Bulking Up

One thing I love/hate about reading others’ blog posts is that they give me ideas for improving what I do in the classroom. Love- because I care deeply about my students and the work I do. Hate- because it sometimes means work for me or tossing out plans I’ve made.

Last night I read Jim Burke’s latest post Add Fiber to Your Instructional Diet. In it, he spins a metaphor about lessons as oatmeal and digestion. (Yeah, it’s gross if you think too much about it :)) Well-crafted lessons, like steel-cut Irish oats, are deep and substantial. Poorly conceived ones are like instant oats, not much heft or staying power.

As soon as I finished reading, I started thinking about my lesson plan for today. I groaned as I realized it fell somewhere in the instant to five minute oats category. Good stuff, but disjointed.

I had planned to discuss a pivotal scene in Shadow Spinner, the whole class text we’re reading. Fridays are read aloud days in my class, and I was planning to read from 1,001 Arabian Nights and Other Tales, which tied into Shadow Spinner because Shahrazad is a character in the novel. We’ve also been looking at a sentence a day, to practice identifying parts of speech and to make predictions and inferences about the text.

I was tempted to just chuck the whole thing and start over, but it was late. The most important thing was helping students see how and why the author used the surprise/revelation in the novel. I could make the sentence and the reading tie to that. Jim’s mention of YouTube in his post gave me the idea to use a commercial, since they often employ surprise.

Here’s what developed…

At the beginning of class, students copied the sentence from the board. We reviewed the parts of speech in it, and imagined what type of story it might have come from. I showed the following commercial. I used quietube, which I highly recommend if YouTube is available to you. It removes all the ads, related videos, and comments from around YouTube videos.

After the commercial, I drew a chart on the board and asked for student ideas about what the surprise/revelation was in sentence and the commercial, who was surprised, what the clues (foreshadowing) were, and why the author/creator might have included the surprise.

Once we had gotten some ideas on the board, I read a edited version of the story of Abou Hassan from 1,001 Arabian Nights, and we added to the chart.

Finally, we read an excerpt from Shadow Spinner in which the reader discovers that the main character was wounded by her mother who kills herself shortly afterward. It was really gratifying to see light bulbs flicking on over some students’ heads as we talked about the scene and the foreshadowing prior to it. When I asked who the surprise was “on” in the novel, one girl jumped from her seat and said “the reader!”

In hindsight, the lesson was a bit tight for time, but I do think it felt a lot more “together” than it would have otherwise. Thanks for the encouragement to bulk up, Jim!

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One thought on “Bulking Up

  1. I love this post, Meredith. I, too, love reading others’ blogs and always feel compelled to work harder! I love the whiteboard and the way you added more to the lesson. It’s neat to use this food metaphor. I was thinking today…some people may think instant/five minute is fine and/or be hesitant to venture out into steel cut territory. “I can’t try that.” or “That wouldn’t work well with my students.” But then, once they get it and go the new substantial direction…they see that it wasn’t as hard as it seemed…and hopefully they don’t want to go back to instant oatmeal after their successes with steel cut…I have no idea if that made sense…anyway…cool post.

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