When I was in middle school (1999-2002), I only remember reading entire novels as a class. To be honest, I only remember reading Night by Elie Wiesel and The Giver by Lois Lowry. I also remember reading and acting out a few Edgar Allan Poe poems. I don’t remember much of how we read literature; it just kind of happened. When I became a teacher, I vowed to make sure that my students remembered what they read and how it made them feel as they did it.
Last year was my first year of official teaching. It was a year of exploration, success and failure. I explored (and failed) at reading entire novels, The Giver and The Outsiders, with the class. However, I succeeded at building great relationships with my students, but not between the students and the text. Honestly, I was focused more on being the fun teacher, but not the effective teacher.
This year, I wanted to have less failure and more stability/confidence in what the heck I was doing in the classroom. I started the school year with reading The Giver once again, and, once again, students were not engaged with the text. Nope. Second semester, something was going to have to change. I researched the book by R.J. Palacio, Wonder, and fell in love with the reviews.
Over winter break, I read it and planned the heck out of the next unit. I was going to focus my second unit on the topic of empathy. It’s something that middle schoolers needed to learn–how to place themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. Having empathetic pre-teens on campus, I hoped, would result in less bullying. Aaaaannddd not only was I going to read it with them slowly, I would balance each reading with various informational texts aaaannnnnddddd have students engage in a weekly PenPalSchools activity with students around the globe aaaaannndddd have words of the week, like empathy, bullying, compassion, acceptance, kindness, prejudice, self-concept, etc.
We’re one month into the semester, and students just finished part one of the book and a research project on craniofacial disorders. So far, students are gaining empathy more and more each day. Students had to write a response to the prompt, “Now that you have gotten to know August a bit more, how have your feelings changed about him?” Many responses were about how they wanted to cry when August overheard Jack Will being a jerk. They were mad at Julian for being a jerk (they’ve nicknamed him Jerkface Julian). They wanted to be August’s friend. Some said that, at first, they felt sorry for him, but still wouldn’t hang out with him. After reading “Costumes,” “The Bleeding Scream,” and “Names,” they changed their minds and said that they’d hang out with him because he was constantly bullied and now been betrayed by Jack Will. It was sweet to witness!
Next week, we’ll be doing a Socratic Seminar on the words of the week and how they connect to part one of Wonder, the informational texts we’ve read, and the focus students in PenPalSchools. I’ll give another update once they complete the Socratic Seminar!
I will say, though, I love this book! Kudos to R.J. Palacio for this amazing novel!