Growing Minds

Wallace Stegner once wrote that “Minds grow by contact with other minds. The bigger the better, as clouds grow toward thunder by rubbing together.” My mind grew by leaps and bounds at the 83rd Saturday Reunion of Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project on Saturday, thanks to Tony Wagner, Mary Ehrenworth, Lucy Calkins, Chris Lehman, Audra Robb and Jack Gantos. Their passion about education in general, and the potential of the CCSS in particular, was truly inspiring.

At the end of the day, I made a bee line for Bank St. Books, where I purchased Oh Rats! The Story of Rats and People, by Albert Marrin (2006). Mary Ehrenworth had read a passage from this during her session on teaching nonfiction skills and my interest was piqued. Did you know that an adult rat can bite down with a force of 7,000 pounds per square inch? Neither did I! Marrin’s book is filled with other amazing facts about this most-detested of mammals.

As I finished reading the text this morning, I had many thoughts about how to incorporate this book and all I had learned on Saturday into a unit for our 5th graders. Ehrenworth had stressed the importance of teaching kids how to note these details and then use them to support big ideas, of leading students to see not just a collection of interesting facts, but rather figuring out “what is this adding up to that really matters?”  This is definitely a challenge for many students. I also wanted to revisit “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” which is of course mentioned by Marrin. So I headed to my bookcase and pulled this off the shelf:

My well worn (and puppy-chewed) copy of The World’s Best Fairy Tales

My grandmother gave this book (a Reader’s Digest Anthology) to me in 1968 and I have hauled it with me everywhere ever since.  “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” was the first selection in the book. While reading, my thoughts flew to CCSS Reading Literature standard 4: “Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone” and the Language standards addressing vocabulary acquisition and use. The language of the version included in my anthology, attributed to Charles Marelles, Andrew Lang Collection, is rich and descriptive. The piper himself is “a tall, gawky fellow, dry and bronzed, with a crooked nose, a long rattail mustache, two great yellow piercing and mocking eyes under a large felt hat set off by a scarlet cock’s feather.” Isn’t that fabulous?

I’m not sure how this will all come together, but I do know that by sharing my thinking about Ehrenworth’s ideas with the 5th grade teachers, we’ll have the beginnings of a unit that will be purposeful and engaging; one that will grow the minds of our students.