Grandma's Pear Tree Part 1: The Literacy Café Experience

For those of you who have been following me on twitter, you have heard me refer to Book Cafés or Literacy Cafés.  The Café was developed from a brainstorming conversation I had with a parent (Angie) who was a former High School Teacher and Literacy Coach.  One of my goals for my school this year was for children and teachers to come together to form a reading community.  A place were books were important and where children were inspired to pick up a book and read.

After three years at my school, I was frustrated in the reading progress being made by the children.  Each year, the teachers and I discussed the concern of how to build greater reading comprehension and greater reading abilities in all children.  Each year we tried new strategies and techniques, and each year our students seemed to show less interest rather than more interest in reading.  Then came the concept of a Literacy Café.

What is special about a Literacy Café?
 Cafés are always centered around a book.  Cafés always include food.  Cafés are created to assist students in synthesizing the information that they have learned in the book and to take it to a new level.

How does a Literacy Café work?
Recently, Children's Author, Suzanne Santillan stopped by for a school visit.  In order to prepare the children in Kindergarten to Second Grade for her visit, a Literacy Café was developed.  Each Café is unique and often, we have learned so much from doing it that if we were to repeat it, the Café would look different the second time. 

In the case of Grandma's Pear Tree, we developed the Café to work with children in kindergarten to second grade.  Children rotated between the following three activities (remember each café has different activities).

Activity One: Retelling and Sequencing Grandma's Pear Tree
A kindergartner draws the beginning, middle and end of the story.
Objective One:  Children will be able to verbally sequence the events in the story using complete sentences.

Children were read the story Grandma's Pear Tree.  With the support of picture cards, children retold the story checking to make sure that all of the items were properly sequenced.

Objective Two: Using a flow map, children will be able to draw picture representations of the beginning, middle and end of the story.
Following the retelling/re-enactment of the story, children were given a flow map and asked to draw pictures representing the beginning, middle and end of the story.  The above map was created by a kindergartner. 

Activity Two: Pear Science
Children had a chance to feel, smell, look at, and taste pears vs. avocados.
Objective One:  Children will be able to compare and contrast the features/characteristics of a pear and an avocado. 

Children were asked to think like a scientist and to use all of their senses in comparing a pear to an avocado.  They looked at and held each fruit, compared the outsides and insides of the fruit, measured and weighed the fruit, and in the end got to do a taste test. 

Activity Three: Sensory Adjectives & Cooking
Recipe Card used by a child to make the salad.
Objective One: During a cooking project using pears, children will be able to generate sensory adjectives for all of the foods/tastes in a Pear Salad.  Children will use these adjectives in developing a name for the salad. 

Objective Two: Children will be able to follow simple directions (a recipe) in order to make a pear salad.

Children were assisted in creating a pear salad.  Once they had a chance to eat some of it, an adult led them through a process of identifying sensory adjectives that best fit their taste experience.  When done with that, they were encouraged to create a name using at least one of the sensory adjectives.

What we have discovered about Cafés? 

Here are just a few of the things that we have learned about cafés over the course of this year:
* Cafés bring books to life and make what a children has heard or read take on new meaning.
* Cafés allow teachers to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all learners - children with special needs, English Language Learners, and even Gifted children.
* Cafés develop a sense of community and shared experiences between learners and leaders (volunteers, staff, etc.). 
* Cafés are living and evolving all the time.  We are always trying to figure out new ways to help children grasp a concept and apply it in a new way.

I am thankful to Angie for her willingness to go on this journey with me this year.  Her creativity and passion has helped me put wheels and a mega-engine on my literacy goals this year.  Without her, I am certain I would be still floundering around.  I also want to thank all of the parents, community members, teachers and students who have been on this journey and who have taught me so much about learning and books.  And I want to thank Suzanne for letting me use her book and her visit to talk about our cafés. 

Tomorrow:  Suzanne Santillan visits San Rafael School to talk about Grandma's Pear Tree