Celebrating the Wonder of Wonder by Sherry Gick
Sharing the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio with students is certainly not a new idea…most of us have been sharing Wonder with anyone who would listen since the beginning of 2012! Even so, there’s something so amazingly wonder-ful about this book and how it touches readers’ lives. I will never tire of seeing and hearing the reactions of others to this story.
This is exactly the reason why I persuaded our 6th grade Reading teachers to begin the school year by using Wonder as a whole class read aloud. We had already “test-driven” the novel as a read aloud with one 6th grade class in the spring of 2012. I had the privilege of beginning the book with them and finishing up their experience with a Skype session with R.J. Palacio on our last day of school. The interest level, immersion, and reactions from the students was amazing to see. The 6th grade teacher and I really wanted to spread this spirit of “Choose Kind” to the entire incoming 6th grade population and in turn, encourage all our middle school students to “choose kind” in their interactions with each other.
This year’s three classes of 6th graders were no different than our test class from last year. All of the students immediately loved the book and clamored to hear more each day from their teachers. I was overwhelmed by students wanting to check the book out from the library, which I discouraged — I wanted them to experience the power of the read-aloud! Now that the teachers have finished reading the book aloud, there are no copies available in the library. Students are re-reading the story and enjoying it even more the second time around. After seeing the reactions of the sixth grade students to the story, my principal handed me the school credit card and told me to order copies for every middle school reading/English teacher to have as well as extra copies for the library. (Awesome!)
Towards the end of the classroom read alouds of Wonder was the amazing birthday party we hosted after lunch on October 10 (Auggie’s birthday). My library assistants and I spent an entire period decorating to really make the area special for the students. (It’s amazing how much streamers, balloons, tablecloths, and party supplies are appreciated by 6th graders!) A few helpful parents served up 87 slices of cake and glasses of punch so the students could join the party immediately.
After singing “Happy Birthday” to Auggie, students enjoyed eating the cake. They were also instructed to pick one word to describe themselves and write on the name tag at their place. We encouraged them to talk with their friends about positive words that described each other to use for their tags. They also wrote only their name on a blue affirmation sheet that read “_________ is a wonder because ……”.
After cake and punch, we took the party outside so there was room to move around for activities! First, each class took center stage (by standing on several benches) and received a standing ovation from the other two classes. This moved me to tears to see the students applauding each other and the sheer joy on the faces of the students receiving the applause.
Next, the students taped their affirmation sheets on their backs and took turns writing why each of their classmates “is a wonder”. This was a flurry of movement as students wanted to write on EVERYONE’S sheets and have teachers sign theirs as well.
Afterwards, I watched the students clutching their blue sheets of paper, excitedly whispering to each other all the amazing comments that had been written on their papers. The comments were anonymous which made it that much better. I’m fairly certain all 87 students were beaming with pride because someone thought they were special.
The birthday party was a real bash but my most favorite activity with Wonder was the library project I taught individually with each class and collaborated on with Mr. Etkin and Mrs. Posey: 1-2-3 Wonder as part of the #WonderSchools initiative. Our collaborative video may be seen here.
My first class is featured in this video. I went on to do this same project with the other two 6th grade classes and was literally blown away by the depth of their answers as they worked together in small groups of 2-4. To have 6th graders tell me the range of emotions Wonder made them feel: accepting, blessed, lucky, special, angry, connected, emotional…among other wonder-ful words truly warmed my heart. (All 3 videos may be seen here.)
I think it’s safe to say that Auggie’s story will be one that sticks with our 6th grade class, hopefully for a lifetime. We will continue to use the Choose Kind theme throughout the school year and beyond. A new award will now be given on awards day each May: the August Pullman Award. It will be awarded to the 6th grade girl and boy who have most exhibited the spirit of choosing kind throughout their 6th grade year. (Winners will receive their own copy of Wonder!)
Sherry Gick is a school librarian for Rossville Consolidated Schools. She loves her job, running, & her family.You can find her online at www.thelibraryfanatic.com and on Twitter as @LibraryFanatic.