Teaching Stellaluna

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Last week my class worked with the book Stellaluna and I began making my own connections with the text as we thought about and discussed the story. If you’re not familiar with the story, it is about a little bat that gets lost during an owl attack. In the morning she finds a nest of baby birds and assimilates her into their family, which means following their rules and expected behaviors.

Humor me for a minute and consider our classrooms with these definitions:

  • Bird: A child that sits nicely in their nest desk, quietly listens to lessons, quietly does their work, raises their hand to speak, and follows all rules.
  • Bat: A child that needs to hang from branches move, enjoys socializing, and follows what they are good at and what interests them.

Most children, at least at the age I teach, are natural bats. They need movement. They like to talk and share. They are curious and want to learn about what interests them. Our school system, however, is built for and praises birds. Our schedules (daily and academic) fit birds best. This week, I’m covering sequencing, 2D shapes, characteristics of the sky, and landforms. I only have so much time to cover that. They need to master those skills now, so that I can move onto character actions and feelings, fractions, weather, and economy next week. If my students act like the bats they are, it is difficult not to become Mama Bird hollering at Stellaluna to follow the bird rules or leave the nest.

But they are bats, not birds*.

One of the journal entries I gave my class at the end of the week asked: What did Stellaluna do to fit in with the birds? How did that make her feel? Why? They wrote that she ate bugs, she slept at night, she stayed in the nest, and she followed bird rules. Some said that it made her sad because she couldn’t be herself and some wrote that she was happy because she belonged. Both are true. Isn’t it awful that she had to give up being herself to survive and belong? Isn’t it awful that our school system does that to many of our students?

I’ve already made changes in my reading instruction. My lessons are short and split up. My activities give students choice and cover all of the levels they are on and they progress from where they start. Many are kinesthetic and students are able to choose where they work and get up and move around as needed. They can quietly work together or independently. I teach the topics I’m required to each week but I cover them again and again through my read alouds (like Stellaluna). It is has been a struggle for me to do the same in Math.

How can we, as educators, make changes in our system? How do you make changes in your own classes in the meantime?

* Some students are natural birds (or good mimics, at least). I was. That doesn’t mean that they can’t benefit from more movement or interaction. I never spoke academically or socially in many of my classes because it wasn’t needed or required and I was good at following rules and expectations. That’s not a good thing.

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