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Beginning the CIA Unit

We started the unit of study for Poppy after two weeks of Patricia Polacco practice with sentence stems, literary vocabulary, and talking about how character’s change. We are in the first quadrant, Collecting, of the CIA framework. After each lesson, the students practice the same strategy for half their independent reading time in a book I chose. The second half of independent reading is in a just right book of their choice. Many students are making Character Trait lists for all independent books, Setting Maps, and some have started lists of events (even though we have not started that with Poppy yet.) I noticed that we were having many “burning questions” yesterday, so we made an impromptu Questions poster and also added that to our independent reading strategies list.

The students are delighted by all aspects of the instructional read aloud: tabbing Poppy’s quadrants, tabbing the reader’s notebook for Poppy and individual books, following the vocabulary routines, setting up their notes pages each day, and, mostly, having accountable talk. I say ‘mostly’ because this routine continues to be our biggest challenge. Several students are really showing leadership skills in discussion and keeping others accountable in their discussion circles (I set up three in a circle –knee to knee, eye to eye- for Patricia Polacco, and we have kept those partners for Poppy. Having three was in response to the need to spread out my leaders in each group for better modeling. I don’t know if I will keep three for the next book, but I am committed for the rest of Poppy.) Students are practicing listening and responding to each other. I use my popsicle sticks to call on a student to share what their group discussed; if students cannot restate the discussion, we are setting up norms for asking the partner to repeat their thinking and then the one who was called on will share it to the group. This is also helpful with keeping all three students engaged in the conversation, since any one of them could be called upon. The three partners are assigned colors and then I say which one is starting the conversation in this way, “Orange partners, you will be leading this conversation. Blue and Green, you will be responding.”

Text evidence is a developing area for the students and I have seen growth over the past two weeks of Poppy lessons. Students are beginning to go back and show where in the text they found the proof. For example, on day 4 of Poppy, when finding character traits for Poppy and Ragweed, the students independently inferred that Ragweed was Poppy’s boyfriend (insert much giggling here), going back to the text evidence that she was his “best girl.” In the following chapter it says he was her boyfriend, so it confirmed our inference. Their excited cries of “Let me show you where I found it!” and flipping through the chapter for evidence made my day.

Two other areas that were tricky for students so far: visualizing and keeping characters – especially genders – straight. I added a visual for visualizing to our conversation stems after talking about ‘making a mind movie’ didn’t seem to click with some students. I also copied and enlarged the main character drawings and the illustrator’s setting map from the text to put on our character and setting charts after we collected details from the text and put the first initial on each mouse (Ragweed, Poppy, Lungwort, and Sweet Cicely were especially confusing for some, since all the names were unfamiliar and not automatically assigned to human genders.)

The idea that genre determines how we think about what is important in a text is another challenge for both myself and the students. I used highlighter tape on the big genre posters to show the “Readers will think about” sections quickly but I found my lesson to be the most choppy of my Poppy lessons so far. Referring back to the genre is a goal I have set for myself and becoming more automatic in my understanding of genre as a tool.
I know for some students reading below grade level that this is the first novel they have held in their hands and actually had a legitimate claim to it. They are the ones the most excited to hold the book with their partner and find the beginning of the sentence to begin following along. CIA is a great equalizer, since there are few eight year olds who could do the reading work of Poppy independently at both the word and thinking level. And I would say there are no students who, at this time of year, could do with independence the deeper work we will do in the other quadrants. It is satisfying that all the students are able to participate and be challenged during our time on the rug.

On a final note, I also tried to get the conversations started at home about Poppy by sending an introductory letter regarding CIA structures and the general plot of Poppy to families. I included the other titles in the series in case families wanted to follow up with the same characters and copied a dramatic picture from the text of the villain, Mr. Ocax the owl, swooping down on the mice.

Quadrants 3 and 4

I dreamt about Mr. Ocax last night. And I’m not alone. For my birthday, a student gave me a Mr. Ocax necklace (a very bling bird), and our custodian (who heard part of Poppy while lowering our desks in September), asked me last week, “Whatever happened to that mouse and owl?” It’s not just the well-crafted characters that Avi brings to life, but also the transference of skills from our thinking work. Students have been coming up to me with examples of irony for the past month, thrilled to have literary names for what they discover in their books. Our discussion of flashback and foreshadowing were meaningful, but something about irony just made an impression.

We hit the turning point (3/4) writing in Poppy this week. This time, I supported each paragraph with sentence starters and I chose to create writing frames for some students to glue in their notebooks, reducing the overwhelming handwriting tasks. I also created the target stickers (thanks CIA!) to put next to their main points after I looked over their work. This was an incredible time saver and very clear to students as I walked around checking progress. I was able to look for specific criteria and tell the students and myself quickly what was there and what was still needed.

Finally, we’ve answered all the questions on our impromptu ‘burning questions’ poster from the first quadrant. Our class copies of Poppy have her on the cover, not Mr. Ocax, with her green grass sash, Ragweed’s earring, and quill. The students have been so curious about these accessories! Answering these questions is a highlight many students shared with parents at conferences. Turn and talk about how Poppy could possibly get Ereth the salt lick led to students acting out her [assumed] climb up the pole and predicting she would spear it with her quill to knock it down.

To create more choice, I’ve started handing out response bookmarks (with a type of response at the top, like “prediction”). Students noticed since Ereth was introduced, their favorite parts often include him and they’ve all requested a “Favorite Part of the Story” bookmark. They take these bookmarks into independent reading, but can write their own responses to Poppy on them as well. Ereth’s funny sayings and especially the “you’re standing in my toilet” scene are great favorites.

I have been posting the quadrant posters as we come upon each new quadrant. Now that we have done our Turning Point Writing, students are anxious for the 4/4 poster to go up and reading without stopping to commence. They often refer to the increased speed we’ve read each section. I can’t wait to see them take on the fourths in their partner and independent reading in the future! And I know we’ll be referring to Mr. Ocax as our archetype villain from now on.