Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Puzzling Curriculum Piece (from Jody Feldman)

When I set out to write my first middle-grade novel, my initial thought—besides, egads! what have I gotten myself into?—was to write the book I would have wanted to read at that age.

In 3rd through 7th grades especially, I happened to be a voracious reader ...
EXCEPT
when it came time to read the books our teachers had assigned to the whole class.

I suppose there was some value in studying stories about all those dead animals; however, each time one of my teachers introduced the next book by revealing the cover, a cover featuring a raccoon or a deer or a dog, I groaned. Silently, but with all my heart.

Don’t get me wrong. I like animals. I do. It’s just that I’d read enough books to know that, with that assigned story, any triumph would come, hand-in-paw, with severe heartbreak. Why, instead, couldn’t we find the value in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle or Encyclopedia Brown or The Phantom Tollbooth (hey, that one has a dog!)?









So when I began brainstorming ideas for my first novel, I knew, for 10-year-old me, it would need to be something a kid would read for fun. I gave no thought to curriculum tie-ins, Common Core Standards, or anything education-based. And yet, I often get mail from teachers and students that reveals The Gollywhopper Games or The Seventh Level is being used in yet another classroom.

How’d that happen?
Magic, maybe?
I’m not quite sure.

I do know it started by an association with the very smart debut authors of the Class of 2k8 who encouraged us all to come up with discussion guides. That continued with me panicking about what to include in said discussion guide. But after I breathed and realized my books contain much about leadership, fairness, sportsmanship, and other character-building elements, and after I remembered curriculum is more than reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, I ran with it.

Then wait!
There’s the puzzle piece.
In my books, the characters need to work their way past many puzzles in order to succeed. Teachers tell me about having their students come up to blackboards, whiteboards, smartboards and take their shot at solving the puzzles along with the characters.  These kiddos, they say, are becoming more proficient in logic and reasoning by discussing the necessary steps toward solution. Additionally, they are picking up on and utilizing the clues peppered throughout the puzzle sections as the characters move forward.

It was a purposeful decision to take that approach to puzzles. When I couldn’t solve certain (okay, most of the) Encylopedia Brown mini-mysteries, I’d often wish that the upside-down solution pages would include a hint before they offered up the full-out explanations.

So while I am mindful of the impact my books may have in classrooms, and while I’m learning more and more about how I may be able to tie some details of my stories into curriculum, my heart lies in writing the best book I can. With that in mind, if you’d like the specifics of how teachers use elements of my books in their curricula, I can try to put you in touch with those who do just that. And I can point you to my discussion guides.

But now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to either
A. Go study up on the Common Core Standards.
B. Go write my next book.
C. Do more A than B.
D. Do more B than A.
E. Have a snack.


4 comments:

  1. I should have made an F. Both B. and E.

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  2. This post was incredibly helpful. Your discussion guidelines are wonderful, and for a newbie like me, they are a great blueprint. I feel so grateful for your post, I feel like I should pay you. Do you accept PayPal!??

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  3. Forgive the extreme tardiness in my reply, but a very sincere THANKS, Kate. As for pay ... just get skilled enough in the craft that you can pass on whatever you've learned to the next newbie. :)

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