Your way of having the kids dig into the deeper meanings and understands, Linda, reminds me of Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton's What Readers Really Do. When I would try book groups in gr. 5 often some groups would do ok, but then there were a couple of groups that could not support the conversation. I think that Dorothy and Vicki show how you can do this with them and then let them off on their own with the teacher letting the kids keep talking and thinking. Today the teacher I subbed for had the kids begin the group by "saying something" about the chapter. Very interesting and open way to bring their ideas to the fore. But probably could have gone further. Thanks for sharing your classroom experiences, Linda. Always eye-opening! I should re-read Hatchet, but have so many on my list.....isn't it a good thing, though, to want to keep reading day in and out?
    Janet F.

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    1. Try to sneak in Hatchet sometime. I bet you will enjoy it all over again. But I know what you mean-so many wonderful books, & too little time. Thanks Janet! I do start each group with each student sharing their 'response', but we share other things too as you see.

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  14. I love Gary Paulsen. What a fabulous quote you shared!
    Ruth

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    1. Thanks Ruth. I have used that piece so often, a favorite. Glad you like it, too!

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  15. I love hearing the conversations from the classroom. Working with developing K-5 readers, our conversations are quite different. :) I believe in the guidance and support of thinking and learning, yet this made me think: "Perhaps it has been the thought-filled readers that have led me down this special path," and you brilliantly give credit to your students. Powerful, Linda!

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    1. Thank you Michelle. It would be fun to talk all about these differences, wouldn't it? Perhaps someday?

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  16. I love how students were gathering and talking about traits and their own lives. Pure magic when it goes so well.

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    1. Thanks Lee Ann. It was really a fun group!

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Having a conversation is a good thing!