Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rituals: #Nerdlution Day 6

On Friday morning, I was planning a lesson to teach in one of my friend Robyn's rooms on Monday (tomorrow!) . The 4th grade is about to begin their third unit on author's craft in both fiction and nonfiction. We want the students to discovery the amount of research author's do when composing either fiction or nonfiction. Author's need that just right word- because just any word or phrase will not do when trying to evoke emotions, images , or ideas from readers. This unit of study is grounded in the essential question- How do authors portray animals in writing? It seemed perfect that the book I was reading was The One and Only Ivan. (Thank you #nerdlution for kicking me in the pants to read this book!) Katherine Applegate is masterful at crafting story about an ape in captivity and raised like a human. She effortlessly and seamlessly personifies Ivan and the other animal characters through the intertwining of rich words, dialogue and imagery- all the while weaving in facts and information about all the animals held captive in a mall.

My excitement for this lesson was building as I worked out my plan using a guide from Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts. I just knew I could not wait until Monday to teach the ritual of reading for word choice- I had to teach it at day. Literally jumping out of my seat, I almost sprinted down the hall to my friend Kelly's room,the fantastic first year teacher I am mentoring, I asked her if I could borrow her classroom for about an hour. And of course, Kelly said yes!  ( Now that I am reading this over, it sounds like a marriage proposal the way I just wrote this!) So in a flurry of making copies, enlarging the word choice reference chart and sentence starters, and finding the two perfect commercials to show the students, I was ready to go in about 30 min flat. I have to thank my husband Dave and my two children, for loving Legos, because I chose the Lego's 2013 Christmas commercial. ( If you haven't seen the Lego commercial, you need to go to youtube and watch it now!)I followed Chris and Kate's suggestion of using the Lalaloopsy commercial as well. The two commercials couldn't have been more opposite- making them absolutely perfect for this lesson.

The students learning, engagement, excitement and discussion during this lesson was remarkable. They highlighted text, the spoke about the text, they connected back to the commercials.  They built on each others ideas and the LISTENED to each other. Kelly and I merely facilitated the class. After a certain point, we fell into the background and the students led the lesson. It was amazing to be a part of. They fell in love with Ivan all over again! Kelly, had actually been reading the book aloud to her class, and by rereading the one chapter, Stella, reignited their love for the character. They walked away with a deeper understanding of the character and how Applegate chose such specific words to tell Ivan's story and Stella's story.

Now by no means, was this lesson perfect. I immediately know what I will be doing differently in Robyn's room tomorrow. But to just watch the students take ownership of their learning- to be so engaged with the lesson that they were actually sad when it was time to go to lunch- and asked me back to finish the lesson speaks volumes.

So many times, teachers say students are unmotivated and they are lazy. I firmly believe that any student can be engaged and can be motivated if given the right tools and materials to work with. Every student can learn and any student can be actively engaged in a lesson. It is us as teachers that need to tap into those students and not give up on them. Kylene Beers made a point that NCTE that has stayed with me. She said that struggling students have a negative attitude about reading because of how we  work with them. We pull them out of class. We give them texts they can't access. We lower our expectations and sometimes give assignments that are too easy. We need to meet these students where they are. We need to put books and texts in their hands they can access. We need to give them the tools and strategies they need to access these texts. We need to expose struggling students to higher level skills. We can set the same expectations for our students but recognize students may take different paths to get to the same point. My former Supervisor of Reading and Language Arts said, " It doesn't matter how you get there. Some may take a minivan and others may fly. What matters is that we all get to the same place and learning." I couldn't agree more.

At the end of our lesson, Kelly and I actually got a round of applause from her students. That has never happened before! One student jumped out of his seat, and said, "Thank you Mrs. DiBartolo for teaching me today. Please come back!" How often does that happen??

I am thoroughly excited to continue my exploration of different lesson models/guides from my reading idols: Keene, Beers, Robb, Miller- just to name a few! I want to do right by my students- and I can only do that by improving my pedagogy and constantly READING! I have now added a list of books to my #nerdlition:
The Book Thief, Counting by 7's, Now is the Time for Running, Extra Credit, An Elephant in the Garden, Hound Dog True, Bigger Than a Bread Box, The Lions of Little Rock, Word After Word After Word, and The Magicians Elephant.

Thank you #nerdlution for changing my plans as a reader and teacher!
“I like colorful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings. But any story will do.” 
― Katherine ApplegateThe One and Only Ivan


  1. I have the audio version of the book thief if you want to dl it! :)

  2. We read Lions of Little Rock for our Mock Newbery last year, & it was one of my favorite titles. This year one of my favorites was Counting by 7s. A great list! Enjoy!