The Slice of Life March Challenge #22: Blogging about books

The Slice of Life March Challenge is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers
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     My sixth graders just completed blogging about their historical fiction book club books, and the results have been fantastic.  Each group had their own blog page (our school website allows for this) with open ended discussion prompts.  I thought they would need these simply to lend structure to their thinking, so that their points could be focused.  The initial meeting required for each student to post one “juicy response” and at least one comment on each others’ responses.  After that, I left it up to the students to continue posting as they moved through the three weeks of book club.

Interpretive thinking prompts: 
·   When I first read this story, I thought it was just about…. but now that I think more about   it, I realize that really, it is about…..
·   Often people…. but this story shows that it’s possible people should…
·   I used to think… but now after reading this I think… because…
·   I learned from (the character, the event) that in life, it could be important to…
·   A topic I see in this text is…and the text wants readers to know…
·   One idea this book suggests is…. One example that shows (this idea) is…because… Another example that shows (this idea) is…because… This makes me realize/think that…
·   These two books are similar because they both teach that… On the one hand, though, in the first book… On the other hand, in the second book… This makes me realize/think that…

Use one or more of the above prompts to structure your thinking.  You may also respond to your novel’s possible themes or symbols.  Something important to consider is the historical time frame and the nonfiction reading you have done to give you background knowledge of the time period.
As always – share your evidence from your text and back up your theories with examples to share why you feel the way you do. 
That initial post/response became a lively online discussion – I could see that each student was taking the time to really read through the posts, think about what was being said and comment in a meaningful way.  Even some of the students who struggled a bit with staying on task during our classroom meetings  found interesting bits of reactions and topics to respond to and participated enthusiastically. 

Sometimes they nudged each other to new thinking:
Mia : Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff is a book that has many themes. One of the most prominent themes is friendship. This theme is important because there are two main friendships. Lily and Margaret are friends and Lily and Albert are friends. Margaret is a character who is captured mainly through letters and memories. This leads me to believe that she is not as much of a lead character. Although she seems to be a more minor character, her presence is still important and powerful. Her presence adds a new relationship to follow and adds to the difficulty of the storyline. Albert is a very important character. In this book he adds yet another relationship to follow. His relationship with Lily is very obvious but his relationship with Ruth is important as well. Ruth adds mystery to the text and makes me wonder if Albert and Her will ever be reunited. <<< Catherine : I agree with you and I think that is a great point. I agree with you that Margaret is a minor character but is connected with Lily in a powerful way.
Mrs. Smith: I love the way you named Margaret’s influence on the story – what impact does she have as the story moves forward?
Emma : She is an impact because she created a place for Lily to go when she needed a place to cool down or think about what she did. She also brings Albert there because if she does she thought that she would be cool in Albert’s eyes. The house also made a protection from the world around her because she is going through a really trying time with her Gram, and her dad being gone, and complications with her friendship with Albert. She is having many problems.
Margaret also impacts the story later because it is her brother Eddie who is missing in action. Lily feels horrible about this. One night she dreams about them and wakes up crying. This is when she realizes that things will never be the same because of the war, even though her dad told her that they would be the same. She and her grandma have a talk about this and it helps them become closer. 

Anne : I agree. I never noticed it but I thought of Margaret as just a character who I thought was just a add-on. Great point!
Sometimes they raised larger issues and connected to what they have noticed about literature as a whole:

Avi : In Under the Blood Red Sun, it gave a different point of view than most of the book’s I read. Usually, in the books I read, Americans are the good guys and are very fair and reasonable. In this book, we were the one’s being unfair and unkind. I never new that Japanese-Americans had such a hard life after Pearl Harbor. Most of them them were actually born in America. Even then they were still criticized.

I had always thought that the world is split up into countries, Japan, and America, and that the people in the country are connected to their country. In this book I realized that that is not true. Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor had nothing to do with Japanese people all over the world. It had to do with the military agency and the government. People in Japan might have not liked it either. That also happens with America. The government might do something that they alone decided on (President and Congress). Many people may not like it but they still pass it. Tomi’s father and grandfather got arrested even though they both felt that it was a disgrace to Japan. The grandfather entirely separated himself from Japan after he heard what happened. He even called himself an American. Still he gets blamed like all the Japanese-American people.

In this book, there was a lot about friendship. What Billy did when he denied seeing anyone wave the flag was very brave because he could have been killed and he knew that. Also, he wasn’t Japanese, he was haole so it proves that he did it to protect Tomi and his family, not himself. Tomi’s grandpa did get arrested at the end, but if Billy told, Tomi’s grandpa would be shot immediately. So would probably the whole family. Billy is the definition of a best friend. He would do anything for Tomi. <<< Rachel : Great points here Avi! It was interesting to hear your thoughts in the first paragraph. I especially liked when you shared how you have always read books with the American being the “good guy.” I also really like how in your second paragraph, you mentioned something about the President and the Congress. It showed that you were not only thinking about the book, but the government and the laws behind it. I also agree with you when you said in your third paragraph, “Billy wasn’t Japanese, he was a haole so that proves that he did it to protect Tomi and his family, not himself.” This was a very interesting point that I have never thought of. We should talk further in class about the friendship between Billy and Tomi. It is a very important part to the story. 
 Rena : You picked some awesome points in your response Avi! I agree on the part where you talked about how in this book, the author writes the Americans as if they were the bad people. After thinking hard about this, I realized the unique way the author wrote this book. She is probably an American so I assume she didn’t want to write the Americans strongly as villains. On the other hand, she tried to make the reader feel bad for the Japnaese. I think that was realy hard, trying to balance the two, and to write it in a way that the reader would understand must have been harder. Thanks to your response, I found a new feature that was hidden in this book

Sometimes they made connection to books they had read:

Christine : I used to think that Byron was being a bully because he thought it was cool but now i think that he is being a bully because he does what he wants at home,gets in trouble, and then gets punished by his parents. Byron might bully others becuse he is bullied by his own parents somtimes. In Alabama Byron will probaly get bullied more because he is african american and he’ll get a taste of what he is doing to others.
I think the brown bomber is a symbol in this story because i think it brings them closer together as a family. 
Mrs. Smith: Such a great point – bring this up in discussion, Christine!
Isha : Maybe you are right about Byron bulling other people because he is bullied by his parents. He might keep in his anger because he can’t let it out on his own parents but he lets it out on other students. In The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, the Commandant – Bruno’s father – kept questioning Lieutenant Cotler, and he became very nervous and angry. He took out his anger on Pavel, an innocent person. That is how Byron is acting. Nice response, Christine

Sometimes they posted about their noticings, which, in turn helped their fellow book club members to realize aspects about the story:
Luke: I think that Grandfather’s sword is a very important symbol throughout the story. The sword represents multiple things. I think one of them was Matilda’s faith in her grandfather and what he told and would do for her, such as all his stories about fighting the British, and when he came out in his full army uniform, ( including the sword) and promised to protect Matilda until they reached the country.
The sword also represents Matilda’s bravery and strong desire to keep her family in one piece throughout these troubled times. Matilda used the sword to try to protect her family when thieves broke into their house and were going to kill Grandfather, which was saying a lot about Matilda’s determination because it was extremely rare in a time like that, that a woman would pick up a sword and chase someone down the street in the middle of the night with it. 

Mrs. Smith: Good point! I am so glad that you chose to back up your thinking about this symbol with examples from the text! Now, let’s see what the other members of your book club have to say.
Caitlin : That is a really good point. Now that I think about it, the sowrd is really important to the story. It shows how Mattie would not give up fighting for her family. I like how you said that a young lady would not go running down a street in the middle of the night holding a sword

The best part of running book clubs this way was that all the on line talk made for really rich and engaging classroom discussions.  Everyone had previewed their talking points and generated new ideas they wanted to talk about, and once the groups got together, they were off and running.  I also noticed that my kids just had  a lot to talk about – and these conversations were much more particular and detailed filled than before.   The cool factor, responding on their blogs rather than in their reading journals was greatly appreciated, too. When it came time for grading their efforts, I just printed out the blogroll and commented on the way each student participated in the conversation and moved it along.
All in all – this is the way we will go about books clubs from now on.

6 thoughts on “The Slice of Life March Challenge #22: Blogging about books

  1. A great post. Would you mind if I show this post to my college students? This is an authentic example of engaging, encouraging, and allowing students to share their thoughts. What amazing learning going on both online and then in the classroom!!!

  2. Dear Tara,I'm with you…it's always amazing what our students can do when we ask them to read and write for authentic reasons. I love the thinking your students are doing.

  3. I love the idea of using the blogs for their initial reflections. I can imagine how much richer the in class discussion would be since they had thoroughly thought through their themes. Great idea. I am adding this post to my Delicious literacy stack.

  4. Wow, what a great idea to have each group write their thoughts on the books on a blog. I am finishing up a historical fiction book club unit with my 5th graders right now. Maybe I could try to use your idea of having a blog for discussion questions and their thinking.

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