Saturday, September 12, 2020

Remote Learning with Spencer's New Pet: The Power of Wordless Books

As I work with teachers across grade levels, many are thinking about how to build community and create a space that is safe and inviting for important thinking and conversation. Whether they are in person and social distanced, whether they are hybrid and have their kids both live and in remote spaces or whether they are fully remote, this is something on every teachers' mind, as it is every fall. So much of the fall is often spent building community, learning how to have thoughtful conversations, building on one another's thinking, learning to disagree and learning to support claims and ideas with evidence.  This year is no different in that regard.

Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima has been a great wordless book to share early in the year. Mary Lee reviewed the book a while ago and I fell in love with it this spring when I shared it with my 5th graders. 

As a reader myself, I am not so great at reading images. I prefer words.  But I have come to fall in love with wordless picture books over the past several years. I have learned the power of wordless picture books, especially during the first several weeks of the school year.

If we want our students to talk about books in critical ways, if we want them to be able to talk about issues in our world, if we want students to learn to grapple with ideas, agree, disagree and grow their thinking, I find that wordless picture books are perfect tools for inviting students into this work early in the year.

This fall, I've been fortunate to work in a few Zoom classrooms, supporting teachers in their work with students.  Spencer's New Pet has worked so well with several groups of students. I find that it is a book children (and adults) of all ages engage in joyfully. And it provides so many natural stopping places to notice and celebrate thinking and talk. Because there are very few words, the book is accessible to everyone and children are anxious to share thinking as there is so much to notice in each illustration.

This book was good for several reasons. It helped start discussions around these important behaviors and strategies:

  • changing thinking is something readers do
  • readers support thinking with evidence
  • building on ideas of others is valued here
  • we think before, during and after we read
  • reading is about more than words; it is about thinking and understanding
  • we think in so many different ways as we read
  • there is power in rereading 
  • creators make so many decisions that help us understand

Spencer's New Pet is my most recent favorite wordless book, but I have several and I am always on the lookout for a new favorite to share with students.  Sharing a few wordless picture books over the first several weeks of school helps build an intellectual community of talk and collaborative thinking.   Here is a link to some other wordless books that are perfect for remote learning. 

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