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When @thelivbits became a mentor text in my classroom

There are moments as a teacher when you wonder if the crazy idea that pounced on you as you rolled out of bed that morning - if that harebrained idea will actually work.  Today, it did.  And it all began with a blog from my friend, Olivia Van Ledtje. She wrote a blog entry titled, "#ThisIsEleven" and it really struck a chord with me.  I'm teaching my first class of 6th graders this year and they are between 11 and 12 years old.  Liv's writing also echoes the narrative theme and discussion present in Sandra Cisneros's short story, "Eleven". A fellow teacher on twitter, upon reading it, made the suggestion that both short pieces could be paired together in multiple fashions. So, I read Liv's words and was moved.  So moved that I decided to throw out the lesson for today and shift it into tomorrow.  Today we needed to talk about what it's like to be eleven...or twelve in some of my kid's cases.

I knew that if I was going to use Liv's blog entry, it would have to serve a purpose within the state standards and within the unit.  Part of our unit study is about reading for details and using those details to help explain our answers and our thinking.  As I sat at my desk at o'dark thirty, I realized this activity wasn't going to be the quick warmup I imagined.  It was going to take a good portion of class.  I contemplated for a very short time and plunged ahead.  I had to craft questions in order to push my students to think, to dig into their own personal story, and then reflect on Liv's words.  The end goal would be to have them compose their own perspective, interpretation, and/or reaction to the blog post.  So I crafted the following questions.

  1. What was your reaction to Liv's article? Did you like it? Did you agree with it? What kind of feeling did you have while reading it? Use complete sentences.

  2. What part(s) of Liv's article did you most identify with? Meaning - what parts talked about stuff and things you've gone through or that you're going through? Use complete sentences.

  3. Look at the list of five things that Liv says are important to remember about being 11. Using 3-5 complete sentences identify one of the five that is most important to you. Why is it important to you? How can a teacher best support you in that area? Use complete sentences.

  4. Think about how old you are now. What's one thing you'd want someone to know about being your age? Why? Use complete sentences.

Here's something else I did.  I had them pull up a PDF version of her blog post and view it on their ChromeBook.  Then I pulled it up on the SmartBoard.  And I sized it so they could read along on the board if they wanted to.  And then I read it to them while they followed along.  I've heard from so many of my fellow teachers on twitter about how reading aloud is one of the few things we can do to help our students hear us read and see how we read.  They heard me make mistakes, but I kept on going.  But the point that the teachers and educators make - is that reading something out loud while your students follow along is much more potent.  I agree with them, in fact.

Once I finished reading the article, I reviewed the questions with them.  And then I set them loose to work independently.  I wandered the room to answer any questions, made sure I had some light music playing in the background and gave them up until ten minutes were left in class to complete the Google Forms I had built.  Then I handed out notebook lined sticky notes and had them turn to their table partner. I gave them the prompt that they needed to discuss with each other and come up with a list of things they thought were important and people should know about the article.  They filled them out and stuck 'em to the tree I have in the back of my room on the wall.  Once that was done, we were nearly at the end of class.  Tomorrow we'll do a brief discussion about what they thought of the article and we'll move back into our planned lessons.

The final result.

The point here is that I read through many of the student's answers on Google Forms and on the tree itself.  And I was blown away.  The connections they made with Liv and her words were incredible.  At some point, with permission and processes cleared, I hope to share some of this with you all.  I can say this served me really well as first few weeks activity in my new classroom and with my new group of students.  Next year I'll move it even closer to the start of the year as it's better suited there.

You may find this article useful in your classroom.  You may find my lesson plan useful.  Use away!  Adapt as needed.  And consider using Cisneros and her short story in tandem - I wish I had more time to mash the two together.  I may do so later in the year to expand and extend their thinking.

A gracious thanks to my friend Liv for her words.  Without that blog post and without her voice in my classroom - today would not have been possible.  I look forward to more of her words, her ideas, and her creations.

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