Today I began by reviewing with the kids what we’d done so far. We then looked at several reproductions of immigration-related artifacts from The Ellis Island Collection. This wonderful publication is a box of beautifully reproduced documents related to Ellis Island. Today we looked at a steamship poster, two steamship postcards, and a ship’s manifest from 1903. This last document kept us occupied for some time. The amount of money, the question as to whether the immigrant was insane, and so much more was indeed fascinating.
I then put the kids into groups of three (homogeneous by gender for a change), asked them to read the first section and then have one of their group be prepared to present what they discovered about the story to the rest of the class. This took a bit of time so they will do this tomorrow. In the meantime you can see some photos of the groups at work here.
So yesterday I introduced the book to the class and it went really well. Here’s what I did:
1. I showed the kids the book, opening it up so they could see the pages. “What is unusual about it?” I asked. “What is missing?” They quickly figured that there were no words. I told them they were going to read it even though it didn’t have words, that they would be showing other teachers how and that it could be done in a classroom. So they were intrigued and excited.
2. I gave each child a little booklet of blank pages I’d made for them. (I use these all the time.) I told them they should use it to take notes as they researched and then read The Arrival. We talked about note taking. I told them how I had stopped several times that morning on my walk to school to take notes (on my ideas about how to teach this book!). I pointed out how the learning specialist who happened to be in my room that period always took notes at meetings. Several children told stories of a writer parent having a sudden inspiration and taking notes on napkins and such.
2. I put Shaun Tan’s website up on the Smartboard (so fantastic as I can stand in front of the board and use my finger like a cursor). In particular I put up his page on The Arrival which has several of the drawings from the book. These drawings connected beautifully to what we’ve been considering already about immigration. (The children have already discussed the idea of their being “immigrants” from their lower school to the new building of the middle and high school. We also created questions and interviewed a teacher from the school from Mexico.) These images already helped the kids connect to these earlier experiences as well as intrigued them tremendously. I also read to them parts of his comments on the book. I recorded this lesson on my Ipod and and so here is the podcast:
(You will mostly hear me because I had the Ipod around my neck — I’m still learning how to do this podcast thing!)
3. I then showed Island of Hope, Island of Tears, a video created and still shown at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. It is a wonderful film featuring photographs and films of early twentieth century immigrants arriving as well as audio oral histories. The images in particular, I hoped, would provide my students with more of a foundation with which to read The Arrival. I usually don’t like to stop movies as we are watching them, but I did this time when I saw something I knew would connect to the book.
4. We talked a bit about the movie afterwards and then I collected their booklets. It was interesting to see what they’d written. Quite a few questions already from Tan’s drawings!
5. An associate teacher who came in while we were watching the movie became excited about seeking out the old photographs that Tan used for his research. Later, at our grade meeting, I told my 4th grade colleagues about what I was doing. They are all eager to do it and so the associate teacher will create a Powerpoint slideshow putting the book’s images and the older ones side by side for our kids to see (not you though because we aren’t messing with copyright:). We figure that with sufficient support of this sort this experience with the book is going to be a fantastic one for them. We are all very, very excited about it!