I spent the day in a bit of wonderment at how a simple picture book like The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch) can inspire deep thinking and lively conversation with all kinds of kids. I ran around the school…literally…reading the book to classes of sixth graders, third graders and kindergarteners. In sixth, we practiced engaging with the text by using the “hot seat” (Wilhelm, “Action Strategies for Deepening Comprehension,” 2002). Students played the roles of Princess Elizabeth, Prince Ronald and the dragon, inferring what the characters might be thinking and feeling as they responded to questions from classmates. It was a hoot; and quite easy for each of our role-players because anyone can relate to the events in this little story. After all, who hasn’t been mistreated before (maybe not by a prince, but…). Our goal: not only to engage students, but to demonstrate and discuss how important it is to actively think through and beyond the text and connect with characters to really “get it.”
In third grade, spirited opinions were shared about how Prince Ronald responded to Princess Elizabeth after she bravely defeated the dragon. Talk about voice! These students were “telling it like it is” in no uncertain terms and citing evidence from the text to support their thoughts. Again, the text lends itself nicely to bringing out strong opinion, since Elizabeth is brave, clever in her problem solving and compassionate, while Ronald is, in her words, “a bum” (and truly, he is!). I often say, if students are alive with conversation, that’s the perfect time to WRITE…so, naturally, I asked the children to record their opinions in a Quick Write. They did so fervently. And, best of all, this is in a class where, just a few short weeks ago, students struggled to record a sentence or two. What made it work? It wasn’t magic…it was in part due to the entertaining and thought-provoking picture book and in part due to a renewed focus on honoring students’ voices and thoughts through conversation and celebrating their writing attempts. I hope to post some of their responses. Since I’m new to this blog (this is only my second day), we’ll see if I can figure out how shortly.
Kindergarten: yep, the same text. Not surprisingly, similar reactions. Students wanted to say what they thought about Ronald, Elizabeth and the dragon…they needed to say what they thought. So, we talked, then we wrote. One little guy filled an entire page (hoping to post his response)!
When we consider the Common Core and the higher level thinking required to adequately tackle performance tasks, remember…one way to scaffold for results is to start small with the right kinds of experiences so students feel success. Working with kid-friendly topics and the right kind of text makes all difference in the world!