Saturday, March 5, 2016

Character Cards Prompt Student Thinking

Evidence of student thinking: Post-it notes and reading journal

Student 1 (entering 1st period a few minutes early): This book is really fun…. No… (quizzical pause)…interesting?
Me: Intriguing?
Student 1: Yeah! Intriguing!
Student 2 (entering the room): This book is really intriguing!

We have a consensus!

Honors English 10 is having so much fun with Haruki Murakami’s novel After Dark that it’s hard to believe what we’re doing is school. On the other hand, when students are independently bringing up sentence syntax and forming text-based hypotheses in small group discussion, education is clearly happening—even with the fun!

Evidence of student thinking: reading journal and personal vocabulary

Part of the fun is an experiment with character cards. (The syntax discussion is worth a whole post itself, so more about that later.) The germ of this idea came from You Gotta BE the Book by Jeffery Wilhelm. At the beginning of the unit, each table group (4 students) got a stack of 12 blank pieces of 2" x 3" cards stock. Every time we encountered a new character, they were to draw a picture on the front of the card and list information on the back. 

Evidence of student thinking: character cards array

Weve done various activities with the cards. The first day, students summarized the initial reading manipulating the cards like puppets—one event per person, then rotate puppeteers.  

Another day students arranged the cards in a spacial layout reflecting the characters’ relationships. One group expressed frustration that however they laid out the cards, they could not show all the relationships. So I suggested that maybe sometime we could put the character cards on the whiteboard with magnets and draw in the connections with markers. This captured their imagination, and they keep referring to it, so I’m going to have to make good on that reflection exercise. 

Yesterday they used the character cards to create a continuum from most emotionally connected to other characters to least emotionally connected. One of the groups started by positing 2 characters as foils at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Then they began pairing up other characters, and finally one of them said, “I wonder if all the characters in the book have a foil.” And they set off to explore the hypothesis.

Evidence of student thinking: 2 students search the novel for evidence to support their conflicting claims about the character card array

What really intrigues me about using the character cards is that while Wilhelm in his book was trying to find a way to help unskilled readers connect with books, even within my class of skilled readers, there are some whose thinking processes are clearly fueled by these concrete manipulatives—as they talk, they are touching and moving the cards even when they aren’t required to.

I just love watching kids’ minds as work, and I love experimenting with new ways to give them traction for that work. 

What experiments in learning have you tried recently?

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