Talking about books and life.
In our read-aloud book discussion we’ve come up with some new big ideas to consider. To review, the “Big Ideas” are what we’ve called “Ideas from inside a book that can be talked about outside the book”. In other words, these are ideas that are inspired by something that happens in the book, but involve bigger issues often of fairness, equality etc. In the book Crash by Jerry Spinelli the lead character, John “Crash” Coogan is talking about a neighbor, Penn Webb, as being strange because he’s a Quaker and doesn’t play with guns and also doesn’t have a lot of expensive clothes or toys. We stated our first big idea like this –“Sometimes people assume that everyone thinks the same way they do and that “different” is “weird”.
Several students expressed sympathy for Penn Webb. One said “I know someone who surgery and he acted different and people were scared and thought he was weird.” We talked about how that person might have felt as well as why people might react that way. Students began to acknowledge that sometimes it’s shocking to see someone who looks different.
One student said “I broke my arm and people thought I couldn’t do anything they assumed that I couldn’t do anything, they didn’t ask.” This was an interesting turning point in the conversation – it made sense that once someone told the story of their friend having had surgery and people staring at them that other medical stories would follow, but the comment form Cody about the broken arm gave me a chance to steer the conversation in a slightly different direction. As a teacher and conversation tour guide I’m always looking for how we can go deeper into an idea. The old stand-by “text to self” connections can be a dead end because in most cases there’s not really much you can say. “Oh, you had a dog just like in Because of Winn Dixie…that’s nice”. I’m finding that students are often willing to keep going in a conversation with a little guidance, or sometimes a lot of guidance, after all this is very new territory for many of them.
At this point I asked “Is there any problem if people are assuming you can’t do something?” Students responded that in that case they wouldn’t even have a chance, that you should always give someone a chance. We talked around the idea for a bit and came up with the statement that when you’re prejudiced against someone then you are not allowing them to do everything possible. I asked “Could we say this? Prejudice destroys possibility?” and everyone agreed that was a good slogan.
We weren’t done with the conversation however, one student noted that in the story Crash was starting to hang out with an obvious bully who he thought was his friend because he liked the same things as Crash. Chase said “He’s going to get trapped into doing and saying things he shouldn’t because he’s not really paying attention” We circled back to our use of the word “possibilities” and added another idea to our list, “When you’re not open to possibilities you might end up missing out on a good friend just because they seem different and you might end up hanging around with jerks just because you think they’re really cool”.
I always like to point out to the class the amazing journey we’re taking in our conversations. We started by noticing an incident in a book, we then took that idea and re-stated it as a “Big Idea” or “Thesis Statement” and then kept on talking and kept on pushing the idea further to see what kinds of doors it would open. We then walked through those doors like we owned the place, because we do. Questions are the keys that open the doors and expand the borders, inquiry is the air we breathe and we are all teachers and we are all learning every day.