They understand that characters tend to behave similarly to other characters that they have encountered before.
They work out subtle meanings from similar contexts that they have met words in.
They understand that stories (and other texts) tend to draw on similar patterns and structures from other texts.
Learning to make these connections is something that can and should be taught. This booklet is designed to equip teachers to see many connections for themselves and to be able to teach how to make connections to their students.
It is based on one particular book: “That Kookoory!” by Margaret Walden Froehlich, with illustrations by Marla Frazee. But it is not just about how to use that book. There are many books that could be used to illustrate the principles involved in this way of working, though “That Kookoory!” is particularly helpful because it is written in such a playfully literate style.
This booklet is not simply a guide to a literature unit based on “That Kookoory!” You can use it as such a unit guide, but that would sell yourself short as a teacher and as a learner. What you should find is that by the end of reading and working with this booklet, you can do the same or similar things with other pieces of literature. This book could stand alone as an introduction to some fascinating ways of working with language, but you would make more sense of the ideas if you can work through them with a copy of “That Kookoory!”
I’ve set the booklet out with two organizing principles in mind. Much of it follows “That Kookoory!” page by page giving examples of connections that might be made – they are some of the connections that I’ve made myself as I have read through the book. Those connections will mostly look rather specific to “That Kookoory!” but you will find that they will show you ideas for applying to other books. Then, in addition, I’ve described some of the instructional strategies that might be used to capitalize on the connections.
The booklet is not a recipe book. It is a potpourri of possibilities, a menu of stimuli. I hope that you will love using it, and that you will find yourself growing as a teacher in the process.
Did I get all of these ideas in one reading? No, of course not. However, I have been doing this kind of thing for many years and I do generate a lot of connections in any particular reading. I read not just for the enjoyment of a story, but with my teacher’s antennae tuned to the possibilities of what I might be able to capitalize on for my students. I hope that this booklet will inspire you to do similar things.
Many of the ideas in this booklet will involve on-going work over an extended time. There will often be a Focused Learning Episode, or Mini-Lesson, that initiates a continuing study. Don’t always be trying to obtain closure. You have never finished a reading, because it should feed into future readings and provide further connections. You may find it convenient to have many charts or learning centers around the room where you and the students can record your findings. A lot of these may be lists or other graphic organizers. I’d recommend that you try to use a variety of different formats for displaying your findings. That way your students are learning some other skills at the same time.
The displays of information may originate from a class or group session and then may be added to over time as students find more examples. Sometimes you will model this discovery process, perhaps when you are reading aloud to the class. Or you may bring in examples from your own reading to share with the class and add to a list.
At other times you may do such a thorough job of the initial activity that it will be unlikely for there to be many additions to the list later.
You could see these activities as a little like being language detectives or discoverers. While it is certainly possible to provide a big build-up to the task and use labels like these, I would recommend that you do not do so. Why not just think of it as reading? The truth is that this is just the sort of thing that it means to be a good reader. We should be able to be excited and to excite our students with the tasks themselves and the sense of connectedness without adding artificial motivation. By all means praise them for their discoveries, but work at deep thinking rather than superficial stuff like counting up contributions. And it wouldn’t cross your mind for a moment to give rewards for additions to lists, would it? That would quickly destroy the point of learning altogether.
Prepare yourself for multiple readings of “That Kookoory!” or of any other books that you select to apply these ideas. Some of the suggestions that I make will be things that really need to be done on the first reading. Others can be done whenever you wish, perhaps even months after you have introduced the book. You will have to guard against over-doing the use of a single book. A book that initially may be loved, can sometimes become tiresome, after extensive use, especially if your students do not find your activities appealing. Don’t feel as though you have to try every idea, and don’t read the complete book every time you come back for subsequent explorations.
I have staunchly avoided preparing photocopiable teaching/learning materials. I am always reluctant to do that, because there is so much thinking that should be involved in using these effectively. Some teachers get used to depending on material that has been prepared by people who do not know their students and their learning needs. Thank goodness that you are not one of those teachers!
I’ve carefully avoided placing grade levels for the activities because you are the one who knows your own students and what will work for them. Be careful, however, not to underestimate what they will be able to do once you get them interested in some of the more subtle features about how language and authors work.
That last sentence gives an example of what you might learn yourself as you engage in this study. Did you notice that the word work is doing two different jobs there? Language and authors do not work in the same way. What I did was put them together playfully in a literary way. We could show it in the mathematical style as (Language plus Authors)Work. This literary device has the technical name syllepsis. Incidentally, there will not be a test at the end of the book! (But you will find a glossary there with an explanation of most of the words that appear in bold type in the book.