It’s easy to get scared in teaching. We are given a big job, and suddenly, we are not only expected to be experts in the learning process, but we are also expected to be knowledgeable scientists, expert mathematicians, seasoned writers, and distinguished and diverse readers, all within the same day. It is certainly not an easy task.
We are thinking specialists, not necessarily content specialists
I’ve taken on a new outlook, which I think further supports my idea of teachers in elementary classrooms being “thinking specialists” rather than content area specialists. The content that we have to teach is relatively easily learned, but our knowledge of it is deepened through having to convey the information to little minds. Further, this shows that our focus is more on the thinking and learning process, rather than the content itself. Could I make a cute little PowerPoint showing how to create a food chain? Of course I could, but that doesn’t mean my students are going to understand it when I’m done.
Truly, education is such a dynamic field, that even being out of the classroom for a year is likely to remediate your practice, due to the amount of practices that change and the new targets we have to teach. For instance, right now, there are so many changes underway with the implementation of the Common Core just around the corner. In fact, my team is currently turning that corner and experimenting a great deal with the Common Core. I’m happy to say we’ve been rather successful, but mostly because we are collaborative, we are supportive of each other, and we have a philosophy that already somewhat aligns with the Common Core.
Regardless, we are still learning many new things–things that we would not have learned if it wasn’t for us having to teach it. I want to talk a bit about author’s tone today, because, as I am sitting here in Starbucks, reading The Sisters Grimm (Buckley), in an effort to prepare for our class to apply our knowledge of character, literary devices, vocabulary practices, and, of course, tone (which I will be teaching explicitly next week), I suddenly had an a-ha! moment.
I’ve been struggling lately with this concept, as I (somewhat) understand it, but have been dreading teaching it to my kids because I did not know how to take them through the process of understanding author’s tone in a way comprehensible to fourth graders.
The Sisters Grimm
I was trying to find the main focus through which I would teach this book, so that it lent itself to some close readings and more ownership on my students’ part to get through it. Then, I started to think about tone, denotation, and connotation, and it suddenly clicked for me–or at least I think it did. In the first chapter of The Sisters Grimm, the author discusses the girls’ experience when meeting Granny Grimm for the first time. Here are some of the passages I’ve chosen for close reading:
“Daphne and Sabrina stared up into the old man’s gaunt face. He was so skinny and frail-looking that it seemed as though the umbrella he was holding would collapse on him at any moment” (10).
Here, the author uses words such as “gaunt” and “skinny,” as opposed to light-skinned or slender, adding to the pessimistic tone. The girls are not excited to be here, and quite honestly, are a bit creeped out. This differs from the mood, which in some spots is sad, but others is humorous.
Passage Two: Finding the Car
“Mrs. Grimm’s barrage of kisses continued all the way down the platform to the parking lot where Mr. Canis was waiting for them beside the oldest car Sabrina had ever seen. Dingy and covered in rust, it squealed and protested when Mr. Canis opened the back door and the girls crawled inside…The car sputtered, backfired, and then roared to life, belching out a black fog out of its tailpipe” (11).
In this passage, not only the word choice, but the way the author uses personification helps readers to see the pessimistic tone, once again. By the way the author describes this car, readers can see that the author is viewing this as an unpleasant and disgusting experience.
Passage Three: Arriving at Granny Grimm’s House
“Mrs. Grimm’s house sat far up on a tree-spreckled hill fifteen minutes away from the closest neighbor. It was short and squat, much like its owner, and had two stories, a wraparound porch, and small windows with bright blue shutters. Fat green shrubs lined the cobblestone path that led to the front door. It all would have looked cozy, but just behind the house loomed the forest–its branches hanging over the little roof as if the trees were preparing to swallow the house whole” (13).
Even further, the author’s choice of words help to show the pessimistic tone–specifically the part when there forest “looms” over the house. I suppose if the author were trying to convey a more optimistic tone, he would have written something like this:
Mrs. Grimm’s house sat far up on a tree-spreckled hill, fifteen minutes from the closest neighbor. It was short but broad, much like the open land in which it sat. It had two stories, an open wrap-around porch, and petite windows with bright blue shutters. The front door welcomed the girls with the bushy green shrubs that lined the quaint cobblestone path leading up to it. Just behind the house was a background of trees, covering bits of the house in an effort to shield its beauty from the rest of nature.
Here, it really helped me to think about how the author could have described it, if he had taken on a more optimistic tone.
In short, I think now more than ever before, it is important to do some learning on our own before we teach our kids. If it wasn’t for the fact that I sat here and did some close readings of the first chapter of The Sisters Grimm on my own, I think I would still be feeling lost in teaching tone. Too often, we Google and try to find resources that someone else created, when really, we should go through the learning process on our own.
Then, we truly understand where our kids are coming from.