Saturday, May 31, 2014

Author Study

Sorry for the long break in posts, guys! I started (well, resumed, after a long time) an after-school job in January, which leaves me with very little time in the evenings. Also, now that the days are longer and the weather is warmer, I'm spending more time doing things and being outside, and less time in front of my computer.

All excuses aside, I have a cool teachery thing for you! 

Last year in my second-grade class, I had a leveled reading group, compiled of students from across the grade. My crew were some of the high-fliers from the grade, so I was free to do some unit planning and curriculum creating. One of my favorite units was an Author Study of Patricia Polacco

The unit I did last year took us over a month of 30 minute lessons four days a week. This year, I am supporting a 2nd grade class in the afternoons and the teacher kindly offered to let me do something fun with a small group of students, so I'm recreating that Patricia Polacco unit, and I wanted to share it with you. 

I started off by giving the students (6 children, 4 girls and 2 boys) some background information on Patricia Polacco. You can go to her website for her full biography, but I just gave some basic facts--she is a prolific author and illustrator, she writes her own stories, retells folktales, and shares things from her own life in her writings and illustrations. 

The first book we read was Mrs. Katz and Tush. It's a great story, and a wonderful introduction to Ms. Polacco's writing and illustrating style. I asked the children to notice colors and patterns in the illustrations, and we talked about the types of characters in the book--namely, a child interacting with an older person. We also discussed the variety of religious backgrounds and skin colors in the book (Mrs. Katz is an older Jewish lady who befriends a young black boy). 

Next, we read Thank You, Mr. Falker, which is a story near and dear to pretty much every teacher ever. We had similar discussions as above, but including a discussion on learning disabilities and how we should approach differences in learning in ourselves and others. This is really valuable for students around 2nd grade, I believe, because they are becoming so acutely aware of who is different. Reassuring and imposing the belief that differences are ok is so important. At this point I also had the students make a T-chart about Patricia Polacco--one side was things they had learned about Ms. Polacco from her stories, and the other side was any connections, observations, or pattens they had noted while reading the first two books. 

This is where I got all teachery. The next two books in my mini-unit were Chicken Sunday and My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother. I divided my group into two sets of three students, and gave each group a pile of sticky notes and one of the books. I told them to picture-walk through their books, and jot down any questions they had or observations they made. I did ask them to keep their observations focused to the books at hand--any colors or patterns they recognized from other books, use of photographs in the illustrations, etc. This really served to pique their interest in what they were reading, as well as giving them purpose for the actual read-through since they wanted to answer their own questions. 

I asked the groups to write a 1-2 sentence summary--what they thought their book would be about based on their picture walk. Then, finally! Each group read their stories and I checked in (frequently--the groups sat at either end of a long table and I sat in the middle literally leaning back and forth between groups) to answer questions or help with sounding out tricky words. 

Next, rather than doing a traditional jigsaw, I asked the groups to essentially play the game Two Truths and A Lie. The groups wrote down two true facts or events from their book, and one false statement. They swapped papers and books, and predicted which of the other group's statements were false. Finally, they read each other's books! They loved this--it made the second book like a treasure hunt, and the group that guessed correctly was so proud. I was also pleased because they were reading closely and staying focused. 

From here, we went back and added to our T-charts. The last part of this mini-unit was a journal entry. I asked three questions: 

1) Which of the books we read was your favorite? 

2) Give two reasons why it was your favorite. 

3) Write two things you learned about Patricia Polacco from that book. 

It was super fun, and the kids did really well. I'd highly recommend any of Ms. Polacco's books, for teachers or parents or students. She writes so brilliantly and so feelingly. One of my personal favorites is The Junkyard Wonders, but beware, it's a tearjerker. 

What children's books or authors do you love?