Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Anzac Day books I'm going to use this coming term.

Anyone who has delved into this blog before may have noticed that I have one or two posts about what I have taught or done with my class for Anzac Day.  (See the label list on the side to find other Anzac Day posts). 
This year Anzac Day falls right in the middle of the term break (again) in New Zealand.  Yesterday I went shopping.  I had seen the book shop brochures and the Scholastic Book Club, so I had a fair idea what this year's crop of new books on Anzac Day were... and I couldn't resist.
First up is a picture book, Jim's Letters, by Glyn Harper (the Massey University professor who also wrote The Donkey Man) and illustrated by Jenny Cooper.
What a beautifully illustrated and presented book.  The premise is simple: two brothers, one off to Gallipoli, the younger at home on the farm with the family, writing letters to each other.  The narrative simply states who sent the letter from where and when.  The rest of the story is told through the letters themselves: postcards, letters (some which have to be lifted open or taken out of an envelope), one on a scrap of cardboard.
It is a gorgeous hard back book, but not one I'll be letting my class have willy-nilly with the pull outs and lift ups that could easily be ripped or lost.  I will be setting some clear parameters around how this book will be shared.
At the end of the book it talks about "boy soldiers" - the soldiers who were under age, some as young as 14, who fought, died and survived Gallipoli.  This will be an interesting avenue of learning to take with the class.
The next book is The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles.  This is a paperback picture book.

Again, a beautifully illustrated book.  It continues on with a theme well worn now in children's war picture books of animals at war.  The premise is that a little girl gets a puppy called Freda, a New Zealand soldier comes along and likes the dog so takes her to the Western Front as the mascot for the company.  The young soldier takes solace in the dog as his friends are killed or felled by sickness.  And I'm not going to tell you the rest because it will spoil it for you.
Apparently there was a dog called Freda with New Zealand troops on the Western Front, and that dog has inspired this story, although this is a fictitious story.  At the end of the story there is an explanation about what is now known about the real Freda and the soldiers she was with.
The third book is another paperback picture book, Best Mates, by Philippa Werry and Bob Kerr.  Many teachers and students will know Philippa's work with the School Journal and Connected series, while Bob Kerr is most famous for his illustration in Terry and the Gunrunners and After the War.

This story introduces the reader to three best mates, the narrator and his mates Harry and Joe, who grew up together on the same street and went to school together.  Then they signed up to go to war together.  It goes on to explain how they went to Gallipoli, what happened there, what happened after the war and a return to Gallipoli years later.  I won't spoil the rest.
Again, at the end of the story, there is some additional information about where Gallipoli is, how our troops got there, what it was like, how we remember those who fell, and some websites to visit.
This book I have not read yet (I've only had it 27 hours at the time of writing).  This is David Hill's latest book Brave Company.  David Hill's book My Brother's War  was the focus of my last blog.

This book is about sixteen-year-old Boy Seaman Russell Purchas who is stationed on HMNZS Taupo  in 1951 going into the Korean conflict.

I'm very excited about this book because most New Zealand war literature for children focuses on World Wars one and two, and there is very little on any later wars and conflicts we have sent children to.  Also, there is very little for children on our own New Zealand wars in the mid 19th century (hint, hint writers).

Now, I probably won't read it to my class, but I intend on reading it myself and then "selling" the book to the class by reading a teaser page, and then hopefully one of my more confident readers will take it on to read.  I'm picking this will be another great book to get boys reading, but I only have girls that will pick it up at the moment.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

My Brother's War by David Hill - a book I read to my class for Anzac Day

Each year I do a focus on Anzac Day in my classroom.  I'm always on the look out for great books that can communicate the New Zealand experience in the wars New Zealanders have gone to.  I also am a bit of a war novel junkie and have a slight obsession with war documentaries on the History Channel.

Last year the book I purchased as my main focus was My Brother's War by David Hill.

I bought this book last year to add to my Anzac Day resource collection.  I bought it at one of my favourite bookshops, Wright's Bookshop in Cambridge, which always has a great range of children's and young people's literature, a great range of New Zealand authors, and a great range in non-fiction as well.  I rarely leave this book shop without a purchase. 

I read this book to my class and then some children choose to read it themselves afterwards, and one child even bought the book herself.  When children want to re-read or buy the book for themselves, I think that is a great endorsement to the book itself.

David Hill is a well known and established New Zealand author who has written a number of novels and is a well known contributor to the School Journal.  He is a trained teacher and has been published internationally.  These are the links to his Penguin Books profile and his New Zealand Book Council profile and an interview with the Christchurch City Libraries.

The blurb on the back cover reads as follows:

My Dear Mother,
Well, I've gone and done it. I've joined the Army!
Don't be angry at me, Mother dear. I know you were glad when I wasn't chosen in the ballot. But some of my friends were, and since they will be fighting for King and Country, I want to do the same.
It's New Zealand, 1914, and the biggest war the world has known has just broken out in Europe.

William eagerly enlists for the army but his younger brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector and refuses to fight. While William trains to be a soldier, Edmund is arrested.

Both brothers will end up on the bloody battlefields of France, but their journeys there are very different. And what they experience at the front line will challenge the beliefs that led them there.

A compelling novel about the First World War for 9-12 year olds.

The following text and the picture above comes from the Penguin Books New Zealand website:

Penguin Group (NZ) is proud that David Hill’s novel My Brother’s War has won the 2013 Junior Fiction category at New Zealand’s prestigious New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. The award was announced at a ceremony held in Christchurch last night. My Brother’s War was also the winner in the Children’s Choice Junior Fiction category.

My Brother’s War was released in August 2012 with great success. The compelling novel about the First World War – for 9-12 year olds – follows the lives of two brothers; William who eagerly enlists for the army, and his younger brother Edmund, a conscientious objector refusing to fight. While William trains to be a soldier, Edmund is arrested. Both brothers end up on the bloody battlefields of France, but their journeys there couldn’t be more different.

David is one of New Zealand’s most highly regarded authors for children and young people. His books have been published internationally and he has won awards for his writing in this country and overseas. David was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004.

Margaret Thompson, Managing Director of Penguin Group (NZ) stated “We heartily congratulate David Hill and are delighted to share in his remarkable success.”  25 June 2013

My class was very excited when the news came through that My Brother's War has won the Junior Fiction category in the New Zealand Post's Children's Book Awards, as well as the Children's Choice Junior Fiction Award.

The thing I found intriguing about this book was exploring what happened to conscientious objectors.  This link will take you to NZ History for a more detailed description of what a conscientious objector is.  I knew that those who were not enlisted often received white feathers and that conscientious objectors were arrested and put in jail and did hard labour.

What I did not know was that these conscientious objectors were then forced into the army and with no training sent to the Western Front in World War I.

Those who continued to resist were then subjected to what was known as 'field punishment no.1' - a brutal punishment devised by the military hierarchy, which Edmund is subjected to in this book.  TVNZ showed a movie on Tuesday 22 April 2014 called Field Punishment No.1, based on a book of the same name, based on the experiences of Archibald Baxter, New Zealand's most famous conscientious objector.  In fact, Archie is also a significant character in My Brother's War.

My Brother's War is aimed at children aged 9-12, but I think even teenagers and adults will thoroughly be engaged in this book.  I think it is a good book to engage boys with, however it was the girls in my class who re-read it for themselves.  It certainly opened my eyes to an area of war very rarely discussed, an area that has been touched upon lightly over the years.  This is definitely a good book to read aloud to a class or to give to a individual student or group of students to read independently.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Anzac Day Reading Unit - The Donkey Man

Every year I do an Anzac Day unit.  I consider that Anzac Day is one of two very important days in the history of New Zealand (the other being Waitangi Day) that forged this country.  Because I do this unit every year I need to keep it fresh for me and for the students I've had the year before.  In 2013 it wasn't really an issue as I was at a new school, but in the past I've focused exclusively on Gallipoli one year, the Western Front in France and Belgium the next, the home front another year, and then on World War II the next year.

In 2013 I decided for one reading group we would focus on this excellent picture book, The Donkey Man by Glyn Harper.

Glyn Harper is a history professor at Massey University, who specialises in war history.  He has written heaps of books about various wars and topics within, for both adults and children.  I really like this book because it is written from the point of view of a donkey at Gallipoli.  Children can relate to that concept to understand the place Gallipoli was.

My first session with the group was to use the front cover as a launch pad for some predicting.  I wanted my group to form a hypothesis each just using the cover.  First we talked about what a hypothesis is.  I supplied them with a black and white photocopy to make their hypotheses, which brought about some interesting responses.

The hypotheses the group came up with did not mention war.  In fact they thought it was going to be about a donkey on a farm!!  So then I had to show them the actual book cover.  When they saw the red cross on the bandage on the donkey's nose they had a better understanding.
So I gave them another go at the hypothesis (see the picture below) once they saw it in colour.  Then we talked about what a blurb on the back cover was. 
After discussing the blurb we then revisited our hypotheses to decide if they still stood up and then investigated where Gallipoli is.
I like to use maps, pictures, graphic organisers and other visual aids to give the children context as they read.  The above maps that I used were a world map (giving context to where New Zealand is in comparison to Gallipoli); a map that focuses on the general area around Turkey (give context to neighbouring countries, especially on the fact that Britain wanted access to the Black Sea so Russia had a warm water port close to Europe); a map of Turkey (to see how big Turkey is in comparison to the area being fought over); and finally the map of the Gallipoli Peninsula to see where the attacks actually happened.

As you can see from the above picture, I used De Bono's thinking hats to get the group thinking about how the cover of the book impacts your impression.  We learnt from starting with a black and white cover to going to a colour cover how your impression of the book changes.  So by using De Bono's yellow/benefits thinking hat we discussed how having the coloured cover was able to help with making a hypothesis more so than the black and white cover; the colour gives so much more detail.  Using the blurb also impacts on what you think about the story.
So before we have even started reading the text, there is a lot of discussion and prediction about the book.  We have used a lot of visual aides too, to enable an understanding of where the events in this book are taking place and why.

I did photo copy the book and glue the story into the group's modelling book.  I did this so we would be able to highlight aspects of text and to focus only on the pages that we were currently working on.  I really did not want my original text drawn all over!!  This also allowed me to ask questions pertaining to that particular piece of text. 
As you can see above, this first lot of text talked about some of the more serious adverse conditions the soldiers faced at Gallipoli apart from bullets - disease.  So I sent the kids off with the dictionary, i-pads and/or computers to do some research into what dysentery and enteritis is, and how someone gets diarrhoea.  This was a fairly hefty bit of research. 
You cansee that I use the modelling books to record the children's thoughts in a variety of ways.  Sometimes I have done some writing; sometimes they have done some writing independently on bits of paper and glued them in; and they also do some collaborative writing directly into the book.
I really wanted the group to understand what life was like in the trenches.  And luckily there was a news article on the Stuff website of recent research into the diet of the soldiers at Gallipoli, which Glyn Harper, the author of The Donkey Man, was party to.  So I interrupted our reading of The Donkey Man to read the article Diet did Anzacs no favours.  This brought in a lot of new language that we had to investigate as we read.  I then sent them off to find the key parts of the Gallipoli soldier's rations in picture form from the internet.  They had to print these out and glue them in the modelling book and label them.
We then looked at other aspects that made Gallipoli challenging to the soldiers, such as the landscape, dead bodies that couldn't be removed, where they slept, flies, lice, fleas, weather.....  I used maps from other books, such as Gallipoli Reckless Valour by Nicolas Brasch, and photos from my own trip to Gallipoli for the Anzac Day commemoration in 2001.  I had set up the wall display (see below) to also help.  It had further photos from my trip to Gallipoli as well as pictures and text from selected books on trench life.
You can also see that my display also has references to the battlefields of France and Belguim.  I've also included a photo of my great grandfather who fought at Passchendaele and statistics from World War 1 which I felt were relevant.
Then it was time for a bit of a recap of what we knew before delving into the role of the donkeys at Gallipoli.
This next piece of text enabled us to consider some things that were explicitly said in the text and some things that we had to make educated assumptions about.  A good way of bringing those inferential skills into the lesson.
Some prediction skills came into this part of the text.  This is the good reason for photocopying the book.  You can control how far into the text the students get, to prevent them from wrecking all those wonderful skills like prediction and making hypotheses that you want to teach them.
On this page I was focusing on two main things:
  • using bullet points to list facts.
  • using inference to come to a conclusion about something that is not fully explained in the text.
The inference also meant they had to use what they had learnt from other sources such as photographs, videos we had watched, other text sources as well as this book.
Here I introduced the story of Simpson Kirkpatrick, from the book Gallipoli: Reckless Valour and we also had the poster on the wall display.  The students went away and found out some additional information at Simpson and created their own fact file about this legendary person from Gallipoli.
On this page there was a fair bit of inference in answering the questions and also using knowledge gleaned from other sources (other texts, videos, pictures).  The children are having to draw conclusions of their own, because this text is not explicitly telling the reader why these things are happening.
Finally the book has a factual bio about Richard Henderson to tell us what happened to him after Gallipoli.  I also told the group about who the author was, what he also did apart from writing this book.  I asked them to write questions for Glyn Harper.
I wanted to email the questions to Glyn, but we just ran out of time due to interruptions.  Another group I was working with did send him questions in relation to the Stuff article about the rations, and he was able to help us out with some answers.  It is really valuable for the students to be able to communicate with the authors.
We also verbally went back to our initial hypotheses about the book and discussed how accurate or different they were from the book now we had read it.
This was a great book to read with an able group of readers.  I would have preferred we hadn't had so many interruptions so we got through the book quicker, but we did take the opportunity to bring in other sources to give context to the time and place and events that we were reading about and this enhanced the learning for the students.