Monday, March 16, 2015

Building Theories in Grade 2 (#SOL15, Day 16)

James and Julia buddy reading Demi's The Emperor's New Clothes

Earlier in the day, the children partner read and then we discuss Demi's version of The Emperor's New Clothes. They are quick to volunteer connections between the setting of this version and two other stories their teacher, Ms. Ruisanchez has read aloud to them: Barbara Soros's fable Tenzin's Deer: A Tibetan Tale and Jacqueline Briggs Martin's The Chiru of High Tibet.  They also take delight in the beauty of Demi's book, marveling at the many fold-out pages that open into panoramas, as well as the gold trimmed paintings. 

Four Panel Spread in Demi's The Emperor's New Clothes

We are gathered around a table in the classroom as the other children work in centers trying to figure out additional themes for the tale. We have previously discussed the ways the emperor is a poor leader. Today we begin to discuss how the emperor doesn't trust what he knows. 

"He can look down and see he's got no clothes."
"Yeah, he just has to look."
"All he has to do is look and it's like he doesn't. You know. He doesn't."
"Why do you think he doesn't seem to be trusting what he can actually see?"
"That's the problem. He believes the swindlers. He thinks they're right"
"Yeah, he trust them, not him."
"You know, the emperor isn't very smart."
"And even though he can see he has no clothes on except his underwear, he has to pretend he does cause he wants to be the emperor."
"He still believes the swindlers."
"That he has no clothes on?"
"No, that he isn't honest or smart."

Three Versions of the Fairy Tale, The Emperor's New Clothes that 2nd Graders Read (2.14.15)

Earlier in the week I had given the teacher 6 copies of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales that include The Emperor's New Clothes for the children.  She has passed these along to them. Without any adult prompting, the children begin reading the Anderson text too. They also request to have the initial story we read, The Emperor's New Clothes published by Pioneer Valley in hand. 

When adults don't lead children to specific outcomes, but rather take time to simply notice what they do in unprompted situations, the learning for adults and children can be significant. 


James Noticing 
Later in the morning, James came rushing up to the table where his teacher and I are seated. I have just finished teaching another small group of children and Ms. Ruisanchez and I are conferring. James places three different versions of The Emperor's New Clothes on the table and quickly launches into a story about how the illustrations in the Hans Christian Anderson original text and the text by Pioneer Valley are similar.

"See. See. The swindlers look the same," he says pointing to the two line drawings in each text. 

He aligns the books so we can better see. He wants us to notice that the illustrations of the swindlers are very similar and indeed they are. 

"It's interesting, isn't, it?"
James nods, as does his teacher.

"See how they look alike," he says while pointing to the jaw area.
"I see what you mean," I say to James. "The tall swindlers' faces look very similar."
"I wonder how that happened?" he asks.
"I'm not sure. The original tale was first published in the 1800s," I volunteer as we all continue to study the illustrations.
"Wow, that's a long time ago."
"Yes it is." I'm curious now about the things James has been noticing and so I ask, "James, did you notice any other similarities?"
"Well." He takes a minute to look again at the books and says, "The stories (plot) are the same even though this one takes place in China. And some of the words used in these two stories are the same. Like swindlers, and weavers and I think loom is in both too. I'll have to look more."
With the final pronouncement James is done. He's closing books and getting ready to return to the other side of the classroom.
"Let us know what you find," I say.


Theory is knowledge.  James is working on something big. Unlike the emperor whose faith rests in what others think and say, James is trying on his own ideas, following hunches, and trusting that what he notices and thinks matter. As he and his peers continue to work together in the small reading group, I'll continue to watch and note how they make knowledge. Through observation, classification, and association they create understandings of how the world works (and/or fails to work). This is some of the important work of school.


  1. Mary Ann, I love this post for a couple of reasons...You show your work with students, asking them to think and come up with reasons--almost scientifically through their observations. Your writing is divided into segments--each with its purpose (passing of time, synthesis). I would love to see your teaching in action.

    1. Thanks Deborah. I love to teach. I have the best job as I get to work with children like James most days. So much of the work I do with young children involves conversation, especially listening.

  2. What I took away from this classroom description is the use of time and space. You and Ms. Ruisanchez gave your students both to allow them to explore text, trusting that in doing so, they would find what they needed to as readers. This is the opposite of what I often feel from staff members when they are in a rush to cover curriculum. I will be sharing your post with the teachers at my school!

    1. Chris, thank you for reminding me that so much of this is about trust. I work hard to slow down the pace, to privilege lingering,talking without an agenda. The brilliance that is so often found among children is too delightful and intriguing to miss.

      Curriculum is complicated conversation.

  3. I love James - he notices, he thinks, he is fearless about sharing what he knows, and equally fearless about continuing to look and learn.

    1. I cried reading your words, Tara. Yes yes yes. James is fearless. He is. Thanks for noticing and naming that.

  4. I love James - he notices, he thinks, he is fearless about sharing what he knows, and equally fearless about continuing to look and learn.


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