Monday, June 9, 2014

Addressing students' emotional needs through picture books

There are days when I trudge to school. I don't feel on top of the world. My interactions with my students on those days lack vitality; thankfully they don't happen too often!

What about our students? Do we know what's going on in their lives? Are they being bullied, abused, neglected, disrespected? Could they be lonely?  Do you have the time to find out? Does the school timetable breath down your neck?

As a teacher, I realize I cannot solve all their problems. But I can most certainly give them hope.
And so when I came across Oliver Jeffers' story the other day, I felt it was the perfect way to address these issues.

I like to think I am aware of what goes on in my students' lives. Every morning when I chat with them, I get a feel of their mood. I can make out which day is not going to be a fruitful day for a particular child.

This beautiful, heart wrenching story is about a little girl who was very, very curious. Her father was always around encouraging her until...

The saddest, saddest moment in the story.

There is poetry in this illustration.

Task 1
I photocopied this page before I read the story out to my students. Earlier in the year, the students had learnt about warm and cool colours and how they reflect our moods. So I asked them to think about the mood in the picture. Why did they think the chair was empty?  Were there any clues in the picture to help them come up with an answer? Thinking back now, I could also have used the 10 X 2 strategy (Reference: Artful Thinking) with this activity and seen if the students could have come up with more ideas.

It took them over 20 minutes to discuss and jot down their predictions. I let it unravel. It didn't matter if one lesson flew into the next. The children were arguing, laughing, engaged and motivated.

So when I started reading the story, I slyly glanced at them as I turned the pages. I couldn't help but grin at their wide-eyed impatience. They were hooked!

As I read on, I came to the page where the little girl puts her heart in the bottle so that she could keep it safe from harm. (Feelings of loss, despair, heart-break). I then asked the students who would like to keep their heart in a bottle.
The reaction I got from them was an affirmation of what I knew all along. Almost half my students had their hands up. A chin-wobbly moment.

My students initially had trouble making this abstract connection.
When the little girl is all grown up and tries to break the bottle but cannot, one of my students exclaims:

"Why won't a glass bottle break if thrown from such a height?!"

"Maybe it's made of plastic!" retorts another.

At this point, I needed to stop and let them try and figure out what was actually happening. As an educator, we may be quick to give them the answers. But sooner or later, if given time, they will figure it out themselves. I am glad I did the right thing at this juncture. Hopefully, they have begun to understand the power of metaphors.

Adults need to find the child in them! 
...a  little child helps her take her heart out from the bottle.

All characters change in great stories. I asked the kids to compared this picture with the previous one.
 Throughout the school year, one of our focus area when reading fiction had been about how characters change. How beautifully the above picture, juxtaposed with the earlier one, brings this to life.

Time heals. The chair is reclaimed.

What an apt picture representing the attitude "Curiosity" or  Being Alive!
And the story ends when the girl reclaims her heart.
An empty bottle, the metaphorical representation of healing and hope.

When I turned the last page, there was laughter at first.
Then silence. The loud kind.

Task 2
In order to engage the students in conversation, I used the PYP Concepts to generate the following questions.

Form             Why do we think of the heart when we talk about our feelings?
Function        What was the purpose of the bottle in the story?
Connection    Have you ever lost someone? Why is it hard to talk about it?
Causation        Why did the protagonist want to take her heart out when she met the little girl?
Change           What kind of changes happened to the character of the protagonist?
Reflection        Why do you think Oliver Jeffers wrote the story?
Responsibility Why do we need to look after and nourish ourselves?
Perspective      What would have happened if the protagonist had not met the little girl on the beach?

Students sat in a circle. We used a string to monitor who was talking. All the students wanted to participate.

It was an emotionally packed time. Many students cried. Many listened.
Everyone was engaged for over 90 minutes!

Today, the students have gone home to reflect on the story. Let's see what transpires.
Tomorrow, they will look at the pictures and use Slow Writing techniques to come up with a rich paragraph to describe one of their favourite illustrations.

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