Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Teaching Perseverance: Powerful Books to Change A Student's Mindset

In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.
                                                                                           -Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

If I have one goal as a teacher, it's that my students don't dance with perfectionism the way I have my entire life. It's an exhausting dance, and I've tangoed, fox-trotted, and step-ball-changed my way through my entire life trying to learn that my very best is always good enough. It's a crappy way to experience life, always feeling like you're never quite good enough. 

When I talk about perseverance with my students, I always use books. Good children's literature gives kids a chance to vicariously experience someone else's struggle, to see themselves in similar episodes of struggle, and finally to explore ways of working through it. However as an embattled perfectionist, how I talk about perseverance is really important. I teach my students to ask themselves 3 questions: 

  1. Have I done my very best? 
  2. How do I know I've done my very best?
  3. Is there anything else I can try before I feel I am done with this struggle?
A couple of years ago, I stumbled onto a little gem of a book, Emmanuel's Dream The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. It has become one of my favorite books to use when teaching theme and perseverance. It's narrative nonfiction, which means that's it's a true story that sounds like a fiction story. 

Emmanuel is born with a birth defect. Only one of his legs functions normally. In Ghana, his home country, birth defects are viewed as curses and families are expected and encouraged to kill or abandon their children to the elements. Emmanuel's father leaves, but his mother makes the courageous decision to save her child and raise him. She tells him that he can do anything he wants to do, but that he'll have to work for it, and Emmanuel does just that, in ways that his mother could never have imagined. In the end, Emmanuel becomes a national hero and focuses a spotlight on his country's treatment of its disabled citizens.  Emmanuel's actions are inspiring and remarkable, but this young man is a picture of perseverance.

When I teach theme in reader's workshop, I first review retelling and summarizing with my students. I do this because I want them to be able focus on the character's struggle and resolution. I usually use a story chart to map out the parts of the story. The story chart includes the setting, characters, 3 important story events, the problem, resolution.

After we map out the story, together or in small groups, we turn our attention to the struggle and resolution. What was the character's conflict? How was it resolved? Because I teach fifth graders, it's usually at this point when I introduce types of literary conflict commonly found in fiction and narrative nonfiction: Character vs. self, character vs. character, and character vs. society/nature.

My students usually identify Emmanuel's struggle as "character vs. society."  We use a Making Thinking Visible thinking routine (by Church, Morrison & Ritchart) called "Step Inside."  Using this routine helps us to step inside Emmanuel's shoes to try to think, feel, and perceive the world as he does. You can find out more about that HERE.

I define theme this way:

By focusing on the character's struggles, my kids have an easier time identifying themes. Because of Emmanuel's willingness to do the hard stuff, like hop to miles to school on one leg or travel 2 hours away to the city to get a job to support his sick mother and younger siblings, he was able to overcome society's expectations of him. He showed perseverance when the situation could have overwhelmed him. In our small group discussions, we revisit our 3 questions about perseverance:
  1. Did Emmanuel do his very best?
  2. How do we know he did his very best?
  3. What more could he have done to help the situation?
For our final look at this book, I ask my students to create newspaper headlines that will summarize a theme. This is also a visible thinking routine, and it demands that students "go deep." The headline can't summarize the story. It must summarize the big ideas or themes of the story. 

I love that these theme lessons work with any fiction or narrative fiction book. You need Emmanuel's Dream in your classroom library. It's a testament to the power of one person. Be sure to check out the links below. There are 2 youtube videos about Emmanuel's journey, as well as link to his non-profit website, because he continues to dream...

Like the theme and conflict mini posters in this post? You can grab them for free by subscribing to this blog! They're this month's featured freebie for subscribers!

Don't forget to visit Kathie, Retta and Deann's blogs about other fantastic titles and lesson ideas for teaching perseverance. I'll see you over there!

Or, check out our newest episode of the We Teach So Hard podcast. It's our monthly book talk and we're exploding with ideas for perseverance-themed picture books. Click the picture to access!

I've linked up with some fabulous teacher-bloggers this month. Be sure to check out their posts below!
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