Back in the days that I was in the classroom working with teachers, part of my job would be to coach teachers in the teaching of reading. Many times I would watch a lesson (and even teach a lesson myself) and wonder about the effectiveness of it. Wonder why we were teaching it like that, all empty and disconnected. I have seen many curriculums both for schools and homeschools encourage just such methods.
One such time after seeing children write out story elements on the petals of a flower, I wondered what THAT was all about. It seemed to be a random way to have kids learn about story elements. I mean, the story wasn’t even about flowers or gardens or bees or summer or anything relating to flowers. Why petals on a flower?
What is the point of naming and listing all of the characters of a story? Or any of the other parts for that matter? And how does it even relate to writing them on an arbiturary shape?
I’ve thought this over many a time and this is what I’ve come to…
Readers put information together as they process text to help them understand the story. The elements of the story are simply guideposts to help us make meaning of what we are reading. Just knowing the 4 main characters and where they are does not mean I understand the heart of the reading.
So what is important?
1) Characterization: This isn’t about just knowing the character names. This is understanding who those characters are, knowing them. What do they think? How do they feel? How do they react or act in certain situations or with other characters? How do they influence the people around them? How do they make us feel? Could we be friends with them or should we run when we see them coming?
2) View point: Not just, “Who is telling the story?” Are they reliable, can they be trusted? What may they be holding back? How does someone else in the story feel about those same events? Why should we or shouldn’t we see and feel things the same way they are being portrayed?
3) Background: In addition to the setting (where and when)…What does it mean to live in that time of history? Who was ruling or in charge then? How did people dress? What was a day in their lives like? What do their homes look like? How did they go about their day? How is it different for them than it is for you?
4) Mood: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” And from there…How does the story make you feel? Does the mood of the story affect the characters or are the characters making the mood? How would you feel being there with them? Are you scared, content, worried, anxious, joyful?
5) Drama and Movement: We could spend long days focusing on the beginning, middle, and end, but that is a skeleton of the plot. What happens to change the character? How are their lives better or worse from the events happening to them and around them? Do the characters change over time or is it sudden? What kind of a change is it? Physical? Geographic? Emotional? What part does the character have in the changes? Is the character doing the changing or is the change or event happening to the character?
6) The Greater Meaning: I don’t even want to discuss what the theme of a story could amount to, I want to breathe it deep and wonder how it impacts my life, my way of seeing things. How does it impact the characters? Would it have impacted them the same way? What is the story of the story? What does it say about the human condition?
And these things should not be put on flower petals (or any other die cut tree, octopus, table leg, or rainbow). They should be discussed. They should be mulled over. They should be a guide into the life of the character. They should be a guide to help us understand the world better and maybe even ourselves. They should be a point of conviction for us, a deeper knowing and understanding.
One may argue that a first grader cannot think like this, so it is best to put it down on something pretty so they can remember because there are tests to be accountable for. But unless, we expect great thinking from our children, yes, even our young children, they will not think great things. I have held my own first graders in my lap and taught classes of first graders that thought deeply about many things. Not the things that I told them to think deeply about, but the things that brewed in their own hearts and minds. And a child that can think deeply can answer the superficial questions on any test.
*My goal is not to offend…just offer a different way of thinking…a challenge, if you will…
Wishing you homeschool blessings,