Putting it all together with Gary Paulson



Last year I followed our district and school expectations pretty closely.  I had been out of the classroom for a few years working at our district office in arts integration.  ( the key word here is integration).  I worked through each unit in literacy – What is fiction? , What is non-fiction?,  What is biography?   You get the idea.  Writing was on its own although I worked to connect it because that is who I am.   To me the world of learning is connected not in little boxes.

To set the stage for you this year I have a group of 5th graders in a high poverty school.   Half of the class is listed as special needs and half of the class are considered high learners ( although in this group high is relatively speaking).   I was also given a set of materials to teach an author study on Gary Paulson.   The whole class read was Woods Runner.  A book of his I was not familiar with.  It is historical fiction set at the time of the America Revolution.  Gary designed this book as a fiction story of a young boy searching for his missing parents, assumed kidnapped.   At the end of each chapter he places a non fiction article that helps you understand the time period and setting the fictional characters are in.

We began reading a few articles about the American Revolution because my students knew little about it and also read articles about Gary Paulson (non fiction).  We then began reading the fictional story of Samuel which led my students into a natural discussion on what was real in the story and what did Gary “make up”.     I have asked students to write about what they know about the America Revolution and about living in the woods (non fiction).  We have created stories about what we think might have happened to Samuels parents (fiction).   The students have found idioms, metaphors and similes in his writing and asked questions about language and vocabulary that is unfamiliar to them.

The reading level is above many of my students and below many of them but the discussion and high interest action has everyone engaged.  The comparisons they are making of that time period to now have been intriguing.  The discussion of what is fiction and what is non fiction has flowed very naturally and with deeper understanding then I ever got to last year.  They are asking why Gary wrote the book they way he did.  They are reading his other books. They are taking notes and looking things up in their social studies books.  (unheard of earlier this year)   So much of what I was asked to do for “test prep” is happening within the context of this author study unit in a more natural way.

It always amazes me what happens when we put everything together.   When we integrate our teaching.  When we put aside the “boxes” curriculum comes in and just read and write as authors – wonderful learning arrives in our classroom.

I will say it helps to have a fabulous author and collection of books to explore with and there are lots of them out there.   I encourage you to look at how you can put learning together.   Can you provide a true author experience for your students?   Reading and writing across genres.

It is sure making a difference for my reluctant students.  Thanks Gary Paulson for putting is all together.

Woods Runner by Gary Paulson

Woods Runner by Gary Paulson

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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3 Responses to Putting it all together with Gary Paulson

  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you are encouraging and supporting kids in reading hard things here too and noticing that they can do it when they are interested.

  2. Wilcox Carol says:

    I love Gary Paulsen but I don’t know WOODS RUNNER. Reading your post definitely makes me want to hunt it down! I love, love, love teaching in an integrated way, and as you suggested, I think kids are so much more engaged and excited when we teach this way. Love hearing about how your students are researching and seeking out information on their own. Nothing improves kids’ reading and writing (or prepares them for tests) better than actual reading and writing!

  3. Ramona says:

    Woods Runner was one of our Newbery possibilities that we used for lit circles in 2011. My students loved the nonfiction pieces at the end of each chapter as well as the narrative of 13 year old Samuel.

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