Thursday, December 6, 2012


Today as we read and talked about Jerry Spinelli's classic book Crash we were thinking about the changes the lead character has gone through lately.  Everyone agreed that his grandfather suffering a stroke had a huge impact on him and was essential in his transformation into a more caring person.  "It's like his grandfather's stroke woke him up" said Niko.  "Yeah" said Samantha "He was living a nightmare". "He needed to open his eyes to what the world is really like" added Amelia. "He didn't even know he was dreaming" said Chase.  Of course all this happened when we had about a minute before we needed to leave for Art class.  I promised we would continue to discussion and I praised the insights that the students were sharing.  "This is perfect, it's beautiful poetry!" I said.  A part of my mind was delighted in hearing fourth graders explain Buddhism so expertly without knowing that's what they were doing.  I resisted the brief urge to shoot off on a tangent into the life of Siddhartha, the "Awakened One", it was enough that students had come up with startlingly beautiful observations.  Two things I've learned this year are it takes time for a conversation to develop, you have to be patient and sometimes (or even most times) toss a schedule out the window, and when something magical happens you have to celebrate it, you have to name it, you have to stop the presses and make sure everyone knows what happened.  Otherwise it can just pass by like so many magical things in the world around us and we lose an opportunity to learn how great we can be.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Reading and Talking

Without a doubt one of the best times of the day is when I can spend time with a small group of students talking about their reading.  Our class is divided into five small groups for reading groups.  At this point each group is reading a book together, during the year they will also work as  a group when they’re all reading different books as well.  Today I sat with the group who is reading “Bud, Not Buddy”.  As usual, and especially with a historical fiction novel like this one, I ask if they have any questions.  Since the group was shy, I asked a few questions about the time and place where the book takes place.  It was clear that they didn’t know much about the “Great Depression” although all had at least heard the term used.  I gave a quick re-cap of 20th century economics leading up the crash of 1929 and listed some of the details of unemployment figures in the early 30s.  As I shared students started making connections, “Oh, that’s why he was trying to jump on a train.” etc.  Since the group has just started the book and are only about 50 pages into a 200+ page book I like to give them some things to think about or look for.  This time I asked about something in the story that they thought might be important and that they should pay attention to and Chase mentioned Bud’s suitcase.  Everyone agreed that this was something really important.  Sophia said “It’s his treasure chest” and Gracie described it this way “It holds his life”.  For those not familiar with the book, the suitcase can indeed be a metaphor in the story and I was glad to hear that they had zeroed in on that image.  We’ll come back to that metaphor I’m sure in our discussions.  Later in our reading time I had the chance to meet with a group who is reading “Sing Down The Moon” another historical fiction book set among the Native Americans in the south west.  As I asked for their questions and thoughts about the book I was surprised when two students said “I’m not sure what this book is about”.  So I asked for some clarification because it seemed clear to me that the book is about Native Americans, in particular two characters Bright Morning and Running Bird.  ”I mean, what’s the big idea, what’s the message of the book” said Morgan.  ”Is the author trying to tell us something or is it just a story?” asked Madison.  Wow, what a great question.  We’ve spent so much time this year working on big ideas, thesis statements, messages, morales etc. that perhaps they expect every story to have a specific message.  We talked about this for a while.  I mentioned that sometimes there’s a possible message you can take from a book, but that it’s not always right out front and clear.  Sometimes you might take a lesson from a book that wouldn’t connect with someone else.  We also talked about knowing authors and what kinds of books they usually write.  Most students knew author Scott O’Dell’s book “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and this gave them a context for the book – it’s going to be a book set in a different culture, mostly an adventure with a few strong characters.  As I shared with this group, sometimes an author just wants to tell you a story and there may be a message or moral but it’s okay to just enjoy the story too.