As educators, one of our many responsibilities is to assist our students with making connections between texts, experiences, and their overall learning. This process takes place in a variety of forms, and obviously occurs over time, never established in one unit school year, or moment in time. Evidently, we must help children learn the skills they need to apply their learning, which essentially envelops making connections. According to literacy guru Debbie Miller, children must learn to connect their personal experiences to texts, compare one text to another, and think about how texts relate to the real world (learn more in her book from 2002, Reading with Meaning). While this may seem simple in theory, several questions remain: How can children learn to make authentic connections? Can children really connect with fictional texts? How can children with a variety of backgrounds and experiences connect to just one text?
By no means do I have concrete answers to these thought-provoking questions. However, like most teachers, I am on the constant journey of learning how to teach my students in the best ways possible. When teaching about connections in Reader’s Workshop this year, we started off by looking at the text Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. We came to understand the importance of name meanings, which lead to curiosity about the meaning of our own names, and wondering why they were selected for us. This turned into a home connection project, where every child asked their parents about their name meaning. The students then used this information to create name profiles, which were compiled into “Room 202’s Book of Names.” The children still look at this book during free choice reading time, even though we put it together months ago. They are intrigued to learn about the different cultures that are represented by the student names in our classrooms. Not only did the students learn something new about themselves, they learned to make an authentic connection with a text, which was the foundation of their learning as we continued to look at deep stories about names in The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, and My Name is Sangoel by Karenn Lyn Williams. I truly believe that this focus helped the children think deeply about the connections they make while reading, and helped them to achieve success. Check out these photos to understand more about the work the students produced.