29 May 2013

Inquiring with a novel: Kensuke's Kingdom

No school year should go by without a class spending quality time with a novel. It could be in the form of a read aloud, literature circles, or independent reading and reflection. I like to use a blend of several approaches.

The first challenge is to select a great book. As an inquiry-based classroom, I thought it's critical that the novel we read together be directly related to our current theme and preferably to our central idea. We had been inquiring into children's opportunities and challenges. After discussions with colleagues, I thought Kensuke's Kingdom would be a perfect fit.


Copies for Everyone - Part of reading a novel, for me, is actually holding it, carrying it around. I ordered a copy for each student which will now happily live as a class set in the school library.

Organizing the Chapters - To blend different approaches to the novel, I preread the book to determine which chapters would be best suited to particular approaches. Here's the schedule we used:

1 - Teacher read aloud p1-16
2 - Popcorn whole group (students take turns) p17-24
3 - Begin w/teacher read aloud; complete indep as HW p25-44
4 - Popcorn in small groups; complete indep as HW p45-68
5 - Independent p69-84
6 - Teacher read aloud p85-98
7 - Popcorn whole group p99-116
8 - Independent p117-130
9 - Popcorn small groups p131-144
10 - Independent p145-162

In general, it progresses from teacher-led to independent reading. Also, longer chapters are begun in class and completed for homework. The shortest chapters and those with less bearing on the story work best for whole group popcorn reading. The final chapter should be read independently and ideally over a weekend. Revisiting, reviewing, rereading, and predicting are the skills I like to work out with this activity.

After each chapter, we collaborated to write an ongoing summary. This was a great way to keep a record of our understanding of the story, refresh memories, and see the development of our ability to recall and explain what we had read.

The best discussions were about the themes of the story (war, loss, loneliness, needs, etc) and how they related to our central idea. I hadn't expected the connections to be so apparent to the students! In one case, a student compared the main character's circumstances to child farm workers we had learned about from our collaborative partners in India.

Finally, they enjoyed co-creating a comic-style poster to visually summarize each chapter of the novel. The highlight of this activity was a twenty minute debate on a style guide to ensure that the characters looked similar from one frame to the next!

Style Guide for collaborative poster

Finished Poster

We will present the poster and report about our learning during the School Assembly at the end of this week.

For me, it has been a reminder of the power of literature to illuminate understanding.