Pioneer Life: Part 2 and maybe even part 3!

The other day I blogged about how I have been trying to incorporate more “informal research” into my instruction…and how we dug into our pioneer research.  Miss it?  Just CLICK HERE to find it!
So…the entire reason for our research (besides learning about some of our country’s history!) was to help students understand that reading historical fiction WELL requires a certain understanding of the “era” where the story takes place.  After we developed our background knowledge or “schema” about pioneer life, we were ready to tackle some literature set during that period of time.  
Our first book?  “Dandelions” by Eve Bunting!
 Here’s what we did…as I read the book (without showing pictures–I really wanted students to visualize the setting and events), I asked students to really tune in to the setting clues used by Bunting to help “paint a picture” of pioneer life.  
We also need to start to tackle “point of view” and this book is fantastic for that–since Mama and Papa have such differing viewpoints on their travels west.  We had some lively debate about whose point of view was “right”!  To continue linking our research experience to our literacy block, I decided to collect a quick sample of summary writing–something we evaluate on report cards–by using a quick Google form…I LOVE this approach for quickly collecting thoughts about texts and other “quick write” experiences.  Everything ends up in a quick spreadsheet and I can take a quick status of the  overall performance level.  I printed off the summaries and… 
So…what was meant to be a quick snapshot turned into a “oh boy…better reteach this!” moment.   I copied and pasted 7 of the summaries from the spreadsheet into another document, changed a few words so they weren’t EXACTLY like any one student’s work, and made enough copies for groups of three to study and critique them.
The next day, we started off by referring to the anchor chart we built earlier this year…
…and then got to work with our trios to study and “critique” the summaries.  I asked students to continue to refer back to the anchor chart–and to write some suggestions, improvements, and cross out unnecessary information.  I walked around and “spied” and heard some GREAT discussions.  Hopefully, our next round of summary writing will be slightly improved after our studies! 
So…next on the list–the one “whole class” novel I do each year–Sarah, Plain and Tall.  This novel is a perfect way for us to continue our pioneer studies, refine our ideas about historical fiction and “setting”, and to look at a book that most students haven’t experienced before.  I read aloud the chapters so all students have access to the story…we track setting clues…we talk about the characters…the plot details…and how this book represents this pioneering era that we are learning all about!
 As we read, we continue to build and track our thinking and meet each day in small discussion groups to practice our book club skills and to work to deepen our understanding of the book, the era, and how to improve the quality of our written responses.
 Each day, we wrote our responses to some key comprehension and writer’s craft questions and then shared them with our book clubs.  This is a perfect gentle warm up to the BIG book clubs we start later this week with a variety of historical fiction books in other eras.
So…just thought I’d share some of the latest adventures in our classroom…and stay tuned for more details about our historical fiction book clubs!  Interested in a study guide for each of the books mentioned?  Check them out!