The Dark Emperor
Poppy allowed us to jump off into other aspects of the Reader’s Workshop: word choice, fluency, partner reading with purpose, and much more. In the time between finishing Poppy and winter break, we have been gleefully exploring the poetry collection Dark Emperor as our primary text (as suggested by Sarah Collinge at the last class I attended.) When I say, “Get out your Dark Emperor,” the students get their Venn diagram packets and settle in to listen and share around figurative language, repeated phrasing, and delicious word choice. We started the unit by listening to the entire CD twice, once with students sketching as they listened and visualized the poems (this sketch was the cover of their Venn diagram book) and the second time seeing the beautiful illustrations while listening. We also completed a Venn diagram comparing/ contrasting the novel Poppy with the poetry collection. For the first investigations, we just listened to the reader on the CD and then I would repeat the poem, calling on students to share what figurative language they had noted or what facts they found. After a few poems and especially after repeated listenings, students have begun to read along with myself or the CD, working to phrase in the same way the reader uses pauses and intonation. On our Venn Diagrams, students compare and contrast the poem to the factual paragraph that is on the opposite page. We look for word choice that is the same or different, contrast main ideas, and connect factual phrasing to the figurative language that we interpreted. We talked about the importance of repeated words to understand what the author was thinking and we have even done some work with author’s message in the poem Spider’s Advice. The text also has lovely wood cut illustrations that we are going to emulate for family presents before winter break using pencils and foam trays to imitate print making.
Our second Poppy continuation is through the vocabulary. During the novel, we enjoyed daily deep investigation into one or two vocabulary words, and noticing them throughout our daily work or at home (students would come back after noticing the words in a book or a movie at home and be so thrilled!) I had written the words on notecards to keep in a mini pocket chart for sorting and reference during our unit, but then wasn’t sure what to do. It felt like a waste to put those cards away with my Poppy teacher’s guide until next year. Then students started to notice examples of those vocabulary words and the bigger ideas of Poppy in their partner texts and I realized we could continue to use the cards. In the spur of the moment I had a line plot on the white board for how many partnerships thought a certain word applied to their text, noting which words had the most plots. Students also discussed correlations, such as if the word ‘villain’ had a plot, then it was likely that ‘hero’ should also have a plot. Next, I glued the cards onto 11 x 18 construction paper and posted them around the room. I met with each partnership to explain how to write down examples on the posters when they encountered something in their text. At this time, some students are very literally looking for that word, but more students are finding implied examples. In the last week I have noticed most words suddenly have at least one example and I am wondering if a few partnerships challenged themselves to find a way to put something under words that were blank.
Finding the Author’s Message
The third Poppy launch is the continued work to find an author’s message in their partner books. This is very challenging. Some students seem to grasp the concept of universal themes and have a standard answer, like “treat others how you would like to be treated.” Several struggle to find the big lesson for the character in their story, let alone what the author is telling the reader about human struggle. I have found myself going back to the prompts:
- Did your character change?
- What were they like in the beginning?
- How are they different at the end?
- What helped them change?
- Can you find the part of the story where they start to change? Did they learn a lesson?
This has led to finding evidence for the author’s message and even some groups that are experimenting with turning point (a hard concept even for adults to confidently narrow down!) The best part of the partnerships is there is a sounding board at agreed stopping points for all students to check their thinking and especially when they identify the author’s message/ lesson and have to have consensus with another person. I have overheard some great starter conversations at that time!
Of course, doing reading work independently is a work in progress. I am very excited to start Martin Luther King Jr. in January and attempt some CIA structured book clubs. I am also very excited to have all students working at the same pace! Partnerships have been great but that is still 12 books at a time to keep up with…and the structure/ accountability will only tighten up with less texts and more structured expectations.