We just finished Fish in a Tree (Lynda Mullaly Hunt)–the story of an 11 year old girl who masked her reading disability with misbehavior and fell through the cracks at 7 different schools until her new teacher discovered the crux of her problem: dyslexia. It's a beautiful story of friendship and super powers.
I didn't plan for this to be a year of differences and super powers in Room 205. It all started with El Deafo. Cece Bell's compellingly honest, empowering graphic novel about her experience losing her hearing at age four and navigating childhood with this difference was a catalyst for what has become a year-long conversation about her message:
Our differences are our super powers.
Skyping with Ms. Bell and making a connection with her was significant for us, last fall, but none of us realized just how important this connection and message would be to our classroom culture.
We read Because of Mr. Terupt (Rob Buyea) and made connections to the complex characters and their teacher. When we Skyped with Mr. Buyea, we had just read the precept by Mark Twain: The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. We asked him if writing stories like this is his why.
With six weeks left in the school year we talked about what we should read next: Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper) or Wonder (R. J. Palacio). The kids had strong opinions. Almost half the class has already read Wonder, but everyone that has read it wanted to read it again as a class. We read the book blurbs and watched book trailers. Then we had an impromptu Grand Conversation about the decision. Grand Conversations are student-run conversations (similar to socratic seminars) where students truly converse with each other, building off of each other's points and being very mindful of other's opinions–soliciting input from all members of the group–not just the vocal ones. They discussed both books and the merits of reading each as our next (& possibly final) read aloud.
The truly beautiful thing was this: The students are keenly aware that this has been a special year of discovering that our differences are our super powers–specifically for several students in our class. Because these students have graciously and generously shared the knowledge of their differences with us, our hearts have grown with empathy, compassion, loyalty and respect. This was clear listening to them talk about why both of these books would be relevant to the experience we've had together this year. We've also discovered that there are many kinds of differences that impact us, some in less obvious or visible ways. In the end there was a vote. And we began reading: