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An Existential Tug-of-War: Making Thinking Visible with Tuck Everlasting



I'm not exactly sure what I'd do, you know, but something interesting-something that's all mine. Something that would make some kind of difference in the world...
                                                                                                           -Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

In the midst of the fire-storm that is American politics, one of my heroes died.  Natalie Babbitt died on Halloween this year.  I can't remember the first time I read Tuck Everlasting, probably because I've read it about 20 times over the course of my teaching career.  But I knew from the first read, that this was one of "my books-" a part of my personal text set that defines my life as a reader, writer, teacher, and human being.  I knew, because when I had finished it, I felt so torn, so sad and dissatisfied. I wanted Winnie to choose differently, and yet I knew she had chosen wisely.  And in my heart and mind, I could imagine the Tucks still wandering: Angus, tired of living; Miles, searching for purpose; Jesse, looking out for more good times; Mae, putting one foot in front of the other with acceptance.  Here I am, about 20 years after first reading the book, and the Tucks are still wandering.  I reread it every year, whether or not I share it with my class.

It Had Been A While

I had planned to read a different mentor text with my students, when I read that she had died.  We've been talking about leadership, Civil Rights, and what it means to find a purpose in life. So after reading about her death, it felt right to honor one of my favorite authors in my classroom.  Rereading it with a new class, the first read in five years, felt like coming home.  

I began by reading The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever retold by Selina Hastings.  I love beginning my character study unit on Tuck Everlasting with this book.  It tells the folktale of a man who visits old men and crones to find the secret to living forever.  He loves his life so much, that he wants to prolong it. However, in doing so, he finds that he loses everything that made his life wonderful. At the close of the reading, I ask students to write about immortality, if they would choose it or not, and why.  This time was no different than any other time.  The majority of my students chose immortality.  Many cited that it would be fascinating to learn new things, see into the future, that they would be very wise because they would have so much knowledge of the past, too.  My thrill seekers stated that they'd have a great time going on risky adventures.



What made this novel study different this time around was my inclusion of Making Thinking Visible routines. After reading the first few chapters of Tuck Everlasting,  students re-examined their thoughts on immortality.  I asked them to take a stand. We used the Tug-Of-War routine.  Each student wrote his/her name on a post-it and placed it on our tug-of-war graph. 




Students divided into two discussion teams: Yes and no.  Each team discussed the reasons for their choices, writing them on speech bubbles. 




The teams presented their reasons to each other, and students were allowed to switch sides if the persuasive dialogue changed their thinking.  We practiced the "At first I thought...and now I think..." thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible to frame our changes in thinking.  There were students on both sides that changed their stances. We revisited our tug-of-war after each chapter.  We re-evaluated our stances and changed our post-its accordingly.  However, if a student moved her post-it, then she was required to explain why her thinking had changed.

The Reading Continues...

As we we made our way through the novel, we explored the varying viewpoints of Jesse, Miles, Tuck, and Mae about immortality.  It was my first time implementing  the Viewpoints Thinking Routine with this novel.  As each character came forward to talk with Winnie about immortality, we charted their feelings about immortality on a graphic organizer. This enabled us to compare and contrast the characters' points of view.

When we got to chapter 19, the chapter in which Mae hits the Man in the Yellow Suit to protect Winnie, we used our 4Cs routine to delve more deeply into Mae's character and actions. I previously wrote about using this routine for our grade-level P.I.G. (pretty important goal).   This time, I used it to also teach my students how to paraphrase evidence from the text to support their thinking.

It was during this discussion that the goosebump moments came. One of my students, an English Language Learner, said that  Mae Tuck reminded him of Perloo  from Perloo the Bold by Avi (our last mentor text), because both character begin as quiet and meek. But then, they both become warriors at the end, in their own ways!  I'm not making this up. That was truly what he said.  
A student works to find evidence for his thinking, using the 4Cs thinking routine.
What made his comment so remarkable is that this child began fifth grade reading two levels below grade level!  That is the power of these thinking routines. I'm consistently seeing remarkable changes in my students as readers, writers, and thinkers. That child is now reading at grade level!

As our discussion about Mae continued, my own thinking about her deepened.  Students found her to be the most surprising character of the novel, because out of all the Tucks, she changed the most.  She went from someone who appeared to accept immortality; someone who chided Tuck about his melancholy; someone who mothered her boys.  She became a protective warrior.  I had never thought about Mae this way, until now.  

I was so sad when I heard of Natalie Babbitt's passing.  Tuck Everlasting still lives on in my mind.  The characters make me ache.  This time around, I choked up when Angus stood in the Treegap cemetery reading Winnie's tombstone.  My voice cracked as I read his words, "Good girl."  That was okay.  I think Natalie would've been pleased with us.

You can read my previous post about our P.I.G. with the 4Cs thinking routine here.

Be sure to check out these visible thinking routine resources (some are free). They will change your teaching and your students' learning! Simply click the pictures.


           






 This month, I've linked up with some phenomenal educators. Be sure to stop by their blogs by clicking the pictures below.  You won't be sorry!

















   
   

22 comments

  1. Visible thinking, as found in Project Zero, is such a good way to engage kids and make them think. I love these sorts of activities.

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    1. Me, too! They have revolutionized my teaching!

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  2. Wow! I love that book too. What a great way to delve into it. I am so impressed by the insights your students had and the depth of thought. I'm already wondering how I can use some of these methods in my own teaching. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by. It truly helps when a teacher is so passionate about the book she is sharing, doesn't it?

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  3. Wow! Such great tips here! Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Our team English teacher did something like this a while back while in my room, and I loved seeing the students working on it. It was so engaging and their responses were so profound. I love the responses I see in your photos above, because it really shows that they are thinking deeply.

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    1. How cool, to be able to watch a colleague. It's so informative when we get to sit back and see our students in a different light with another teacher. Thanks for your feedback and for stopping by!

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  5. What an excellent unit, for an amazing book! I didn't realize Natalie Babbitt died until I read your post. She was an amazing author, and her work will live on. Thank you for sharing this post.

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    1. Thank you for taking your time to share your thoughts with me!

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  6. I absolutely love this activity. I bet the kids did too. It's great when children are old enough to have deep discussions about life, mortality, the future, etc.

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    1. Deann, you are sooooo right! I'm back in fifth grade this year and ADORING it! Thank you for stopping by to read and comment.

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  7. I didn't know Natalie Babbit passed until I read your post. Tuck Everlasting is a favorite of mine, but I've only read it as an adult. I had forgotten what an amazing piece of literature it is. After reading your post, I think I may have to use it as a read aloud (again...after MANY years). Love the visible tug-of-war as well as the other strategies you've mentioned. Thanks or a great post.

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  8. I always love your deeply thoughtful posts. Thanks again.

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  9. I love this post! I did a book study last year on Making Thinking Visible; such wonderful ways to get students to delve deeper. Love the tug of war!

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  10. What a wonderful post. I've never read TE but now I want to. And I love the tug of war idea! Thank you!

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    1. Betsy, thanks for stopping by, and I hope you do get to read it!

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