fromastory Blog # 2, March 3, 2012: The Birth of DDQJ

Posted on March 3, 2012

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Recently, I introduced this blog to the masses (at this point I define the masses as family, friends, and a few colleagues).   If you’re new to fromastory, please read my earlier post.

In today’s blog, I share about how fromastory has evolved and I want to invite you to consider the possibilities of making this work in your classroom.  My services are only an email away!  (see below for my address)

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Let me tell you about four 5th grade students (now high school age).  As much as I would love to praise them by name, I will use first initials in the interest of privacy.

When I began working with J, Q, D1, and D2, I knew it would be a challenge.  Q was a very hyperactive, impulsive learner who made many days unpredictable, to put it tactfully.  Yet he had a bright personality and a huge smile that appeared often.  D1 was a big, tough, learner with a big, tough exterior.  Beneath the layers, though, was another pretty happy kid with a big heart.  J’s personality was the opposite of those two.  He was very quiet and very hesitant to leave his comfort zone, in part because of the other dominating personalities.  D2 was also quiet but eager to jump on the Q and D1 bandwagon.   Let me just say that group dynamics posed many challenges.

It took a long time to establish and maintain any meaningful expectations and structure with this group, and it took a long time to find subject matter that matched their interests and instructional reading levels.

Then we met Davy Crockett…

                     DavyCrockett

I guided the guys through A Picture Book of Davy Crockett, by David A. Adler.  They read it, discussed it, asked questions about it, illustrated their interpretations, and wrote about it.  They acted it out.

They connected with this guy dressed in animal skins, carrying a rifle, and surviving in the wilderness.  They connected with the obstacles he encountered and how he dealt with them.  They comprehended.  They were proud.  I was proud of them.  I was elated.  Okay, elated and a bit relieved.  We were getting somewhere!

Now was the time to introduce the musical component.  Q had previously shared his singing ability with us (usually off-task but highly energetic!) and the other guys had chimed in with backing vocals or some pencil drumming.  When I suggested they write a song about what they learned, things started clicking.   First, we listened to the theme song from the old TV show.  We compared the content of the song with the Adler text.

It really wasn’t long before they were ready to write.  They couldn’t wait to get started.  I had to balance facilitating the process with getting out of the way.  What a treat for a teacher.

They presented a first draft and we discussed it.  A second draft was written and discussed.  We talked about how the first part of the song borrowed heavily from the TV song, which naturally led to productive conversations about plagiarism and originality.  I suggested they each write a verse, on their own, that incorporated something learned from the text.  A few drafts later, they were done.  The Davy Crockett Remix  was born!

I brought in an old microphone stand and microphone.  The guys practiced and practiced (talk about authentic fluency work!), and then the reading “club” was ready to open its doors and present the debut performance.  There was excitement, energy, four healthy cases of nerves (okay, five) …and then it was time.

“Ladies and gentlemen, The Davy Crockett Remix, by DDQJ!”

(cue applause)

Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, he took good care of his family.

Stayed back in the woods and he knew every tree,

Kilt him a b’ar when he was only three.

On the third day of school, Davy got in a fight.

He then ran away and you know that’s not right!

Davy, Davy Crockett, the man who knew no fear.

Davy, Davy Crockett, the man who knew no fear.

My name is Q and did you know

that he fought for peace against many a foe?

My name is J and did you hear

that Davy was good at hunting deer?

My name is D and this is a fact,

all of his bullets had a hard impact!

My name is D and did you know

that Davy got killed at the Alamo?

Davy, Davy Crockett, the man who knew no fear.

Davy, Davy Crockett, the man who know no fear!

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That was just the beginning; the beginning of many encore performances in my classroom, other classrooms, and at their homes.  They recorded it and each took a copy with them.  They autographed their lyrics for each other and for me.  Near the end of the year when it was time for their middle school orientation, they begged me to perform it at an orientation assembly.  Yes, an assembly at a brand new school in front of many, many strangers.

They didn’t need to beg.  They only had to ask once.

I guarantee you, I absolutely guarantee you that here in 2012, five years removed from those amazing days, that those guys could sing that song in a heartbeat!  I guarantee they retained that information and can only imagine how they’ve applied it some way, somehow, between then and now.  I KNOW they’ve taken the skills, strategies, and confidence gained from those experiences with them.  In fact, I’ve run into Q a couple times since 5th grade and that’s the first thing he mentions.  With that big, infectious Q smile.

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I want to share this magical marriage of literacy and music with your students.  I live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  If you’re a teacher anywhere in the Research Triangle area, I’m available.   If you’re on Skype anywhere in the world, I’m available (I haven’t tried Skyping fromastory but we can make it work).

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The Davy Crocket Remix was created from a story.  DDQJ was created from a story.  Your students could be next.

Thanks for reading, and don’t hesitate to contact me at danparrpelletier@gmail.com

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Posted in: From a Story