Over winter break, I read Jess Lifshitz’s fabulous post on conducting a mock Caldecott unit and knew right away that it was exactly what we needed to be doing in the week we returned to school. We had been immersed in nonfiction book clubs in the weeks leading up to break, and although these discussions had been informative and interesting, I felt something was missing from my students’ conversations. A dive into stacks of glorious picture books, I thought, might just be the perfect way to get our reading community excited about being together again.
As is her way, Jess laid out the unit with exacting, thoughtful detail (complete with forms and resources!), which gave me direction. Our jam packed curriculum calendar does not allow for the quite as much time as Jess had with her fifth graders (17 days), and my focus was narrower. I had nine days to work with, which I hoped was enough time in which we could:
- connect as a reading community
- practice our listening skills
- develop our ability to gather evidence about our claim and support it effectively, and politely
We practiced using the Caldecott evaluation criteria with a read aloud and discussion of Last Stop on Market Street.
My kiddos were wonderful about picking up on the literary elements they noticed, but found an exciting new avenue of accessing meaning in a story through its art work. This was, really, the big breakthrough of the unit and the work they found most worthwhile. Actually, they LOVED this work!
Jess had shared a video of her art teacher discussing the art work in Beekle, and my students learned so much about how to analyze the merits of each illustration with an eye for perspective, mood, texture, contrast, and technique. They turned to evaluating their own stacks of Caldecott worthy books with a much keener understanding about what to look for and appreciate in the interrelation between pictures and text, which became evident in the quality of their note taking (if not, unfortunately, in their spelling ):
Even the way they held their books to read changed – the illustrations required holding the books closer and taking the time to peer at details they would otherwise have just raced past.
Because they were evaluating the relationship between text and art, there was the need to re-read, re-look, re-think each page in the context of the whole. This was an entirely new set of skills to practice alone and then together as a group, and I loved the progress they made each day in learning to listen, to frame their claims with evidence (and courtesy), and to re-consider their original thinking based on a partner’s different perspective.
It’s been a noisy few days as groups have met to narrow their selection and choose their nominees, but we have learned something new about art and perspective even as these posters were designed and assembled: how the visual can be a critical aspect of framing an argument.
Today, we presented our cases for our nominees and voted. I was impressed by how my students were able to talk about the artwork in their selection – how they had noticed subtleties of brushstroke, design, perspective and placement, and how they had come to appreciate the critical relationship between the words on a page and the artwork designed to highlight its meaning and give it depth.
Our winners were: What Do You Do With An Idea (A.M. class) and Ada’s Violin (P.M. class)…but the real winner was the unit itself. Here’s some of what my kids had to say when I asked them to note their take aways (something I always ask them to do at the end of a project and unit):