Saturday, June 23, 2007

My Monster Mama Loves Me So, by Laura Leuck

My Monster Mama Loves Me So would make an excellent October read-aloud for five-year-olds. It also works as a fun launch for creating partner venn diagrams with older students during the first couple weeks of school. I like to read the book with a charismatic, brave example student standing near me in front of the class. We draw a big venn diagram on the board and write the student's name above one circle, and "little monster" above the other circle. We search for examples throughout the book of ways that our classmate and the little monster are the same and also for ways they are different. "Both of them have moms that love them" goes in the overlapping section of our two circles, while "three eyes" and "two eyes" go in the unique sections of the venn circles. This whole-class reading transitions seamlessly to partner work where students make their own "similarities" and "differences" venn diagrams with a classmate.

I'm a little nervous about pulling off this particular lesson with sixth graders. I've taught fourth grade for five years now and have developed a strong ability to predict the kinds of tricks and lessons that work well with a class full of nine-year-olds. I hope I don't stumble too much, transitioning to fifth and sixth graders. The point of the read-aloud with older students is to recognize the many types of variables that we can look at when searching for similarities and differences and to also begin to break through boundaries of self-consciousness. Listening to Mama Monster while searching for "ways we're the same" and "ways we're different", illustrates that many similarities can be found when we get past surface appearances. Maybe the only thing that will make it harder with my slightly older students will be that I'll feel far more self-conscious. All the eye-rolling and give-me-a-break stares will make me feel insecure. I'll be afraid that they're not enjoying the lesson and I'll wonder if this was really such a good idea. But if I've learned nothing else from parenting my own teenager, I have learned that all that adolescent angst is often just a protective shield and the worst possible response is to take it personal. Behind the slick veneer of "i'm too cool for this" are vulnerable little people trying to discover their own fledgling identities. They still crave relationships, especially with peers, but also with caring adults. With a class of fourth graders it's fine to evaluate a lesson right off the cuff---to notice their unguarded enthusiasm for an activity and to count that visible engagement as a sign of success. With sixth graders, however, it might be wise to let things ride a bit. For example, instead of thinking too much about their immediate reactions, I'll measure how successful this book and lesson are by the extent that it motivates them to creatively and respectfully connect with their peers through their partner venn diagrams.

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