September 4, 2010

My Rotten Brother

This year I have a lot of goals for myself, but one of the biggest ones is to implement Writing Workshop instead of the more traditional writing instruction I engaged in last year.  I wrote last week about the sweet lesson I taught on the first day of school, and I am still loving it as much as I did that day.
It's been a little challenging to just change my perceptions of what a writing block SHOULD be, because during these first weeks I'm not even reading the kids' work or conducting writing conferences yet.  What I'm doing is teaching Ideas lesson after Ideas lesson, getting the kids to start a bunch of different pieces so that they will be able to go back to the ones they like later.

Anyways, my penchant for picture books is no secret.  They are one of the few reasons I ever wonder if I'm teaching the right grade...but then I remember that picture books are not just for 6 year olds.  In fact, I enjoy reading them to older kids even more because there are so many messages in the good ones that are way over the little ones' heads.  One of my absolute favorite picture book authors is Patricia Polacco.  I was first captivated by her when my sixth grader teacher read us Pink and Say, then revisited her again in college when my methods ed teacher introduced us to Thank You, Mr. Falker, a book that chokes my up every time I read it.  In fact, many of Polacco's books get me all choked up.  Part of what touches me most is that her stories are all (or almost all) inspired by memories from her childhood.  In any case, I love sharing them with children.

This week I read aloud a favorite of mine: My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother.  Anyone who knows me knows that my brothers are very special people in my life.  The three of us rarely get to spend time altogether, as not only are we all busy people, but one brother lives in Florida.  However, that doesn't change the fact that when we are together, it's nothing but fun (with some teasing thrown in of course).  They are my heroes and role models. Anyways, Redheaded Brother is a special book to me.  In the story, 'Tricia and her bother Richie do nothing but fight.  He always wants to be better from her, constantly teases her, and she feels like she will never have anything that's all her own.  Typical younger sister complex. :)  In the end of the story, Tricia has an accident at the carnival and hits her head when she falls off a carousel.  Richie ends up carrying her all the way home, then runs all the way to the doctor to bring him to her.  It's a beautiful story.

I paused half-way through the story (when Richie still seemed like a big jerk) and asked my students to raise their hand if they have a "rotten sibling" at home, or if THEY are sometimes the "rotten sibling."  I told them a story about my Rotten Older Brother from childhood.  My oldest brother used to torment me when he was left "in charge" as the babysitter when our parents went out.  I have one vivid memory of a time when I was crying from missing mom & dad, and his plan to stop me from crying was to take my precious teddy bear Fred and put him on top of the ceiling fan.  He threatened to, if I didn't stop crying, turn on the fan and chop my bear to pieces.  Obviously an effective way to stop me from crying...

Anyways, my students giggled and grinned as I dramatically told that story.  Then, during "Writing Time" I sat and wrote the rest of it.  The next day, I shared it with them and they helped me restructure it.  While certainly most of a teacher's time during Writing Workshop should be spent in conferences and helping struggling writers, don't underestimate the value of writing along with your students.  Not only does it help form those precious relationships, but it sets a wonderful example for them, and it's just plain fun.  I promised I will tell them more stories about my "Rotten Brother" (who's not rotten at all anymore!) soon.

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