Our second author study this year was David Wiesner. I usually do author studies for one week because I have so many other ideas racing around that I want to move on after a week, but this outline can be shortened or extended as needed. Comments are always appreciated so I know whether this post was useful!
MONDAY: Kicking off the study
This year we’ve been reading many books that are elligible for the 2011 Caldecott, so I was dying to share Art and Max with our class. I didn’t even think to make this an author’s study until my students expressed shock that Wiesner had written other books that were very different from Art and Max.
Part of the reason why our class understood the humor in Art and Max was that we just so happened to use all three media that are referenced in the book — tempera paint, chalk pastels, and watercolors.
We learned about pointillism, because at one point Art appears to have been created in the pointillist style. I made a Powerpoint of several famous pieces from the movement, and students made their own creation using markers. I had them make their dots in groups of ten, which led us into our next math lesson…
Large Number Estimation
The book Great Estimations is excellent for helping students see why it can be more practical to use estimations or skip counting to find a total. Prior to reading this book, about 3/4 of my students would refuse to round when solving an estimation problem, OR they would solve the entire problem, then just round their answer at the very end.
TUESDAY: Learning more about the author
On Tuesday, we read Tuesday. It honestly wasn’t planned that way. I’m nerdy, yes, but I’m not that cheesy. Most of our class’ favorite lessons are completely serendipitous. Tuesday is often used as a text for working on prediction, but about half of my class read the book last year, so I introduced the strategy of Making a Picture in Your Head instead. We discussed how the pictures Wiesner paints are so vivid, we don’t even need words because we can make a mind movie of the entire story in our heads.
We also began noticing some craft choices Wiesner made in both Tuesday and Art and Max. Students pointed out that both stories seemed to have a somewhat circular ending, and they also noticed that Wiesner often divides a page into three panels then uses the three panels to show some form of time lapse (paint flying in Art and Max, frogs flying in Saturday)
Large Number Estimation
I copied three pictures of Art from Art and Max, then made enough copies for the whole class. Students estimated how many dots were in each picture. They explained their estimation strategies, and many talked about how they figured out what ten dots looked like, then applied that to the whole picture. Others counted how many dots were in one square inch (using inch pattern tiles), then counted the number of tiles they needed to cover the picture.
Before we went down to the computer lab, I pulled up these interviews with Wiesner.
David Wiesner’s Web site is fantastic. My students loved being able to see Wiesner’s creative process and images from many of his books. As we read books throughout the rest of the week, they would often exclaim, “Hey! That was on his Web site!”
WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY: Flotsam
Flotsam was one of the longest picture books we’d read so far this year, plus there was so much to look at, so we split this book over two days.
I needed to build some background for my students on this book, as none of them had ANY idea what film was (way to make me feel ancient at age 27, guys) and most hadn’t seen a microscope before.
I also gave us two days to ruminate on the book because my students were a little more confused by the fantasy aspects of the book. When we first started the book, we had a lengthy conversation about whether it was fact or fiction — the pictures looked very realistic, and we knew from David Wiesner’s Web site that he was inspired by a trip to the beach. But as the book progresses, it becomes increasingly absurd. We talked about how we had to change our predictions and ideas about the text as we received new information.
Splitting the book into two days also gave our class time to let the humor sink in. On Thursday, RO got a huge grin on his face and frantically waved his hand around when he saw an underwater living room scene. “There’s one of those fish that lights up — an angler fish! It’s lighting up the lamp! This is totally fiction!”
When we go to the library, I usually do a brief read-aloud before students check out their books. This week, I read The Three Pigs and asked Mrs. Cole to pull all our David Wiesner books to form a mini-display. I chose The Three Pigs because the story was enjoyable enough without needing outside explanations from me, so we were able to use this as a straight read aloud.
FRIDAY: Wiesner’s other works
In our literacy block, I read June 29, 1999. Because this was Friday, I explained to students that this would be our chance to really put the strategy of Make a Picture in Your Head to work. Unlike many other Wiesner books, there is text in June 29, 1999, but the pictures aren’t quite as straight-forward as they are in his other books. We’d have to fill in the blanks.
Had I read June 29, 1999 at the beginning of the week, I’m fairly certain my students would have been perplexed, at best. But they got into it right away — “Look, he’s doing the three panel thing again to show time passing!” “This looks like the neighborhood in Tuesday, except it’s happening at day instead of night!” “This is kind of like a weird Magic School Bus book, because she’s growing plants, but it’s not realistic!” “It’s like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs but with all healthy food!” I could have hugged them all.
Using Classroom Resources
I asked students if they had ideas of where to find David Wiesner books on their own in our classroom. They guessed in the “Good Picture Books” bucket, the “Caldecott Winners” bucket, and then AE spoke up and made my life. “Miz Houghton,” he said, gesturing wildly to book bucket 34: Scary Stories. “David Wiesner illustrated the book about Gargoyles, I saw pictures from it on the Web site.” He pulled out Night of the Gargoyles. AB piped up. “Yeah, that one’s written by Eve Bunting, she wrote that Wall book Mr. Rosand read to us in library class.”
I suppose I could have/should have had some grand end-of-the-week assessment to ascertain whether this was a valuable series of lessons, but based on how much kids were writing about David Wiesner’s books in their reading response journals, I decided it was a success.