Tuck Everlasting….continued

In class, we have been doing a close reading of “Tuck Everlasting” for the last few days.  We re-read the Prologue and Chapter 1, annotating when necessary.  It is so amazing to hear my students say, “Wow!  I didn’t even realize that circle had meaning the first time I read it!”  I think they are starting to understand the need to sometimes re-read parts of a book, especially when you want to clarify certain points or respond to the book in writing.  This is a skill they will need to hone as they move through the middle school and high school and one they aren’t explicitly taught at any grade level.  I am having so much fun with it! 

Today, we read an excerpt from “Circling Tuck: An Interview with Natalie Babbitt” from Horn Book in 2000.  The interview is wonderful and Babbitt shares a lot of great information with the readers.  My students loved that fact that Babbitt admits that Man in the Yellow Suit only wears a yellow suit because she needed a two syllable word and “nobody wears purple”.  Throughout the book, my students could not figure out why Babbitt has the man wear a yellow suit when yellow usually symbolizes happiness or sunshine.  Needless to say, they think it is hysterical that there is such a practical reason for the color of his suit.

They also loved the fact that Babbitt chose the last name Tuck because in the past, tuck meant life.  This information gave a whole new perspective to the book and the themes that run through it.  Most students noted that this was their favorite fact in the interview.   They had no idea that words sometimes gain and lose meanings as time goes on, and tuck is a word they were previously familiar with. Hearing that an author put that much time and effort into choosing a character’s last name really fascinated them.

It was great sharing Babbitt’s interview with my class.  I could see their knowledge growing and they admitted that even though the book started slowly, they are so glad they gave it a chance because, “It really is an awesome book, Miss M.”!  YES!!!

Reflections on Writing about Reading

For the past two days, my 6th graders have been focusing on writing about their reading. Before this week, they have been using stickies for the past few weeks and then using those to help them with their book conversations. This week, we graduated to writing off post-its and growing our ideas.

Yesterday, I started by modeling off one of my post-its from Tuck Everlasting. I decided to use a stickie that discussed a quote where Babbitt compares life to a wheel, always turning. With the class watching, I grew my post-it into a 6 sentence paragraph about my thinking. We reviewed some of Nancie Atwell’s sentence openers for letter-essays and then I set them off. I had the students choose one of their Tuck stickies, place it at the top of their desk, and then grow that thinking into a paragraph in their notebook. I was so impressed with the results! There was a lot of deep thinking and some great connections made!

Today, I wrote off of a personal thinking stickie, from Ch. 10 in Tuck. Again, I modeled for the class but this time I wrote 9 sentences (a typical paragraph that I expect from my students). Like the day before, I set them off to choose a stickie of their own and write at least 9 sentences about it in their letter-essays section of their reading binder. I thought they might struggle a bit more today, due to the length, but boy was I wrong! Most of my students (in both classes) wrote well over 9 sentences. In fact, a few wrote an entire page! They were all dying to share their thinking and we listened to everyone read their thoughts aloud. Again, I was impressed! The thinking had gotten even deeper, and they were writing about things they noticed regarding author’s style, literary elements, symbols, motifs, and predictions they had for the remainder of the book! I was so proud!!!

We will continue to work our way forward with our writing about reading, working our way up to 3+ paragraph letter-essays that they will write to me on a monthly basis. :)

Oh, and my students are LOVING “Tuck Everlasting”. I can’t get them to stop reading! Actually, their enthusiasm must be contagious, because I was never a huge fan of the novel before this year. However, I decided to do a close reading of the book, seeing as it is “the greatest children’s novel”. I was inspired by Monica over at Educating Alice, who was inspired when she read “Charlotte’s Web” critically for a children’s lit course. I went over the entire novel, writing in my book and responding in my own reader’s notebook. I also read every article, interview, and review of “Tuck Everlasting” that I could find through Ebscohost. I have a brand new appreciation for the novel and I absolutely love it!

Like Monica, I plan to spend the weeks after we finish “Tuck Everlasting” going back over the text with the entire class, looking with a critical eye, annotating and digging even deeper. From the response I am getting from my class so far, I know this will be a success. I will be sure to keep you all updated!

Novels vs. Movie Adaptations

Today I got a hold of Disney’s “Tuck Everlasting” movie, the 2002 adaptation of the Natalie Babbitt novel. Oddly enough, before tonight I had only seen the much older adaptation of the novel. I wanted to preview the movie before we watch it as a class next week, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I had to set aside my thoughts about the novel and view the film as a separate entity.

It should be very interesting watching the movie with my students. We have been analyzing the novel for two weeks now and will have completed our initial reading before we view the film. My students are very adept at picking up on Babbitt’s symbolism, and will notice when anything is changed in the film. Within the first 5 minutes I had already picked out 3 important changes from the novel (and I know they will immediately notice them, too).

The screenwriter has changed the timimg of the story from August to the beginning of summer. This upset me, as the metaphor about the Ferris wheel hanging at the top like August hangs at the top of the year no longer works! Also, Winnie is aged by about 6 years, making her closer to 16 than 10. Finally, her parents play a much more prominent role than they do in the book. While this is a departure from the novel, I didn’t mind that as much. Her parents are characterized as bossy, overprotective, and downright mean! It does make it more obvious why Winnie runs away- in the novel we only hear her grandmother and mother in the background, so to speak. Here they are much more in the forefront of the tale. Most importantly, the ever-present and symbolic toad is barely mentioned in the film. It does appear in a few scenes, but is never explained or pointed out.

Apparently, Natalie Babbitt gave her approval of the film and even participates in the audio commentary and extra features. If Babbitt approves of the film, I certainly do, too! However, I will look at it as a separate entity from the amazing novel. I do wish more people had seen the movie, though. It might have turned them on to the perfection of Babbitt’s novel!

Great Moments in the Classroom

Today my students met with their reading partners for their first “Tuck Everlasting” book meetings. We have been doing a lot of minilessons on thick vs. thin questions, partnership talk, and focusing on a central idea in the text. I walked around, eavesdropping, as they were talking and I was so impressed! While their conversations were not perfect by any means, they were heads and tails above what I expected to hear! Most of the groups were completely focused on their thick questions and I even heard a few debates breaking out!

After listening in today, I have a good idea where we will be taking the unit next. My eventual goal is for the students to be able to respond to their literature both conversationally and in a written letter-essay (a la Nancie Atwell). This week, we will be working on focusing on a central idea from the text and writing about it. We will write about personal connections and text-to-text connections, in single paragraphs. I think we will use the idea of everlasting life as our central idea when we work together: Should we have the option of living forever? The kids seem to connect with the idea immediately and hopefully we can have fun writing off our class stickie note!

I’m under the gun here, because I need to finish Tuck Everlasting before Thanksgiving! However, after the Thanksgiving break I plan to go back through Tuck doing some annotations with the class. :)

Annotating Tuck Everlasting

After reading Monica’s post In the Classroom: Annotating Charlotte’s Web, I was inspired to do some annotating of my own. My class will be reading Natalie Babbitt’s “Tuck Everlasting” as our next class novel and I know I have never done the book justice. It is so beautifully written and almost poetic and I know my student’s can appreciate that. So here I am on a Sunday night, 3 chapters into re-reading the book (for the 10th time), annotating away.

Annotating is an amazing experience, because you are forced to pay attention to the whole experience of the book. I tend to be a fast reader. While this doesn’t mean I skim books, it does mean that I read very, very fast and usually miss a lot of the nuances. That’s why I am such as avid re-reader. But annotating takes re-reading to a whole new level. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you do. I can’t wait to try this with my class!

Oh, and while annotating and trying to listen to music (to drown out the football game on in the other room), I remember a CD I loved in junior high. After searching high and low, I finally found the entire series on Amazon. Someone needs to stop me from buying the Set Your Life to Music cd’s from Amazon. I have 10 of them on my wishlist! I can imagine falling asleep to one, writing to another, reading with a third CD………

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