Finding “Peace” in the Global Read Aloud…

A MiddleWeb Blog

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Pax: n. (Latin origin) a period in history marked by the absence of major wars, usually imposed by a predominant nation; kiss of peace

At some point last school year, in between the madness of writing report card comments, completing on-line self-assessments and spreadsheets about SGO and SGP data, and entering that all-too-familiar landscape of overwhelmed, my wonderful editors at MiddleWeb sent me a quick note.

They wondered if I’d heard about The Global Read Aloud project. I had not…but the name itself peaked my curiosity.  After going online to investigate and read about the details, the wheels started turning…and turning.

Then I did what I often do. I printed out numerous articles that related to the GRA, stapled them neatly together, and added them to a pink folder labelled, “Opportunities…”

A folder full of Opp…

pastel-file-folders-300I created this folder several years ago. It has always served as a source of inspiration…a hint of possibilities still waiting out there. It had come to a point, however, when the ellipses on the front of the folder started to get to me.

(I never knew sets of these three consecutive dots were collectively called ellipses. My clever editors at MiddleWeb taught me that too, when they pointed out my enthusiastic use of them in my own writing. Those ellipses have always represented my hopes for what adventure might come next.)

On this pink folder, in this world of Big Education, my ellipsis had started to become something different, something sad. It had started to represent missed opportunities.

I don’t want to miss an opportunity to do something amazing with my students, just because I am bogged down in the day-to-day drudgery of paperwork and statistical analysis. Analyzing data is important, but not to the level it has soaked its way into the lives of inspired teachers across our country. Perhaps the word globally applies to this situation as well.

Don’t get me wrong. I know I can’t change the world…but I can choose to participate in it.

The Global Read Aloud!

gra_270-circleThe depressing ellipsis on the pink folder had to be addressed. As last year’s school year started coming to a close, I opened the folder again and pulled out the articles about Pernille Ripp’s Global Read Aloud annual adventure. As I sat down to peruse them, that glimmer of excitement began to return.

So I did what anyone in that current state of mind would do. I registered to participate in GRA this fall.

As the final three weeks of last year arrived, we found ourselves without a class read aloud. This was an opportunity I did not want to miss. A quick trip to Barnes and Noble, and I had Pax by Sara Pennypacker, the GRA selection for “next year’s class,” in my hot little hands.

Why not read it with that year’s class to preview the story, meet the characters, and see what I was getting myself into?

Why not model for my current learners, from cover to cover, with no written responses on their part, my evolving relationship with a story? This was my kinda’ Close Reading!

A fox named Pax

paxFor those unfamiliar with the story, Pax is about the relationship between a boy named Peter and a fox named Pax. An article in The New York Times, written by Katherine Rundell, sums it up beautifully.

The book is an intense read, rich with deep wisdoms, tragic truths about human nature, and a unique perspective into the impact of humanity on the natural world we inhabit.

During those last three weeks of school, the old-timers of Room 4T met, as we always did, on the flowered rug for our read aloud…and there was nothing global about it. We read, we gasped, we welled-up a little, we discussed the deeper meanings and recognized the symbolism woven so carefully into Pennypacker’s prose.

The kids had no idea that they were helping me to prepare for the GRA the following October. They had no idea what a big gift they were giving me in helping me see the opportunities this book – and having discussions with readers outside our classroom – could create.

And I had no idea that we would run out of school days before we finished reading the novel.

And then the End came . . .

At 12:25, five minutes before the 2015-2016 school year ended, I had a line of fourth graders, packed up, lined up, and emotional about the end of the year screaming, “READ!”

Standing at the front of the line with Pax, looking at the quarter inch of pages still to come, I knew we weren’t going to be able to do it. For a moment I felt a sadness, a sense of failure that I hadn’t achieved this goal for us. I didn’t regret choosing to read it one bit. I regretted not being able to bring the story full-circle with them.

Then it hit me.

4th-graders-300“Guys, Guys, Guys…It’s not going to happen.” They got quiet very quickly. It was almost somber in the room. “Here’s what I was thinking. Next year, after you’ve settled into fifth grade, let’s meet on the flowered rug at lunch and finish it up.”

There were a few small grumbles, but those were soon replaced by an awareness of what we could do with the current situation to make it better, and an excitement to do so.

The cheering spoke for itself, and with it came solemn vows not to buy the book and read ahead, sworn allegiance to the flowered rug, even pinky swears.

On a Tuesday this September we met on the rug, now moved to a different area of the classroom. The location was new, but the feeling of reading together was familiar.

There was no need to give instructions. They tumbled in, unpacked their lunches, and waited. After a little catching up on summer vacations, we dove back into the story…we had to find out what happened to Peter and Pax…and Vola…and Bristol…and Runt.

We brought our story full-circle and were left with new wisdoms, as Peter and Pax did the same. We were left with hope for the goodness in the world, for the value of friendship and determination, and for the need to accept help from the people we meet along the way.

What opportunities will this year bring?

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to investigate the possibilities open to the new 4-T through the Global Read Aloud and others affiliated with spreading hope. I know we won’t be able to take advantage of all of the resources available to us just yet, but we can certainly make a beginning…

fox-coverPre-Reading: Fox, by Margaret Wild

We started by discussing the “traditional stereotypes” about foxes in fiction…Then we read this picture book. What incredible art! The kids were gasping and commenting about what they “knew was going to happen”…then it didn’t…

Thank you for getting us started, Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks!

Other Resources/Opportunities we will be exploring this year, during the weeks of October 3rd through November 11th, 2016:

Let’s write!: I’m using Write About. Just joined and set up a group! Our page is prepped and ideas for students have been posted… We shall see where it takes us!

Fox Graphics: Not quite sure how we will use these free pieces of clipart yet, but I picture trying to “put ourselves in someone else’s paws” or “get into a character’s head” when we respond. This could tie in nicely with the alternating chapter style of Pennypacker’s prose. We can continuously add to what we know in one spot in our Readers’ Notebooks.

Non-fiction video and text selections:

http://www.buzzle.com/articles/meanings-and-symbolism-associated-with-a-fox.html

http://mrnussbaum.com/mammals-play/red_fox/

http://www.onekind.org/education/animals_a_z/fox_red

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/red-fox/

http://www.ocala.com/news/20160427/video-foxes-in-woodfields-area-of-ocala

Prosthetic Leg Videos: I can’t wait to see how my class responds to these!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YLwTJMyoB8

http://www.today.com/parents/watch-girl-cry-tears-joy-after-getting-doll-matching-prosthetic-t96226

Building book friendships

Just as the characters in Pennypacker’s compelling novel come across new circumstances in their lives, unexpected encounters arrive in the world of teaching each day. One constant, however, has been my close friendship with books.

If I can pass this connection along to my students, maybe they will choose to participate whole-heartedly too…and we will all find a little pax in this crazy world…

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and check out her Kids on the Cusp page at Facebook.

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