Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fabulous Fiction

Last week I attended a 4-day Speech & Hearing convention in San Jose, California and was bombarded with information and inspiration. What a valuable four days! When I returned, I read a blog post and that led to a New York Times article by Annie Murphy Paul called, “Your Brain on Fiction”. (Thank you, Molly O’Neill from Ten Block Walk for leading me there.) This article was a great topper for what I found most appealing at the convention workshops – ideas for using literature with my students and creating “social stories” to encourage new behaviors in kids on the autism spectrum. The article stated, “Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.” No wonder stories are helping our kids!
Now that we’ve established stories are beneficial, I’d like to mention one I absolutely love! Calvin Can’t Fly by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Keith Bendis. Calvin is a starling with a unique, bookish voice, “Oh, how the wounding words of scorn do sting!” And Keith Bendis’ blocky birds with dangling, toothpick legs are adorable. Besides being charming, this book is funny. One of Calvin’s sixty-seven thousand four hundred and thirty-two cousins (“Starlings have BIG families”) called him “nerdy birdie,” another called him “geeky beaky,” and still another called him “bookworm.” “And when you’re a bird, being called a “worm” is a very bad thing.”
What fun I had introducing this story to my students! I had no trouble tying it to the content standards. It has a plot that can be analyzed; it has a beginning, middle and end; it has enriching vocabulary, and it has entertainment value. OK, that last one wasn’t a content standard but maybe it should be – it helps keep the minds engaged.
Berne’s alliterations are almost like doing tongue gymnastics when you read this book aloud. (And as a speech therapist, I think that is a good thing.)  “So the flock made a loop-de-lop left, a dipsy-doodle right, and dove into the cave.” Calvin saves the day in this tale and he saves the reputation of bookworms everywhere, and all who dare to be different from others in their flock.
Yesterday I discovered another blog had mentioned the NY Times article, “Your Brain on Fiction”. In that Scholastic post, author Tyler mentioned that the Common Core standards now call for a 50-50 mix of fiction and non-fiction. Tyler posed a question, “Is this the right balance?”  I wonder along with him, and plan to follow the answers that come his way. If you have any thoughts on using fiction for educational purposes, I’d love to hear from you too.

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