"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Thursday, November 1, 2018

ReedAROUND and the TALKAbout: Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion

My fifth graders and I recently read Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Victo Ngai.

Dazzle Ships is a book about how British and American ships were painted with bold colors and crazy patterns  during World War I. German torpedo attacks were making it impossible to get supplies to England. British lieutenant-commander Norman Wilkinson proposed what became known as dazzle, patterns and colors meant to confuse the enemy about a ship’s speed and direction. 
Pretty cool, right? Want to learn more about the book, read these interesting and informative posts by Chris Barton and by Victo Ngai.

Why did I choose this book?
I chose this book for our first round of read alouds and literature discussions because I thought it would engage the students and have enough for them to hold onto for the week between our reading of the book and our holding literature discussions about the book. (There is only so much you can do in 30 minutes.) I was right. The students had no problem recalling the story or sharing what resonated with them. 

Barton's informative narrative is delivered with an appropriate reverence for the topic that also allows for the excitement of new possibilities and new ideas. It feels dramatic to read in a way that made my students listen in. The dynamic and engaging art conveys all the seriousness, drama, and excitement in the text, yet also brings the reader further into the setting and action.

What happened during the discussion week?
During our discussion week, each pair or group of students chose two questions from this list. Their job was to each choose a question and then take turns sharing their response to the question. 
My hope is that is the beginning to creating a dialog about a book, where students don't just take turns answering, but respond to and build upon each other's comments. 

Here's the thing, I forgot to talk about voice volume, but I didn't need to because the students went off and immediately started their discussions. They were eager to talk about the book! I saw students actively listening to each other and patiently waiting their turn to speak. I was able to easily move about the library and listen in. Here are some of the things I heard while circulating during the discussions:

"We think Norman Wilkinson was brave and creative. He had an idea no one else had and he shared it even though it was so different. He got his idea while fishing which was cool."

"For the illustrations, for the starving part, I might have thought they were hungry and have other food, but are saving it, but with the illustrations, you can tell they are starving because no food can get there. They are starving and it is serious."

"When it got lush in England, I could tell things were better."

"We would not have know how crazy the patterns actually were."

"We noticed he used the word "supposedly," which showed that he had not found an exact quote in his research."

"I've read other books about WWI."

"Where are the ships now?"
"How did they pick the colors?"
"Did they repaint the ships after the war?"

How did it go?
I randomly handed out exit tickets throughout the morning of classes. We had about 36 groups in all and eighteen of those groups reflected on the experience. Here is what I learned:
The most popular question was about how the illustrations extended the story (15/18). The first question about personality traits (10/18) and the last question about wondering (9/19) followed closely behind. With the question about connections only chosen by 4/18 of the groups and the vocabulary questions chosen by 1 group.  
A majority of the groups, 12, indicated that they were able to talk about the questions. The remaining six indicated that they had a lot to say when answering questions. No groups had a hard time answering the questions.
The groups indicated that they worked well. Twelve groups stayed on topic. Fourteen felt they listened actively. Eighteen felt they respected each other's opinions. Fifteen shared the air. The balance of those votes fell to "sometimes."
Seventeen of the groups felt that the questions helped with the discussion. Fifteen enjoyed the activity.

I am excited by this information. The work we did setting the stage for literature discussions allowed for meaningful sharing and a successful start. 
Looking for a good discussion book? 
Look no further.  

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