By late August I wake two or three times every night, thinking about that first day of school. I love the early days of school. I love meeting new students early in the year, and sharing the books I’ve discovered over the summer — Rules and The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Sneeze, the latest Mercy Watson. I can’t wait to unpack books, organize classroom libraries, share writing. I can’t wait to see the walls fill up with charts, kids’ writing, and artwork. I can’t wait.
At the same time, I dread the first day of school. I dread it because my own sons, Isaiah and Kadeem, are not card-carrying members of the school literacy club. I imagine our conversations that first week of school. I will ask about school. My boys, the same kids who have read books, magazines, the newspaper, catalogues, and articles on the internet, and have chattered excitedly about basketball games and Madden videogame tournaments and sleep overs all summer, will give me descriptive one word responses like ok, good, and fine. When I ask what they did, they will respond, “Nothing.”
Isaiah and Kadeem do not love my world of words. They much prefer a world of images — graphic novels, football playbooks, the design-a-comic book program on my laptop computer. They don’t willingly share stories from their days at school- and I’ve spent the last five years learning how to ask good questions, the kind that elicit a little more information than “okay,” “good,” and “fine”. Every morning I seduce them into reading the newspaper by picking the best action picture I can find — a bridge falling, subways flooding, or a great football hit-and carefully laying it face up on the breakfast table. My sons live in a world of images.
I’ve spent a lot of time this summer imagining Isaiah and Kadeem in classrooms during those first weeks of school. I’ve thought about how I might mesh my love of words with their love of images to invite them into the literacy club. I’ve thought about how I might decrease the amount of time I expect kids to passively listen, and how I might increase the time spent “thinking through doing.” I’ve spent time wondering about how I could use art and visual images to improve kids’ story telling and writing. Here are a few ideas I might try:
- Share Hanoch Piven’s What Presidents Are Made Of and/or What Athletes Are Made Of. Have students list objects that would represent them, e.g. I am a lifelong reader, a wannabe writer, a lover of dogs, a sports mom, a walking fiend, and a connoisseur of great hamburgers, and would probably incorporate objects from each of those areas into my collage. Invite students to go through magazines and find pictures that represent them, then create their own collages.
- Read The Buck Stops Here. Talk about how Alice Provenson embeds information about important events, new inventions, etc. from each president’s term in office into her illustrations. Have students create a list of 5-10 things about themselves. This list could be specific, e.g. include your favorite color, food, sport, activity, book, who you live with, what you like to do after school, or you could let students create their own lists. Give each child a 12′ X 18′ piece of construction paper, have students draw a self-portrait and then embed the things on their list in the background.
- Read the Peter Sís book Train of States, then create a class train. Precut train cars. Take digital photos of students and mount them in the center of the car. Have students create slogans or mottos, then decorate their cars with information about themselves.
- Create a first day scrapbook. Invite a scrapbooking parent or friend to share their craft with your class, then ask each student to create a page that represents who they are. You might also want to share sections of Paula Danziger’s United Tates of America.
- Read aloud Julius Lester’s Let’s Talk About Race. Lester embeds a list of facts to begin sharing the stories “beneath his skin.” Invite students to create life-size self-portraits, then create a list of facts about themselves, e.g.:
- I was born on March 6, 1959.
- I am the oldest of three girls.
- My dad was a salesman and my mom was a teacher.
- I am the mother of three teenagers (one girl and two boys). We have a fat yellow lab, and a new lab/pointer puppy.
- My children are adopted and don’t look anything like me.
- My favorite color is red.
- My favorite time of day is early morning.
- I love to read.
- Three of my least favorite things – cooking, cleaning house, and paperwork.
- Have students put their lists on strips of paper, then glue the strips to their self portraits.Create “I am one who” poems (Don Graves) –
I am one who:
- loves to read
- drives a lot
- always needs to clean her desk, (and house and car)
- spends lots of time at football and basketball games
- wants to write a kids’ novel someday
- regularly loses her car keys and glasses
- loves early morning
- would rather eat out than cook
- likes comfortable shoes
- plans to create her own web page
I am a lover of words. I am a lover of books. I want to create that same passion in each of my students. At the same time, I need to acknowledge that there are lots of different roads into my world of words. Perhaps it’s time for me to journey down a different path …