The Last 20 Days of Literacy Learning: 5 days to go, Drawing Inspiration from an Important Read Aloud

Written while enjoying a rare Bay Area rainy Sunday morning in late May with coffee.

All posts in this blog series can be found here.

“Wow- you’re still teaching?” These words were actually said to me last week when I was asked what my students were doing in class right before lunch on Friday.

“Yes, I’m still teaching! You should be, too!” is what I wanted to respond. But, I just walked away. In retrospect, I really should have said that.

This very question is partially why I decided to write this blog series. I view my job as teaching children 180 days of the year, not 165. Yes, my students are tired and a bit burnt out. So am I. Yes, many of them are counting down the days until summer break. So am I. However, many of them are also worried about what summer may mean for them. So am I.

Every single one of these 180 days matter. Not every minute is instructional with the immense number of interruptions at this time of year. But, with the minutes I do have, I am making the most of them. We all should.

On Friday, I made the most of the 30 instructional minutes I had between our 5th grade promotion practice and lunch. I chose to read aloud a book that I recently picked up at The Bay Area Book Festival (by the way, if you live in Northern California, I highly recommend this weekend of celebrating books and authors in a beautiful downtown Berkeley setting).

While walking through the festival, a local bookstore booth (I wish I could remember which store), caught my eye. The tables in the booth displayed books from a few of our local Bay Area authors. I was immediately drawn to this book: The Wedding Portrait: The Story of a Photograph and Why Sometimes We Break the Rules by Innosanto Nagara.

I picked up the book and started reading. Interestingly, a mom and her two kids looked over my shoulder, saw what I was reading, picked up the book, and started reading a copy themselves. We both ended up purchasing the book.

On my BART ride from Berkeley back to my home on the peninsula, I revisited the book a couple times. This is one of those books where my thinking about the past and today swirled around in my mind in a way that one reading was just not enough. Each time I reread the book, my thinking evolved and my questions just built upon each other. The story Innosanto Nagara tells about sometimes breaking the rules because the rules are wrong truly took my breath away that day. I could not wait to share it with my fifth graders.

In the book, Nagara tells of many injustices of the past and present day where regular people made the choice to do something about them. Learning the story of the wedding portrait on the cover at the end of the book was just a beautiful end that inspired a round of applause from my fifth graders (I really wish every author could be a fly on the wall when this happens).

For this read aloud, I invited students to jot notes, sketch, or quick write whatever came to mind. I also invited them to just listen if that was what the book inspired them to do. During our reading, we stopped at certain points in the book, talked with the people around us about our thoughts/questions and paused for thinking and jotting/sketching time. Once we finished the book and after the round of applause, we engaged in a longer group discussion.

While I can’t accurately recall all of the discussion points my students brought up, I can share some of their jots, notes, sketches, and quick writes below.

In closing, I am so grateful for authors like Innosanto Nagara who choose to write books that show kids that they as individual citizens have power and voice- that they can create change if they choose to stand up to injustice. I highly recommend this book for all school libraries, home libraries, and classrooms from upper elementary through high school.

Through his story telling, Innosanto Nagara is creating change- perhaps a change that can never be measured as we don’t always see the impact of the stories we tell. Teachers, we can help create that change too if we choose it.

We now have four school days to go, and yes, I am still teaching.

a few thoughts from the fifth graders…

One thought on “The Last 20 Days of Literacy Learning: 5 days to go, Drawing Inspiration from an Important Read Aloud

  1. This is an example of good teaching, even if it wasn’t the last few days of school. I believe that engaging children is real conversations about real things matters every day of the year.

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