Fifth Grade Battle of the Books Had a Visit with Deborah Wiles

IMG_3370Last month at the Texas Library Association conference, I had the opportunity to attend a session with multiple authors talking about writing historical fiction.  Deborah Wiles was on the panel.  I’ve know “Debbie” for several years now.  I first heard her at the Decatur Book Festival, and when she spoke, she created a magical presence with her words.  When she speaks, she truly breathes story into the air.  Hearing her speak and reading the words that she writes on the pages of her books gives me such a connection to her southern spirit and reminds me of growing up in the rural town of Blue Ridge.  About five years ago, Deborah Wiles came to Barrow Elementary as my very first author visit.  She sang One Wide Sky with PreK-1st grade and had upper grades writing in their imaginary journals.  She even led a professional learning session for teachers after school.  When, I saw Debbie in Texas she told me that she wanted to stop by and see the new media center, so we setup a time.

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Since she was already stopping by, I asked her if she would like to meet our 5th grade battle of the books students since they had read Countdown for their competition.  I’m so glad that we decided to do that because today’s visit was simply magical.

While she was stuck in traffic, the 5th graders worked on making her some birthday cards for when she arrived.  We also displayed the blackout poetry that we had made using Freedom Summer and Revolution.

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When she arrived today, she took a seat in the rocking chair that my dad made and started sharing stories.  She let the students talk to her about reading Countdown.  The depth of their conversation made me realize how different an author visit can be when the students have not only read the books but also spent extensive time discussing them.

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The students talked about the complexity of her plots, the character traits of their favorite characters, and shared specific details of scenes that seemed suspenseful.  In fact, some of the scenes that students chose to describe were some of the very scenes that were the most difficult for Deborah Wiles to write.

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Next, she showed us lots of pictures of where Countdown came from.  The students loved seeing the real places that inspired the story.  They also loved seeing how the title and cover art for the book changed and how the editor gave Deborah Wiles feedback on her work.

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Before students went back to class, we told her “Happy Birthday” and gave her some cards and artwork.  She spent time signing books that students pre-ordered from Avid Bookshop and chatting more with students about books and writing.

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While she was signing, we enjoyed birthday cake that she brought for us to enjoy!

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Before she left, we spent some time roaming around the school and looking at how much it had changed since the last time she was here.  Now, she will go to Avid Bookshop for a signing this afternoon at 4:30.

The students are all very eager to read Revolution, which publishes on May 27th.  I gave away 2 ARCs of Revolution today as well as some copies of Countdown.  We are so thankful to Deborah Wiles for driving to Athens and spending time with us today.  The students could have listened to her for the rest of the day.  We can’t wait to see her back in our library soon.

 

Exploring Civil Rights through Blackout and Magnetic Poetry

IMG_30815th grade has a massive social studies curriculum.  It spans from the civil war all the way up to the present.  One of the things that they have been doing for the past 2 years that I love is using Christopher Paul Curtis’s books to tie in to the curriculum.  They start with Elijah of Buxton, move to Bud Not Buddy, and finish with the Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963.

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The civil rights movement is where they have been spending a lot of time recently, so the teacher emailed me to see what we might do in the library to focus on this time period in her language arts class. The standards they are working on are:

SS5H8 The student will describe the importance of key people, events, and developments between 1950-1975.

b. Explain the key events and people of the Civil Rights movement; include Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and civil rights activities of Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Since it’s poetry month, I wanted to pull poetry into our time together, and I knew that 5th graders would be able to handle some complex text and concepts.

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Just like with 3rd grade, we read Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, but their background information was much deeper than what 3rd graders knew.  They had connections and stories to share about the riots and peaceful marches that took place during the civil rights movement.  It was the perfect opportunity for me to also pull in Revolution by Deborah Wiles.  This book doesn’t publish until May 27th, but I have an advance reader’s copy from the Texas Library Association Conference.  I was able to show them some of the speeches, music, advertisements, etc from the time period to accompany the picture book, Freedom Summer. 

 

For poetry, the 5th graders created 2 kinds of found poetry.  They used the Word Mover app on the iPad to create magnetic poetry.  The app has a word bank that is words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech.  They also used pages from Freedom Summer and a couple of pages from Revolution to create blackout poetry.

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This time for blackout poetry, we used the New York Times interactive site to create blackout poetry together.  The site makes it very easy to select & deselect words from articles to create 15-word blackout poems.  We did an example together on the board.  The teacher also helped demonstrate how to mark words on their own paper by putting boxes around words in the NY Times article on the board.

We found that a good first step for students in making blackout poetry is to read or skim the page and then put boxes around words or phrases that stand out.  Once you are sure of the words you want in your poem, then you blackout the rest of the page.  Modeling this on the board was important today.  We had very few students in 3 classes who needed to start over.

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I randomly gave students pages  from the books and they started the process.  For the most part, it was a very quiet process.  Students methodically chose their words and then quietly shared their work at their tables.  A few students paired up to help each other decide on words and phrases.

As students finished their blackout poems, they grabbed an iPad and created their Word Mover poems.  Just like with 2nd grade, most students arranged their words into solid sentences rather than shaping them up like a poem.  If time allowed, I conference with students and they went back into their poem to shape it into line breaks.

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Almost every poem was a reflective synthesis of student understanding about events of the civil rights movement and freedom summer.  Some students had some humorous twists to their poems, but most were solemn, serious, and reflective.

Take a look at their gallery.  Just like Revolution immerses us in the time period through story, music, advertisements, speeches, and other documentary pieces, the student poetry immersed us in the positive and negative feelings of the civil rights movement and freedom summer through multiple perspectives.

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Using Freedom Summer to Create Blackout Poetry

blackout poetry (14)In third grade, students learn about civil rights through the standard:

SS3H2 The student will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s
rights and freedoms in a democracy.

Students specifically learn about Mary McLeod Bethune, Frederick Douglas, and Thurgood Marshall.  When these students get to 5th grade, they will spend a larger amount of time studying the civil rights movement, but I thought this would be a good time to explore some text that connected with their current understanding of civil rights.

Students spent a small amount of time sharing what they currently understand about segregation and civil rights.  They brought up things like drinking from separate fountains, riding in the back of the bus, and holding boycotts of the transportation system.

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Then, we read Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles.  Students immediately noticed the connections to their own understanding of segregation as the 2 main characters could not do the same things together.  They were shocked when they got to the part in the story where the two boys couldn’t go to the pool because it was closed and filled in with asphalt.  The students used words like unfair, lunatics, and furious when describing their feelings and the idea of closing things rather than follow the law.

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After discussing the book, I showed them how some artists and poets use text that they find in the world and turn it into something new.  Austin Kleon, in Austin Texas, is one of these writers and artists.  We looked at a few of his poems called “blackout poems”.  He takes pages from newspapers or other texts and blacks out all of the words on the page except for the words in the poem.

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I gave the students one of three pages from Freedom Summer.  They spent time looking for words that stood out to them as a possible poem.  When they decided on the words of their poem, they circled them or drew boxes around them with a black marker.  Next, they used that same marker to blackout the rest of the words on the page.

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It was interesting to see how students interpreted the exact same page in a different way.

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We had students share their poems at the end, and it gave us a new understanding of what stood out on the page and in the story for students.  It was as if the poem helped us to look more closely at the meaning that we might all take from the text.  As usual, this was more difficult for some students than others, but we noticed that this kind of poetry did take away the barrier of spelling or deciding what to write.  We could instead focus on the meaning of the words on the page and use those words to interpret the story as a poem.

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Here are a few of the poems that students created.

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