The photograph called
La Salle at Amsterdam, New York, 1946
by Todd Webb shows a group of children holding hands circling a pipe spraying water into the air in the middle of the street so they can cool off on a hot day.
I chose this image to begin the teaching of my unit on point of view and writing detail. I am hopeful that the old saying --"a picture is worth a thousand words" will be true for my third grade students because many of them have difficulty finding topics to write about. Once they do find topics they often have difficulty expanding those ideas with the result that their writings tend to be short, direct, and of little interest.
Point of view in literature is that basic decision that everyone who writes must make about who is going to tell the story. Most students are taught point of view as including 1st person, 2nd, third person, and omniscient. When we are taught writing we begin with the first person narrative using the pronoun "I". This is in keeping with the long held recognition that students write better about personal experiences. Even with this students have difficulty stretching out their experiences into exciting stories that their readers might enjoy. They usually fail to tell what something feels like rather than showing it in words. In endeavoring to have students expand their sentences it is amazing how much language we use that goes to the subject of film or photography. We speak to our children of stopping the action and taking whatever is happening in a slow motion or frame by frame moment like a film. Often we use the term "snapshot" to talk about a particular feeling, moment, or critical object in a story. If the child is talking about a favorite gift they received -- perhaps a Teddy Bear-- the teacher would tell the student that rather than just saying "I got a Teddy Bear for my birthday", they should stop the action and then describe this bear. Instead of saying "I was scared" they might say "My heart was beating fast and I could feel my hands shaking."
While writing this unit I have reread some of the writings of Donald H. Graves whose books
Writing: Teachers and Children at Work
A Fresh Look
at writing are standard references for teaching writing in schools. Graves is a proponent of the writer's workshop approach. He acknowledges that students have a tough time finding topics to write about in their everyday lives. He advocates showing students how to "read their world." I am proposing a monthly use of photography as a way to energize my students' writing.
Most of the photos I have chosen have been reviewed with my students to see their responses. A few of the photos that seemed like initial possibilities were eliminated because they might be deemed controversial for young children. Ultimately the deciding factors were: could the photo interest children and could we build enough of an initial connection that would make it practical to discuss the picture? In some cases students' response was limited or they seemed to require more background than I really wanted to provide. Doing so I felt would make looking at the picture more a regurgitation of what they would perceive to be the "proper" interpretation.