Sunday, May 10, 2015

Finding Our Paths

What path do YOU want to take? What are YOUR thoughts on this issue? Asking a student to answer these questions in front of his or her peers is a mighty challenge. Let's be honest, it's often hard for adults to answer truthfully. We weigh what others will think if we say something unconventional or controversial, and we gamble with whether the risk of opening up is worth it. But to embrace life, we need to allow ourselves to grow, explore and diverge from that beaten path. If we cannot, how do we expect to encourage our students to walk their own paths?

For my younger students, I like to use the familiar favorite, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. This is definitely a "multiple reads" read-aloud. The first reading has to be all about performing the masterpiece with silly voices, ROARing and pausing through students' fits of laughter. On the second day, reading aloud can focus on how Mr. Tiger works to discover his path to happiness. He cautiously starts off by walking on all fours and climbing buildings, then graduates to taking off his clothes in public (absolutely our favorite page!) and eventually, he heads into the wilderness to be completely wild. As he spends time in the wilderness, he realizes he misses some parts of his old life. What does it mean to walk our own path? I don't necessarily think it's something we figure out right away. Perhaps, like Mr. Tiger, it involves trial and error, independent soul-searching and a bit of support from our friends.

The new middle-grade novel, The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart is extraordinary and will captivate readers' attention from the start. In this book, Mark decides to embark on a mission to climb Mount Rainier. I love his drive, his determination, even when so many things seem to be going wrong. He is sick, he gets beat up, his money is stolen and a huge winter storm is heading his way. The thought of his parents being upset over their "missing" son weighs heavily on his mind. How do we manage our conflicting thoughts when traveling our own paths? There's a lot to discuss in this debut novel from Gemeinhart. 

For behind the scenes videos with the author, check out:

For older students, explore the work of fiction, When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. This Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe winner exemplifies what it means to walk our own paths. In a neighborhood filled with violence and drugs, Ali chooses not to be in a gang. He chooses not to use drugs. He chooses to stand up for his friends and be a good person. Not that Ali is perfect, but that's what I like about him. Like all teenagers, he makes a mistake...and he learns from it. He learns what it means to make choices that could cost a friendship. Ali's life is filled with conflict, and that makes this the perfect book to use in class discussions. The path we walk down, it has a lot of forks and boulders, how do we decide which route is best, and if we choose the wrong one, how do we change course?

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