Friday, July 10, 2015

Predestination stories (reading lessons)

who: J1 (guest appearances by J2 and J3)
when: early afternoon
where: in the dining room
what material did we use: pack of sight words, Usborne book of Fairy Tales, Jeffrey Archer collection of short stories.

We have started to be more consistent about the literacy activities we are doing with the kids.


We have found very quick warm-up activities worked really well in the math classes we teach at school, so we thought we'd do the same for our literacy sessions. We are still in the process of collecting appropriately short and fun activities, but here is a short list of things we've done so far:

  • Sight word sentences: using a pack of sight words, draw 2 and then form a sentence with them. The sillier, the better!
  • Sight word story: take 6 or 8 sight words and form a short story with them. 
  • Crazy Sentences: reading the strange sentences that come out of this program which was inspired by a game from Peggy Kaye (whose site looks like a good source for other qiuck games).
  • Talk about a picture: this is a direct translation of one of our math warm-up activities

Intro to predestination (aka Sleeping Beauty)

For the main event, J1 read (or re-read) the first story in our fairy tale book. As he was reading, I wrote out a couple of questions for us to discuss:

  1. What is the location of the story?
  2. Who are the main characters (2-4)?
  3. What is the conflict in the story?
Of course, these are generic questions we can discuss for almost every story he reads. There were several highlights in our discussion.

What happens with the mean fairy?
In our version, the mean fairy only shows up once, explicitly, in the story, to curse Rose. It is implied in the pictures, that she shows up later to introduce the fated spinning wheel. J1 was strongly drawn to this interpretation based on his own narrative sense of closure and connection. We were a little disappointed that she didn't figure in the ending sequence, but more on that later . . .

Why was Florien successful in rescuing Rose?
Prior to his attempt, several other chaps made an effort and were unsuccessful. J1 said that the reason he was successful seemed to have something to do with Rose drawing Florien's picture earlier in the story and Florien dreaming of Rose. Of course, we don't know how many pictures of princes Rose actually drew, how exact the likeness was to Florien, nor whether the unsuccessful princes had dreamed of Rose or not.

We talked about other stories and came up with these suggestions:

  • Maybe Rose and Florien were partners in a prior life (an idea J1 got from the Thai Ramakien)
  • Maybe Florien did something nice for the mean fairy and she granted him the ability to rescue Rose. J1's favorite version: The mean fairy turned into a squirrel to run through the forest. She accidentally got caught in a hunter's trap. Florein found her and bandaged her wounds.
  • Maybe Florien defeated the mean fairy in battle and won the power to rescue Rose. This version was accompanied by some wild jumping around in a simulated sword (Florien) vs lighting blast (mean fairy) battle.
Predestination vs Free Will
I told J1 about two competing theories: predestination and free will and then we went back to the story to see whether/how each theory was represented. There was a very clear winner, with predestination getting all the points:

  • Rose's story told in advance by the curse/blessings of the fairies.
  • Rose predicts Florien saving her by her drawing
  • Florien predicts saving Rose by his dream
  • The other princes fail to save her "just because" (because they weren't fated to do so)
  • The king acts to prevent the foretold curse by destroying spinning wheels in the land, but the fate is inescapable
The last point flagged up a classic element of predestination stories: even if the characters take action to change their fate, the results still end up the same. Often, the action taken to prevent the fate is somehow critical in causing it to happen.

Appointment with Death
By chance, I had just read this short story in a Jeffrey Archer anthology. I got it out and we read it together, then talked more about predestination vs free will.

Some other tidbits from the chat:
- who is Death? Why do people anthropomorphize death like this?
- why does the story seem to suddenly shift to first person, form Death's perspective? Is the story more or less clear written this way?

Daily Journal

J1 and J2 both have small notebooks for writing a daily journal. They usually write something about what happened that day, but are free to write whatever they want. Sometimes, it becomes a short story or even a never-ending story.
We talk about what they wrote and then make a vocabulary list related to their note. Usually, it is formed from words they mis-spelled, but the vocabulary words could be things they spelled correctly that highlight interesting patterns or a word they didn't use that is related to the topic.

What about the little one?

For J3, we have been working on phonics and letter recognition. Each evening, we have a focus letter or sound that we ask her to find as we read bedtime stories together. Also, we have been singing phonics songs, particularly ones from this collection: Jolly phonics

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