Monday, January 06, 2014

Read Like a Writer: Razia's Ray of Hope

Last summer, Ralph Fletcher gave a wonderful presentation at The Wayland Literacy Institute. In the next couple of weeks, I'll use his "read like a writer" suggestions and emphasis as I lead my students through a detailed book study of Elizabeth Suneby's book, Razia's Ray of Home: One Girl's Dream of an Education.  I chose this book because Elizabeth Suneby will visit our school soon for a very special author visit. Fortunately our PTO funded a class set of this book for our study.

As I embark on my first professional day with this book, I have a number of questions:
  • First, is the book a true story (informational/nonfiction) or a fiction story?
  • What is Suneby's experiences related to the book?  Why was she prompted to write this story?
  • Where exactly does the story take place, and when does it take place?
  • How many main characters are in the story, and how do they interact?
  • How will Suneby make me feel as I read the story? I want to chart my emotional response.
  • What tense does Suneby use as she writes the story?
  • How does she elicit our interest and attention right from the start? 
The Book Jacket
I read the book jacket to begin this journey.  This is what I learned.
  • The story is based on the true experiences of the students at the Zabuli Education Center for girls, just north of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.
  • Razia Jan, who appears in the story, founded the Zabuli Education Center. 
  • There are about 69 million school-age children not in school around the world, and this story shows how this can change "one child at a time."
  • The author was inspired to write the story after meeting Razia Jan.
  • The illustrator, Suana Verelst, illustrates with mixed media including modern technology. 
The Story
As I read the story, I thought of the questions above still left unanswered. I read the story aloud so I could hear the story's rhythm and "music" as I read. 
  • Suneby draws us into the story with an exciting descriptive segment, "My cousins and I raced down the road to see what the excitement was about." She prompts the reader to wonder right away.
  • There are words in the story I don't know reminding me that next year when we do a similar study, I want us all to use a tablet resource since vocabulary is so easy to learn w/that tool (I'll be on the look out for the BEST digital narratives).  The words/phrases I want to teach students before the story study include "shards or clay," Nowruz, quarry, Dari alphabet, tandoor, naan, stucco, jerga, Kabul, enrollment, burqas, maulim shabia, Pashto, Koran, 
  • The characters' interplay includes the the continued tension between Razia's will/requests to go to school, and the many, varied reactions/actions of her adult family members. 
  • Suneby builds urgency in the reader as the plot continues--we want Razia to get her wish which is to attend school. 
  • The theme of the story is illustrated in these words, "I ask  you for your tolerance, if not support, for Razia's education. Please consider, if men are the backbone of Afghanistan, then women are the eyes of our country. Without an education, we will all be blind."
  • The end of the story provides a glossary of definitions, the background information to the story, and many wonderful interdisciplinary activities. 
  • Suneby uses the past tense as she writes the story. The use of dialogue and description help the reader to feel like they are in the story. 
  • There are a handful of main characters who are mostly Razia's family and Razia Jan, the school's founder. 
Lessons to Come
I will integrate this story into many curriculum initiatives in the next couple of weeks.
  1. Read Like an Author: "As we think about our work writing narratives, what questions do we have about this book before we read." List questions, preview book, answer questions, read aloud, answer more.
  2. Fluency: Wonderful readers read with good pacing and expression.  Let's practice our fluent reading by reading the book with a partner, taking turns reading aloud and politely assessing both our own and our partner's reading.
  3. Background Information: What are some other ways we can build our understanding of this book. Introducing children to an understanding of the War in Afghanistan, the country's history and geography with developmentally appropriate and accurate video, text.  Good resources will be National Geographic, Time for Kids, and Scholastic. 
  4. Interdisciplinary Learning: We will read, analyze, and illustrate world literacy statistics.  We may even create a service learning project to support this important cause. 
  5. Characters: We'll read the story again with a specific look at character description and interaction.
  6. Plot: We'll identify the main events, and chart the plot using a "story mountain" planner. 
  7. Feelings: We'll chart our feelings as we read--what kinds of emotions does the author evoke in us; how does she do that; and how do we feel at the end of the story.
  8. Setting: We'll study setting descriptions and draw/write about what we imagine the place to be like.  We may do this before we actually see the video/images of the area.
  9. Reading Response: We'll read a connected text and answer questions as we study how to close read and answer reading response questions.
  10. Questions for the Author: We'll create a number of questions for Elizabeth Suneby and read about her prior to her visit. 
  11. Story Bookmarks: We'll use a story craft bookmark as we read to look for examples of rich language and writer's craft. 
  12. Sharing our Knowledge with Others: We'll read the story to children in the younger grades and help them to understand the story. 
The stage is set for the study to come.  I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and related information.  As you can see, there is much to learn from this book.