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First Reader

We experienced a good day today. We are writing fractured fairy tales which are parodies of the originals. Students turn the story around and rewrite it with a twist. One student explained that the boy who cried wolf was visually impaired and was the victim of pranks by the sheep. Another student told the story of the Billy Goats Gruff through the eyes of the troll. Would you like it if someone were clacking around on your roof? The handsome prince dumps the beautiful princess for the maid in Rapunzel so someone did live happily ever after. The kids have fun with this activity and we talk about perspective. What if I were the Big Bad Wolf? We learn to understand that life is revealed through many eyes and experiences.

Billy Collins wrote this poem which I think expresses the way we learn and shape our learning. Occasionally, we need to let go, just be in the moment, and experience learning. I think we did that today.

I can see them standing politely on the wide pages
that I was still learning to turn,
Jane in a blue jumper, Dick with his crayon-brown hair,
playing with a ball or exploring the cosmos
of the backyard, unaware they are the first characters,
the boy and girl who begin fiction.

Beyond the simple illustrations of their neighborhood,
the other protagonists were waiting in a huddle:
frightening Heathcliff, frightened Pip, Nick Adams
carrying a fishing rod, Emma Bovary riding into Rouen.

But I would read about the perfect boy and his sister
even before I would read about Adam and Eve, garden and gate,
and before I heard the name Gutenberg, the type
of their simple talk was moving into my focusing eyes.

It was always Saturday and he and she
were always pointing at something and shouting,
“Look!” pointing at the dog, the bicycle, or at their father
as he pushed a hand mower over the lawn,
waving at aproned mother framed in the kitchen doorway,
pointing toward the sky, pointing at each other.

They wanted us to look but we had looked already
and seen the shaded lawn, the wagon, the postman.
We had seen the dog, walked, watered and fed the animal,
and now it was time to discover the infinite, clicking
permutations of the alphabet’s small and capital letters.
Alphabetical ourselves in the rows of classroom desks,
we were forgetting how to look, learning how to read.


About ivonprefontaine

I completed a PhD at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Previously, I taught for 20 years and taught for 15 years in a wonderful hybrid school. My dissertation topic and research were how certain teachers experience becoming who teachers. In teaching and leanring, I am a boundary-crosser who understands moving ahead is a leap of faith. Teaching is a calling and vocation to express who I am as a person. Currently, I am waiting and listening to what calls me next. I am an educator, phenomenologist, scholar, boundary-crosser, published poet, author, parent, grandparent, and spouse.

20 responses »

  1. Great idea for teaching and for helping the students think and to create rather than to just regurgitate knowledge. Well done!

  2. Ivon, this poem is so striking! Am sharing the link to your blog and it with my considerable Facebook network. Fabulous!

  3. I don’t want to be overly critical of any educational approach, but I found the “Dick and Jane” readers I grew up with to be woefully unsatisfactory. When it came time for our children to read (we homeschooled them), I got the best books I could find at the library that were well written (though simple), with imaginative illustrations and my wife simply read to them pointing to the words until suddenly they were reading the books themselves. Now, not only do they know how to read but they have a passion for good literature.

    • We did home school our one son for a year, but much of my teaching career has been involved with a hybrid school where part of the delivery was home schooling. I have a deep and abiding respect for the quality of education dedicated parents, such as yourselves, provide for their children. I find home schooled children love reading and do it voraciously. I suspect the method you used is common in that community. We read to our children and typically it was not the Dick and Jane type readers. We used many of the Little Golden Books and the like with lots of pictures. Our sons are readers and I think, as you say, it starts when they are young.

      Thank you for the wonderful comment Tony.

  4. Fortunately, I never sacrificed the love of ‘looking’ when I learned to read..During my brief tenure teaching second grade, I was acutely aware of trying to sustain the visual acuity that sometimes got blurred in the process of learning…

    • It is always challenging, as a teacher, to remember that there is more to learning than memorizing. When we encourage all the senses, we help students open their minds and hearts to learning.

  5. I love the idea of writing fractured fairy tales. It’s so interesting to hear those stories as heard by the imaginations of others – especially, children. I also agree that it’s a wonderful way to teach life lessons about perspective. The poem you shared reinforced that beautifully.

  6. I like that idea of retelling the fairy tales in new ways. Clever.

  7. Writing fractured fairy tales sounds like meaningful fun 🙂 And this poem’s wicked! Please pass my compliments onto the author.


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