Author: Audrey Lash, First Grade Teacher.
Our first grade team has just embarked upon a new inquiry based learning project. We set out to do it right by creating a thoughtful Understanding by Design plan for our fairy tales. We want our students to gain transfer understandings such as:
- Analyze and evaluate the impact of differing story elements on a character, reader, and story.
- Empathize and connect with differing (character) points of view.
- Write fictional narratives that grab the attention of a chosen audience.
As planners, at first we ran into some snags. At our school, we try to make our inquiry more problem based. That means students are posed with real-world problems to fix or solve. We were finding it hard to frame a driving question in such a way that captured our transfers and also posed a problem. With much revision and continued tweaking to meet our students, our driving question ended up being, “How can we, as creators, revive and/or showcase fairy tales?” I will admit that revive was somewhat hard for our first graders as we introduced it on Friday. Many understood after defining and rephrasing “How can we bring fairy tales back to life?
And then, the next big hurdle was discovering what an entry event would look like to help us showcase and gain student excitement over fairy tales. We settled on an entry event with lots of student choice. Choose Your Own Fairy Tale — Students were able to choose between 3 fairy tales (Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks, and Little Red Riding Hood). We have six first grade classes in our building. Two classes paired together to showcase the two sides or points of view of one fairy tale. For example, Mrs. Powers and I were showcasing Hansel and Gretel. Students that chose our fairy tale were divided equally among our classes. My classroom portrayal was the witch’s point of view. Her classroom was Hansel and Gretel’s point of view.
While in their chosen “fairy tale adventure,” students went to a well-decorated room and heard from one character’s (teacher) point of view. As the “wicked” witch from Hansel and Gretel, it was so entertaining to play up this part because I was able to give another side / another story to what really happened. I gave students a big sob story about how being a witch is lonely. I was only minding my own business when someone began destroying my house. “What would happen if someone broke into your house?” I asked the children. In part of my act, students were shocked by the witch hastily throwing Hansel and Gretel’s version in the trash. “That’s a terrible version. You haven’t even heard my side!” Students then helped me rewrite the story to give me a happy ending as a shared writing. Then, my group was sent to Mrs. Powers’ class to hear Hansel and Gretel’s side. Kid investment is key to being engaged. The coolest part of this entry event was getting students so amped-up on fairy tales that they truly cared and believed in the story that the character (teacher) had just told. I had students leave my classroom on the witch’s side. When they saw Hansel and Gretel (Mrs. Powers), they were ready to defend the witch. And vice versa, I had students that heard her side first and then came to me and saying, “We’re not afraid of you!” All over the classes, students were getting the same experience with Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood, too. Each teacher ended with two new versions of their character’s story that could now be used as exemplars in writer’s workshop.
When students went back to their homeroom classrooms, we had a big discussion about what went on in their story and what new stories they wrote for each characters. My students said they loved: writing the stories, meeting the “characters,” hearing every characters’ story, looking at the decorations, and having their classrooms taken over!
Then, we posed our driving question: How can we revive and/or showcase fairy tales? “The teachers had found that fairy tales needed to be put back on display for kids. We needed to get more people interested in them.” We began to brainstorm what we know about doing this and what we wonder. We knew we could read fairy tales, give people more fairy tales, and write our own. Our class knew that there were classics and new versions of fairy tales. We wondered:
- Why do we need fairy tales?
- How do we tackle reviving fairy tales as first graders?
- Why do some people like/hate the classics?
- How can we get people to like fairy tales?
- Is there such a thing as a boy version and a girl version?
- How do you write fairy tales? How do we fix fairy tales?
On an exit slip, I had my students write down one idea they had about reviving a fairy tale. Students thought of bringing fairy tales into scripts, songs, dances, games, new stories, and even reading to other kids. I can’t wait to see how students bring these fairy tales back to life!
Some classroom decorations: