Sunday, January 6, 2013

Character Traits with Evidence to Back Up Thinking

Teaching language arts to the Fab Fours is an adventure. I'm Alice in the rabbit hole. I had a few years there where I felt like the academic reading I did for teaching reading and writing was putting a finer edge on my instruction. Now I'm back to reading for survival. Each guided reading session is the paradox of walking an unfamiliar path in a very familiar forest.

Yep, it's an adventure. Who doesn't love an adventure?!

A group of my students are reading Loser, one of my all time favorite books by Jerry Spinelli. You know how sometimes you present a great book to your students, one that you hold so dear to your heart, and then hold your breath as you wait for them to (hopefully) feel the same way? It's a vulnerable wait. My heart was lifted when the three kids told me they loved it. I wanted them to understand Zinkoff, feel his joy and understand the tension the book makes us feel. Success.

We've been digging deep into story elements this week. It was the perfect time to delve into Zinkoff's character, and that is exactly what we did.

You must know first that I have to meet with guided reading groups during lunch and second recess several times a week. Raise your hand if you, too, have to creatively find ways to meet with all your groups often enough to matter. This session, which I lovingly titled "The Book Worm Recess Club" (tacky and overachieving, to be sure, in order to make the Fab Fours buy into giving up their precious free time), only lasts for 15 minutes.

Not much time.

We started by thinking, on our own, of words that could be used to describe Zinkoff. Each kid had their own color marker and space to jot down their words, which we define as "character traits".

We used big chart paper because how fun is it to use big chart paper!! I was really impressed with a) two words that popped up in all of their lists, which tells me they really get Zinkoff, and b) the few words they each had that were unique. They each identified with different characteristics of Zinkoff. BINGO! 

It used to be enough to spout of a list of character traits and call it good. Now we have to be able to explain our thinking and back it up with evidence. The kiddos had to find a sentence or two that reinforced one trait they wrote down. I loved how long they searched for the right evidence. Part of the time used was because this is a really new type of thinking they we are asking our readers to do. Part of the time used was because they wanted to find just the right sentence to back up their thinking. 

They each wrote down their sentence under their chosen trait. We quickly talked about each one, with the owner of the thinking doing the talking. We kept the chart paper and they will share their thinking with the whole class next week during our mini-lesson on characters.

The whole thing took less than 15 minutes. I love it when that happens. The session went so well I'm going to repeat it with each of my groups this next week.

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