Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mock Caldecott for Students

As we were looking at so many great new books, I began to think it made sense to extend the project to our students. Naturally, they can read neither the number nor the range of books we are reading. They can, however, have a limited number read to them, discuss their relative merits and make a decision based on the criteria given to them.

So a couple weeks ago I started going through the selections I had read to pull out the titles I thought age appropriate. Ten books seemed like a reasonable number to have students be able to read and think about. So we are compromising between the many I’d like them to read and what I think optimal and going with 15 books.

Introducing the project to the kids was even more rewarding than I anticipated. They were very excited to have a chance to pretend in school and to have a chance to vote!

We reviewed what the medal is for, who awards it and who receives it, the shape and color of the medal, as well as the various elements of the design on the medal. Kindergarteners who had just learned about the medal last week proved to have impressive memories. First graders who had the lesson last year impressed me with their ability to recall the design elements.

Some people have questioned whether learning the elements on the medal is important. My response is a resounding YES! After students have learned about the Caldecott Medal they are very enthusiastic to find one in the library. In their excitement to find one, children will bring me copies of books with the Pura Belpre Medal, the Geisel Award, the Newbery Medal, Parent’s Choice Awards, The Golden Kite Award and even the spectacularly differently shaped Coretta Scott King Award. It seems as though as long as it glitters it is a Caldecott in their minds. I remind them to think about what is on the Caldecott Medal. Then they are instructed to compare what they are looking at with what they know to be elements of the Caldecott Medal.

I outlined some basic things we were looking for in the illustrations:

-       Do the illustrations match the story?
-       Did the illustrator use the kinds of colors that would make the story more understandable?
-       Did the shapes match the feeling of the story? (Sharp objects being scarier. Round objects being more comfy.)
-       Was the illustrator good at his/her job?

Students did a remarkable job of responding to these questions. They are challenged to evaluate whether they think a book will be happy or sad by looking at the cover. Then they are required to give an explanation.

The adult group found it very difficult to separate their feelings about the story and the illustrations. If the story was heartwarming they overlooked inconsistencies or lack of prowess with the artistic medium.  It took several weeks and plenty of coaching for the process to become more natural.

Interestingly enough children fall into two camps on this skill.

1.     Some students are completely unable to separate their thought about the book based on text, illustrations, theme, etc. One student thought the illustrator had done a very bad job on the book. When I asked why he stated that it was “because the book is sad.” This tendency is not likely to be a surprise as we are used to thinking of children as being less sophisticated than adults.
2.     Some students have little to no trouble separating the illustrations from the text. In fact, they treat them as two separate items. I would postulate that this is because they are used to experiencing books in this way. I am working with very young children who are in the process of learning to read. Some of them have very little ability to read a book on their own. These children primarily experience books by flipping through the pages and “reading” the pictures. Recently when I introduced the “5 finger rule” to a class I saw a student with his 5 fingers up “reading” the book making up his own story as he went. Not so amazingly, all five of his fingers were still up at the end of the book. This is how he envisions the reading experience.

Running the Mock-Caldecott, or the Fake-Caldecott as one student calls it, with students is well worth the effort. Students are really enjoying it and it' interesting to see the experience through a different lens.

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