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Making Thinking Visible

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Arts Integration

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4 Books About Belonging For Your Back-to-School Read Alouds


I still remember it. The memory can still knot my throat up in a tight little ball of hurt. I was in second grade in a split 2/3 classroom. I was the only girl in second grade so all of my girl friends were third graders. Her name was Christine. She had blonde hair and blue eyes and a flock of followers that only a third grade girl who learns her leadership powers early could command. 

She marched up and down the aisles of the classroom before school had officially started and handed a pink sparkly envelope to each of the girls. I waited eagerly for her to pass my desk. 

I watched her pass each envelope, one to Lisa, another to Laura, the next one to Brooke,  until there weren't anymore left. 

I remember nothing more about that week. The moment of realization that I was not included and the aftermath when I had to listen to every girl recount every sugary, annoying detail is what has stuck with me for 42 years.  

It was the first time I felt invisible.

'That was the best pool party ever!'
'I'm so glad you guys had fun!' says Madison. Everybody did except Brian. He wasn't invited.

That is one of the reasons why The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig appeals to me. I think most of my students will probably "get it," because after 27 years of teaching, I've realized that everyone can tell you a story about not belonging, about exclusion.

Only Brian is left, still waiting and hoping.

The Invisible Boy is about a boy named Brian who gets very little attention at school. His teacher is busy managing the larger-than-life behaviors of other students, his peers pick the best players for recess games, and when both teams have equal numbers of players, Brian is left out. 

Outside of school, his classmates attend a pool party, but Brian isn't invited. Everything changes for Brian when Justin arrives at school. Justin's character acts as a mediator for Brian and his peers. Because of Justin's inclusiveness, Brian's classmates realize his value and importance. In the end, Brian is included. 

This year, I plan to use this book as one of my early read alouds. I have four learning activities in mind to help us crystallize our thinking about belonging and inclusiveness.

The first thinking activity is a visible thinking routine called Step Inside. The Step Inside thinking routine structures students’ thinking and deepens their understanding about a person/thing. It focuses on perspective and asks kids to hypothesize using three core questions: 
 1. What can the person or thing perceive? 
 2. What might the person or thing know about or believe? 
              3. What might the person or thing care about?
We'll be discussing these questions together, and then I'll ask my students to do some writing as if they were Brian...I'll be asking them to step inside his shoes.

There are some fabulous discussion questions in the back of the book. They're meaty questions that require students to connect to the characters. I'll be taking some of these questions and writing them in the center of a chalk talk board.  During chalk talk, students stay at a question board for a determined amount of time, and the activity is done in complete silence. They share their thinking, circle responses they find interesting from other people, write a question or comment on someone else's response or draw lines from their own responses to their classmates' responses if they see connections. When the timer goes off, students rotate to the next chalk talk board. This continues until students have been at all boards. After, we view the boards together and discuss them. 

The third activity I want to do with the book involves the illustrations and photography. The illustrations of The Invisible Boy are beautiful and vibrant. One noticeable thing about Brian is that he's the only character in black and white. However, as his status with his classmates changes, as he become visible to them, he gradually gains color, until he's fully colored by the end of the book.

My students will take two photos of themselves, a black and white version and a colored version. While viewing the black and white version, they'll write about a time when they felt invisible. For the colored version, they'll write about how it feels to "belong." These will be displayed in our classroom.

The fourth and final thing we'll do to end our book study is to create a list of ways we can help others to feel belonging. This list will be displayed throughout the school year and revisited periodically.

It's not just about sparkly pink birthday invitations anymore. As teachers, we can't help but turn on the nightly news and have the breath sucked out of our bodies as we see the heavy cost of "not belonging." Human beings need connection to survive. There are stacks upon stacks of research supporting our fundamental need for connection and belonging. 

It starts with us, doesn't it? 

As a member of the We Teach So Hard podcast group, I'm excited to tell you about our monthly themed book talks. The second week of every month, we'll be introducing a new literature theme with book recommendations, ideas for using the books with your students, and resources. Be sure to tune in and subscribe. Click the picture below to listen!



Keep reading below for three more fantastic belonging-themed picture books recommended by Kathie, Retta & Deann to support your back-to-school lessons. 










Interested in reading more about visible thinking routines? I write about them a great deal because they've changed my teaching life in dramatic ways. If interested, you can read more about that adventure here.

Or, check out this resource:



3 comments

  1. Great post, Wild Child! It truly does start with us. I can't wait to read The Invisible Boy! Your followup suggestions are amazing! Love the art integration, and I Know that your students will love doing the black/white to color activity!

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  2. Oh, my heart ached for 8-year old Tracy :( You're right; The Invisible Boy brings up all the non-blatantly obvious ways our peers can hurt us. I love this book!

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  3. I felt so bad for the little girl, Tracy, who at 8 years old, felt invisible. Must have been just awful for you. I know your students always feel loved and accepted. I love your tips and creative ideas. Thanks for sharing

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