Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

The Quiltmaker's Gift: Anticipation, Generosity, Reading Lesson Ideas & A Freebie!

Is it weird to admit that the season of advent was my favorite time of the year when I was growing up? Most of my childhood friends looked forward to Christmas or their birthdays, but I loved the anticipation of Christmas,  more than I loved Christmas.  One of my favorite things about advent was watching the lighting of the advent candles on the wreaths at school and church.  We also had an advent candle at our house. We would light the candle each night and burn it down to the number for the next day of December. It was different from what we did at church and school, but it built up the anticipation of the season in the same way.

Advent always makes me feel nostalgic.  In my classroom recently, we were reading The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau. I was telling my students about the time my sister and I unwrapped our big Christmas gift that my parents had hidden underneath their bed. VCRs were new technology, and we were finally getting one! We slyly re-wrapped the box and eagerly awaited Christmas day. When the day arrived, our parents were so excited for us to open the big gift. We were racked with guilt that we had ruined their surprise...their act of generosity. We faked our surprise. I don't think they ever knew what we had done. But we did. And we were sorry.

In The Quiltmaker's Gift, an unhappy king, who has all that he could possible need and want in the world, tries to force the Quiltmaker to give him one of her quilts. She refuses. She only gives her quilts to the poor and downhearted. She never gives them to the rich. She never sells them. When he tries to force her by putting her in threatening situations, her kindness and generosity turn the situations into positive encounters.

Eventually, the king agrees to give away all of his earthly possessions in return for one of her quilts.  He struggles to part with his treasures, even though they don't really make him happy. He perseveres, and in the long run he discovers that his acts of generosity and the impact they have on the world are what bring him joy. 

I read this book to my students every year. This year, we read it in order to tackle three learning goals. Keep reading to see how we unwrapped the gifts this book has to offer. 

Before reading, I introduced several vocabulary words from the book. My students predicted their meanings, and we discussed other words that they reminded us of and recorded our responses on chart paper.  This is a gorgeous book with gorgeous language, so there's "good stuff" for this kind of work. 

Then we read the book, noticing when we saw the words we had talked about. After reading, I showed my students the words in context. I had prepared some quotations from the book, with the words bolded. We used these quotes to learn about how we can use context clues to understand vocabulary words that we don't know. We revisited our predictions and compared and contrasted our before and after thinking about the vocabulary words. 

Our second learning target was to build on my student's knowledge of THEME. I also wanted to build controversy, because we are working on persuasive talk and writing. 

First, I introduced three basic types of conflict that exist in fiction: Character versus character, character versus the environment, and character versus society. I gave them basic definitions, and we used those definitions to discuss the type of conflict they saw in The Quiltmaker's Gift. My kiddos decided that it was character versus character. 
Then, I introduced the terms antagonist and protagonist. They decided the king was a protagonist and the quiltmaker was the antagonist.  When I've done this with other groups of students, they often think of protagonists being "good," and antagonists being "bad." This time I was careful to discuss with them that it isn't about good versus evil. 

So if I'm teaching about theme, why did I teach about conflict and story vocabulary? Because I teach students to pay attention to the conflict of the story and its resolution in order to begin thinking about theme. If a theme is a lesson about life that the story or author teaches us, then thinking about the conflict is the first big step in understanding theme. I introduced that definition of theme, and my students worked in discussion groups to unpack their thinking about theme. 

Together, they identified four major themes: Greed, generosity, kindness, and the common good. I challenged them and asked them to narrow it down to two themes that they thought were the strongest out of the four they found. They narrowed it down to generosity and kindness.  Finally, we were ready for the tug-of-war challenge. 

We made a tug-of-war line on the wall by our bulletin board. We placed one of our themes on each end of the line. Students wrote their names on post-its and placed their post-its on the theme side that they thought was the strongest in The Quiltmaker's Gift. Most of my students thought generosity was the stronger theme. 
They broke into discussion teams, Team Generosity and Team Kindness. Their goal was to discuss the text, find evidence for their stances on the theme, and prove their positions with an oral presentation in an effort to convince students from the other side to cross over to their side on the tug-of-war line.
One interesting thread of discussion was how generosity and kindness are related to each other. However, my students thought that kindness was a more general "big picture" kind of word, while generosity is a specific type of kindness.

After the teams had met and prepared for battle, they presented their arguments to each other. Afterward, students were allowed to move their post-its if their thinking had changed as a result of the tug-of-war. Two students did move from the generosity side to the kindness side!

I modified this approach from visible thinking routines (Harvard's Project Zero) research. It was a HUGE success. Everyone was actively engaged!
Our final lesson was about making a personal connection to the story. Material things don't bring us lasting happiness. How do we apply the generosity theme to our lives? We decided that having a spirit of generosity does not mean that we have to spend money. Giving is often equated with money, but giving from our hearts has a more lasting impact.

We created a Generosity Challenge for ourselves, our grade level, and anyone else in our school who wants to join us. We colored quilt squares for each school day in December. Underneath each quilt square, we place a coordinating generosity challenge for the day. We reveal the challenge square every morning. Then, we have the day to complete that challenge. Our challenges include things like, "Apologize to someone whose feelings you have hurt" and "Write a note to someone you care about and tell them why they are important to you." 

Everyday that we complete a challenge, we color in a quilt square on our Generosity Challenge Data page. This page is our personal record of our acts of generosity. Yesterday, as we discussed the new challenge, one of my boys reported that it feels so good to plan something nice for someone else. His classmates nodded in agreement. I'll admit it, I had to blink hard and swallow the lump in my throat. Mission accomplished.

If you're interested in the ideas here, you might want to check out the product below. It has everything you need for this book study and includes all the lessons I shared here. It's about 4 days of reader's workshop goodness. AND... This book is not specific to Christmas. It can be used year round, as can the resource I've created for you. 

There are a few other resources to get you through December. They are tons of fun, but RIGOROUS! My favorite combination. Psssst! THERE'S A FREEBIE HERE, TOO!

DID YOU KNOW? If you subscribe to this blog, you'll receive a featured freebie every month? They are exclusive for my followers!

This month you can check out the other Teacher Talk Authors for some great ideas to sustain you this month. Happy Holidays!