Thursday, November 14, 2013

I Want my Hat Back

For 80 minutes today, I was in teacher heaven.

I had the privilege of visiting four different English I classrooms to read I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klasssen. And I did it in 80 minutes. And it ROCKED.

A few weeks ago, our English teachers went to a district staff development that touted the benefits of reading aloud to teens. When I heard this, my heart jumped with joy because I thought THIS was my "in" with the English department. I met with the English I teachers (I want to take on one grade level at a time and not stretch myself too thin. Our campus is a small city--seriously.) I talked about my crazy idea of coming into their classes to share a picture book. They loved the idea, and we discussed what skill their kids struggled with. Guess's the skill that kids from Kinder to 12th grade have been struggling with since the beginning of time...MAIN IDEA. I know this because I've taught Kinder through 12th graders (not since the beginning of time, however), and They. Still. Don't. Get. Main. Idea.

I knew the perfect book. THIS ONE. I read it to 5th & 6th graders last year, and it was a HUGE HIT. And let's face it--is there really that much difference between a sixth and a ninth grader? (Beside a few inches and maybe a smidgen of maturity) It's short, hilarious, and requires readers to make many inferences. And it's simple. The goal was for me to do this mini-lesson about main idea so that they could go back into Romeo and Juliet and find the main idea in the scenes that they are reading. Scaffolding at it's best.

I admit that I woke up a little nervous this morning. Facing a classroom of Freshman again takes guts, and I was bringing in a picture book to read to them. How would they respond? Would they think I was babying them? I dug into my inner-teacher and hoped for the best.


I did my quick schpeel about how picture books are for everyone. I read them the book, and they were hooked. Engaged. Laughing. Making inferences. Supporting them with text evidence. Learning. Having fun. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

Each lesson took about 20 minutes, and I rotated though four classrooms. The teachers knew ahead of time when I was coming, so they stopped the lesson and let me interrupt. The kids were all reading Act I of Romeo and Juliet, so I think they enjoyed the levity of the picture book.

Before I left, I had the kids "turn and talk" about the main idea of the book. In every class, I noticed  the kids going directly to theme--so I backed them up and reminded them what main idea is. (This is what happens when we assume...) I praised them for going to a higher level beyond main idea because really main idea is a step down from theme. Main idea is what the story is about in a few sentences. The bare bones of the story. The kids shared their main ideas with the large group, and they were right. I then opened an umbrella, and they freaked out:

A note about the tie: It was made by a student for me.
Isn't it wonderful ?

I said I was willing to risk the years of bad luck if it would help them answer this question:  If I represented the story, then how is the umbrella like the main idea? Every class got it right--the main idea COVERS the story, just like the umbrella covers me. The stick supports the umbrella just like the details support the main idea. You could hear the light bulbs go on. Really. "OOOOOHHHHH!!!"

(Side note about the Dora umbrella: It's the only one I had in my minivan when I was brainstorming this lesson on the way to work today. Don't judge.)

So I left them with this reminder:  When faced with more challenging texts and asked to find the main idea, think about the BASIC events that COVER the story--from beginning to end. Don't include details. Just the basics. That's your main idea.

(Another side note: I used the umbrella analogy last year when I taught main idea to Kinder through sixth graders as an elementary librarian...)

Will this change their lives forever when it comes to main idea? Will they never miss this question again on a standardized test? Here's hoping, but there was a moment in each of those classrooms when I felt that connection--that moment when it clicked. As educators, those are the moments that fuel us to keep going in this hard fight. Most importantly, Freshman had FUN with a piece of literature today and they extracted meaning from it. THAT'S why I'm still riding this teacher high...

I left a copy of the picture book with each teacher (I ILLed copies from my elementary librarian peeps) so that they can share it with their classes in the other periods. As much as I loved doing this lesson, I don't know if I could do it 20 more times.

I'm hoping this is the start of something big with these 9th graders. I look forward to going back into the classrooms again and experiencing 80 more minutes in teacher heaven.


  1. What a great day! This made me smile :)

  2. Was one of your English 1 teachers, Amy Hale? I've been one of Amy's Bible study teachers for a few years. Did you know she is married to Willie Hale? He graduated from MHS and his brother is Brian Hale ( class of 92) and a friend of Jennifer's. I told her to introduce herself to you that you were a great librarian!

  3. LOL!!!!!! You're my library hero!