Who Did the Learning Today?

#SOL16 Day 4 Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 5.11.16 PM

I stood in front of the 4th grade classroom yesterday afternoon, discussing historical fiction.  I’ve been collaborating with their teacher and she told me many students were struggling with writing their own historical fiction stories. I used a graphic organizer to plan and rehearse my own story-circa 1982. I talked about what life was like the year I graduated from high school and the kids were stunned to hear we had one lonely computer in my school with a green display and no internet! They laughed when I talked about ‘big hair’ and how girls would tease it to get that volume.  I advised them, “If you don’t know much about the period of history your story is set in, it’s going to be more difficult.  Try to pick a time in history where you could picture yourself and life around you.”

The children were sharing their time periods, most had chosen historically significant times that they had previously studied.It was then that I noticed several of our ELL students weren’t sharing. I realized when I said history, it was universally American History that the other students were considering. These children were from Iraq, they barely knew anything about our language, how could I expect them to know our history? I asked their teacher if I could pull them over to a table together.

I began, “Can you think of a time in history that you know quite a bit about?”

Azfar* smiled, “1982?”

I laughed, “Oh yeah? What do you know about 1982?”

“Big hair?”

I should’ve seen that coming!  I started again.  “Historical fiction are stories. They tell stories about  a person in a different time. We get to see what life was like for them at that time.  We see how that person has a problem that they have to solve. (We’d been focusing on this conflict/resolution idea in narratives) It can be a long time ago, but maybe it can be a short time ago. Maybe a story about a boy living in Iraq. Maybe a story about a girl moving to America.  Can you write a story like that?”

“Or move to Turkey?” Ameena* asked.

“Yes! You can tell about the problem your character solved when they moved to Turkey.”

Azfar offered, “My friend move Jordan. It bad.  Bad words. Bad fight.”

I tried to clarify, “He moved to Jordan or away from Jordan?

He move to Jordan. Not good. He America now. He name Musa.

It’s still not clear to me, but Mohamed has a story he wants to tell. I know all of these children have stories they want to be able to tell. I can’t imagine having ideas, and stories in my head with no way to communicate them.

Can you write a story about a boy like Musa? Can you tell us some problems that boy can have?

“Problem?  Eh, like what problem?”

I try to think of universal problems all children have and not just refugees. “Sometimes when we are new to a place, we do not have any friends yet. That can be a problem. Can you tell us how Musa makes new friends?

Azfar nods, “Ahhh. Yes. I can do this.”

I notice Ayusha* watching this exchange. She has a big smile on her face. She reaches over and hugs me.  “I will be your friend.”

I melt. Class dismissed.


*I did not use the students’ real names to protect their anonymity.


4 thoughts on “Who Did the Learning Today?

  1. Wow! I think I am a little teary-eyed right now. Paula, great story and perfect title! Thanks for sharing this. A gentle reminder that we learn so much from our students. I will return to your blog to read more!

  2. Clearly, “history” is all relative and I admire how you helped your ELLs to connect and be ready to write!

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