Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Memoirs of a Goldfish

"With a whoosh, and a splash, and a clank, and a plunge," we were suddenly laughing out loud at Memoirs of a Goldfish!  
     A group of fourth graders gathered at my feet, we devoured this delightful book by Devin Scillian.  I pulled it out of the "new books" that our media specialist had just unpacked (he's always adding to our collection), but I didn't know how much my students would like it.  
     Our post-reading conversation revolved around "point of view" to "perspective" to "wishes and dreams" to "It's about friendship" to "I could write something like this" to "This reminds me a little of Finding Nemo" to "I have to read this to my brother!" to "I can't wait to get the 'App.'" (Yes, there's even an App on iTunes for this book).  
     This books tells the tale of a goldfish and the seemingly mundane life he lives in his bowl.  First page... "Day One... I swam around my bowl."  
     After that day, his "memoirs" become more complex as new company joins his quiet little bowl (including Rhoda and Clark the guppies, Mr. Bubbles the deep sea fella, and Mervin the snail... among others).  The goldfish eventually can't stand it and exclaims, "I want my bowl back!"  
     Tim Bowers, the illustrator, captured the story beautifully.  We spent just as much time looking at the illustrations as we did reading the text... priceless.  The look in the goldfish's eyes are amazing!
          I read it for read aloud right before spring break and had to read it twice!  This book is, well, "heavenly!"

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Eyes Have It!

 From Conferring the Keystone of Reader's Workshop, p. 67

• You know him… he often sits in the back of the group during read aloud.  Usually listening, drawing quietly in his notebook.
• You know him… he came from a school where reading was all about prizes, speed, and tests.  His reading was “accelerated” to the point that his purpose was strictly to read for points.
• You know him… he’s rarely been nudged to “think deeply about concepts of great import.” (Keene). 
• You know him… he’s not quite developed a sense of “self” as a reader—let alone a sense of purpose.
• You know him… he is complacent, but not engaged.  Endurance and stamina seemly foreign words.

The first day he enters the classroom with wide eyes and wonder… books everywhere, rituals and routines lending themselves to ownership, readers talking to one another with authenticity and respect.   There are no worksheets, no fill-in-the-blank forms, no corporate-controlled road maps, no computer comprehension tests.  Readers read a wide variety of text… mostly self-chosen.  Strategy instruction is the norm.  Reader’s roles are defined through collaborative decision-making.  “What are you thinking?” ruminates from reader to reader.  A deer in the headlights?  Perhaps.

But you know it’s just a matter of time before he catches on… puts away books that better serve as hand weights (strong biceps, weak minds).  You know it’s just a matter of time before he starts using his notebook to record authentic responses to reading experiences.  You know it’s just a matter of time before his voice floats on “the sea of talk” during crafting lessons.  You know it’s just a matter of time before he realizes that he has important things to say in a classroom where real readers work together to raise the bar of purpose and passion.  You know that eventually your reading conferences will be "deep, not surface."  You know “Where choice lives, understanding prospers!”  And you wait… and watch… and nudge… time moves on...

Then one day, he brings you a book and says, “You have to read this book to the class, Mr. Allen!”  You close your eyes, look down, and you’re surprised to see him holding Edward’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan.  “Remember when you read Word After Word After Word.  This is by the same author.  It’s the BEST book I’ve ever read…”

“Why is it the best book?  Tell me about that...”

“Trust me, Mr. Allen.  Just read it.”  So I do.

Have you read it?  To be honest, I hadn’t; one of the few Patricia MacLachlan books I hadn't read.  But I'm so glad I (we) did.  Patricia MacLachlan has created in Edward’s Eyes (click to listen to her interview) a moving portrait of Edward and his family.  Edward lives in the kind of family that we all want to live in... full of respect and love.  His brother Jake narrates this text and takes us on a journey that begins and ends with Edward.  Our first thoughts?  To be honest, we were confused, but then... we were awestruck.

Thus began my classroom's journey into Patricia MacLachlan.  Sarah, Plain and Tall began flying off the shelves (as did the sequels).  Once I Ate a Pie had students laughing and crying during reader's workshop.  Through Grandpa's Eyes caused them to reflect on their own grandparents.  What You Know First started incredible notebook entries about "beginnings."  Baby! stretched readers in new directions... as did Arthur for the Very First Time and The Facts and Fictions of Minnie Pratt.  Waiting lists began appearing on title pages.  And who started the exploration? 
Not me.  I merely listened and nudged. 

This is just ONE of many student-created waiting lists...
"Have you noticed that Patricia MacLachlan writes a lot about movement?  Think about it... in Painting the Wind she wrote about painting the wind... movement, in Edward's Eyes she wrote about the movement of a knuckle ball!"

"I love how she writes about the sea and the prairie and the sea and the prairie!  She writes about what she knows... there's a connection between all her books."

"Edward's Eyes began with Edward and ended with Edward.  I didn't get at first, but I read it again after we read it... it's about new beginnings!"

"She writes about hope."

"She writes about family." 

"There's always a sense of 'song' in her books... I think mostly because of the way she writes with rhythm." 

"I love her words.  And I love when she throws me a zinger... and I have to think!"

• • • • • • 
You know him... 
He's the one who know belongs to a community of readers! 

The "eyes" have it...