I'm having a conversation with myself--and others--about reading. At the copier yesterday a short exchange about "stories that teach lessons" and whether "theme" = "lesson" led to a fervent and unexpected rant about my belief that writers don't write stories or novels or poems principally to "teach lessons" but to tell stories, and that if the author's purpose is to teach a lesson then her work of literature tends to suffer.
Meanwhile, I'm finding more time to read for myself, and discovering that while I've had periods of being the quintessential Voracious Reader, I'm more discerning now. After my initial childhood VRP (Voracious Reader Period) ended, around about high school, all those books I downed by the handful like popcorn have left little lasting impression; the books and poems that stay with me now are those that I have read slowly, stewing in them over days and weeks rather than hours and days. I'm much more likely to bid farewell to a book before finishing it, and those I do finish I return to repeatedl in my mind and my conversations. Thus I read many fewer books than I once did.
This doesn't alarm me as it used to. In the classroom, too, my tendency is to move slowly through our shared reading. I was delighted to unpack my hundreds of books for 2nd grade (in my particular K experience, there WAS such a thing as too many books, especially when we didn't prioritize independent reading). But whatever the grade, when I'm planning for literature experiences, I have to ignore the curriculum suggestions that we whiz through book after book, although many of the titles are worthy. To me, at the beginning of the year especially, a class needs just a few well-chosen anchor texts, the ones that we read through slooooowwwly and repeatedly, the ones that we know so well we can quote and look back to whenever we need a reference for structure or theme or vocabulary. They provide context for our shared social and academic experience.
My curriculum this week (well actually last week; I'm a little behind, being new and all) is unusual because our single reading selection is the Junior Great Books version of The Red Balloon, a story by Albert Lamorisse set in Paris in the 50's that became this famous, almost wordless short film. We are tackling it using the JGB approach (which I will say is hard to fit in when our whole-group lessons are to be 15-20 minutes). I resisted this expectation not because I have anything against The Red Balloon, but because it seemed not obviously connected to anything else we're doing....
And then, in our small group discussions after reading only the first half of The Red Balloon, I sat with Gordy's group of the "lowest" readers. Gordy is an English language learner and reads and writes at the most basic level in my class, but he was the one who said, "The balloon is like the pebble in Sylvester." The ability to elaborate was not available to him, so his buddy Byron C. had to make it plain for me: "Yeah, they're both red and they're round and they're magic."
*MIND BLOWN.* In my rush to keep up and do some of the same things as other 2nd grade classes, I hadn't noticed the rich possibility here. At the same time, I don't think Gordy and Byron would have been equipped to make this powerful connection if they didn't OWN Sylvester and the Magic Pebble so thoroughly from our long, slow experience of it in the first weeks of school. I can't wait to finish The Red Balloon and see if some children still think there's a dog or mouse or butterfly inside the balloon to make it act the way it does!
Today, if I can squeeze it in around our Media Specialist-led nutrition research project (can I bring in red Skittles or M&M's to compare, say, to raspberries?), it will be Poetry Friday, and I will support further connections with this poem, first published in Canadian poet Colleen Thibaudeau’s book of concrete poems, Lozenges: Poems in the Shapes of Things, by the Alphabet Press in 1965. It's also collected in Paul Janeczko's A Poke in the I.
For a teacher and a bunch of 7-year-olds bent on making connections, could there be a more perfect poem?
The round-up this week is with Sylvia at Poetry for Children, where she's joined by Janet Wong for a discussion of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Next week it will be my turn to host! And here's the movie for anyone who has 35 minutes to spend...