Friday, September 25, 2015

on reading (and quite a few other things)

It's Poetry Friday, and if you're new to this blogging tradition, go here for an overview!

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...


16 comments:

  1. I love hearing your thoughts about slowing down, Heidi. Giving students thoughtful time to dig into meaning seems important to me, at all levels. Also love the comments made by your student. He may not be articulate yet, but he's thinking! Thanks for sharing about the older concrete poem anthology.

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  2. Advance thanks for being next week's PF host; immediate thanks for today's post. I love balloons, and was immediately, happily surprised seeing a bright red one at the top of your post. (Shame on me--I didn't imagine the Red Balloon connection. Glad I didn't; I enjoyed the ah-ha moment!) My happiness-surprise doubled when I saw the concrete balloon poem further along. It struck me as being a wonderful, unexpected reward for having continued reading. Thank you! (Speaking of continued reading, I share your self-granted permission to "quit" a book, a self-empowerment that took a lot of years to achieve, and has been very liberating. As a library media specialist, I had many discussions with students about that same right and responsibility.) Finally, I enjoyed the Red Balloon film as much as did students! Uplifting ending (no pun intended), don't you think! With the schools' emphasis on anti-bullying, it's a wonderful film to share at any time of the year, and particularly during October/Respect Month. Thanks so much for reminding me about all these threads that gave me an injection of happiness as I read your post. Till next week...

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  3. Yes, slowing down is exactly what needs to be done in order to let it seep in and allow the connections. School was never supposed to be fast and furious... I don't think so, anyway... and I've been in school for A LOT of years.
    Wonderful connections in this post!

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  4. Your student was right - both the pebble and the red balloon are magic - they can change your whole way of being in the world. You can follow the red balloon! You can be the donkey you were meant to be!

    Gad, kids are wonderful. This was a great post, Heidi. Thanks.

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  5. I start many, many books that I abandon. There's no reason to continue reading a book that is poorly written, or that I can find no connection to, or that is so far out there as to stretch credulity beyond my limit. But, I've been suckered into Goodreads and it kills me that they only allow you three options: 1. Read, 2. Currently reading, 3. Want to read. Where's the choice, "I didn't finish"? Goodreads seems to be implying that all books must be read completely. I hate that. I spend a lot of time at the library telling people. "you don't have to finish a book just because you started it." I'm happy to hear you don't need to be convinced of that!

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  6. The rush and slowness -- all seem rich. How wonderful much you're giving your students.

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  7. There's a lot to hear and respond to in this post, but I'll pick this -- three cheers for resisting grade level pacing pressure! Go the RIGHT speed for you and your learners to get to these rich moments! LOVE the respectful way you describe Gordy. Hugs to Byron. High five to your classroom COMMUNITY of learners.

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  8. So many things to ponder on this post. I do think the story telling is the point itself and the lessons we do learn from the book is based on how we connect with the book. Like you, I am also appreciating the slowing down in reading. English is my second language, while I was raised in a bilingual country, I picked up English in 5th grade at the discovery of books. I had that urgency to suddenly read every single book I could get a hold of in fear i had wasted a lot of time not learning the language. These days I read slowly, savoring the books and enjoying other things in life.
    And that balloon poem just made me remember my own balloon poems. :)

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  9. This school year I am being more intentional about reading aloud and using picture books. Recently, a group that formed over the summer to explore writing about reading (#wabtr) tweeted out to authors about theme. We discovered that most authors write a story. Theme emerges but it is not the building block. I love when my students make connections like yours did. It's the aha moment we wait for. Thanks for sharing your honest reflections.

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  10. Hi, Heidi, and thank you for joining our Poetry Friday gathering this week! And thanks for sharing your thoughts on reading, writing, and teaching. I've always loved "The Red Balloon" in both book and film form, but I always thought the film came first-- good to learn something new!

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  11. There are a lot of books I don't finish either, and I do feel bad about it, so thanks for the reassurance that I am not alone! Your students' connections are exciting.

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  12. Your students are so lucky! I love that you move slowly and allow students to make connections.

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  13. Wow. I love this. Continue to go with your heart and make deep and meaningful differences in kids' lives, Heidi.

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  14. Concrete poems are some of my favorite! I love Thibaudeau's balloon poem. I also love your insights on reading, teaching, learning, and of course, poetry. =)

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  15. Anchor texts -- what a great concept, Heidi. I'm going to share this poem with a friend whose debut MG novel has balloons on the cover.

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  16. Anchor texts -- what a great concept, Heidi. I'm going to share this poem with a friend whose debut MG novel has balloons on the cover.

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