Sometimes You Have To Be Flexible

I work with amazing teachers who use amazing texts to teach.  Sometimes I go to teach a lesson and the students already know the book.  Usually I’m ok with that, as long as I’m using it for a different lesson or purpose.  In fact, it often works in my favor.

We are in are in the middle of Testmas right now, and I really just wanted to teach an amazing authentic lesson with a great book.  So, I chose Emma’s Rug by Allen Say…they had all read it.  Ugh.  I was going for originality so that they could monitor their changes in thinking and contemplate how they synthesized background knowledge with the text as we read.  So, I decided to read Home of the Brave by Allen Say instead. (Click on the links for a summary-really these books could not be more different.)

As a result, I had one of those synergy filled teaching moments where I pushed my students to think in new ways and many of them left the carpet still talking about the book.  Essentially, Home of the Brave is a confusing book because it’s a dreamlike sequence where the main character is trying to come to terms with the pain of being held in a Japanese Internment camp during WWII.  It’s a non-traditional plot line and there is a great deal of symbolism involved.  Clearly the author was attempting to convey the emotions of such an event and, by my estimate, he was successful.  “He’s kind of brilliant,” one student said.

Many of my students had never read a book like this before.  Several were caught up on the confusing plot line, so I urged them to think about the main character’s and their emotions instead.

They identified the character’s emotions as being lonely, confused, sad, angry.

They identified their own emotions as being confused, really confused, sad, and annoyed.

At the end of the lesson I read the jacket blurb that explained the book and its purpose.  Light bulbs!  “Well that makes sense now!” they said.  I would say that Allen Say was successful in taking his reader on an emotional journey in an attempt to capture this moment in history.  His book sparked an authentic student  discussion about the mood of the book and they supported their ideas using the  haunting illustrations.  Many asked questions about Allen Say, wanting to read all of the other books that I had by him.

So what am I doing this weekend?  Preparing a lesson where I model how I investigate beyond the book questions about the author.

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One Response to Sometimes You Have To Be Flexible

  1. Tara says:

    I love Allen Say – he packs so much into each book, and you can explore sophisticated stuff on so many levels as you clearly managed to do). Flexibility is the key to great teaching, I believe – never be afraid to try something new, have faith in our kids, and shift gears to go with their expanding thinking. Even when things don’t “work out”, I usually find that that moment itself became one from which I could pluck a new idea (or two!). It’s what makes teaching fun, right?!

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