Friday, December 13, 2013

off the bookshelf: murakami's norwegian wood

Awhile ago I read this book... for the second time. The story came back to me so quickly; all the feelings that it evokes so clear again, but nothing spoiled.

This was Murakami's first real mainstream novel, said to be the 'book that "everyone" in Japan has read,' and a very depressing leap into stardom for the author. It is a love story, a heart-wrenching and beautiful one, and that's all. For an author who often writes non-fiction or with a flair of magical realism, this is a very different book from his others. Though these elements are totally absent in this story (Murakami argues against those that are tempted to call it loosely autobiographical), he writes a lovely reflection on human relationship and the impacts all those people we meet can have on our lives.

Norwegian Wood is narrated by Watanabe, a college student in Tokyo, who is in love with a friend from his childhood, Naoko. Their bond seems held together only by the tragic death of Watanabe's best friend, Naoko's boyfriend, when they were teenagers. He adjusts relatively well, considering, to life afterward, but Naoko struggles to understand her place in the world and becomes extremely introverted. Though he is helplessly devoted to her, Watanabe soon becomes attracted to a much more (sexually) liberated woman and struggles to retain the balance of these two relationships in a way that is understandable to his new friend.

Although I find the ending a little disjointed from the rest of the story, it's still a book I really love - one that kept me interested the whole way through. I'm a sucker for a love story!

Friday, December 6, 2013

whole-group reflections

This year, one of the key concepts I've tried to implement in the classroom is giving students an opportunity to make their thinking visible. I'm about halfway through this book:
(This is the third PD book I've stacked on my nightstand...!)

We use sticky notes, reflection pages, "what we learned about (any topic)" and gallery walks. Sometimes, though, the kids get tired of always writing a reflection, no matter how simple it can be. So in the past couple weeks I've focused more on oral strategies to keep their thoughts pouring out and their energy directed appropriately. 

(These ideas are not exactly visible, but they are reflective, and if you can get the kids using that all-important question "What makes you say that?" then it will be a great exercise in deepening understandings.)

Assembly Line:
Give half the class a number and ask them to line up side by side facing the same direction. The rest of the class then stands in front of this line, facing someone; tell this line they are the "assembly line". Give them a prompt and have each person in the line share with their partner (i.e. In this lesson I learned... Something that stands out for me is... I'm wondering about... I'm confused about/have questions about...). I always try to listen in as they share! Then, tell the assembly line to take one step to the right to a new partner, with the last person joining in at the opposite end. Give the next prompt and share away.

Concentric Circles:
Similar to the Assembly Line, give half the class a number and ask them to make a tight circle in the room facing out. (This is not easy if you have a tight space, but could easily be done in the field, gym, hallway if it's big enough, etc.) The rest of the class will find a partner and sit facing that person in an outer circle. Again, give a directed prompt based on what type of reflection you're looking for and have each share with the other. Have the outer circle scoot to the left or right and share another reflection.

Simple, but it gets the kids talking and keeps them focused on learning. If we do exercises like these often enough, eventually I'll be able to say, "Please share a reflection with your partner" and they'll just hand out their thoughts without questions!

ps - Happy Saturday!