"I'm making the water!" exclaimed José, as he ran his water logged paintbrush along the brick wall outside our school."Yes, you are painting with the water!" I reaffirmed, "You're painting on the bricks.""The bricks!?" José replied, incredulously. "Like the Three Pigs!"
This short exchange was eye-opening for me. Last winter, just about a month after José joined my class, we did an unit about folktales. A major focus of this unit was The Three Little Pigs; we read several versions of the book and integrated concepts from the story across our classroom -- we had bricks, sticks, and straw in the discovery center, a Three Little Pigs puzzle in the toys and games center, pig puppets in the block center, story retelling props in the library, and more. We made a graph of our favorite characters from the book, acted out the story, found sets of "three" all around the classroom, talked about the materials used to make our homes and school, and made predictions about who could blow the bricks, sticks, and straw. My students were completely enamored with the story, and having elements of the plot infused throughout our classroom prompted them to make connections between the book and their own experiences.
While my students were experts about the Three Little Pigs last winter, I was definitely caught off guard when José brought it up this year! He had limited expressive language skills in both English and Spanish when he came to school, and during our folktales unit he was only speaking in one to two word utterances. I knew, by observing his play, that he understood the basic plot of the book, but it was hard for me to grasp his comprehension of the details. The fact that he instantly made the association between the word "bricks" and The Three Little Pigs -- nine months after we had read the folktale -- was a real testiment to his deep level of understanding!
As I spent this past weekend planning for our next unit which focuses on winter, I strived to structure my lesson plans in such a way that my students could make connections across all subject areas and parts of the day. Books about snow, hibernation, and seasonal changes will be at the focus of the unit, and my students will have ample opportunities to retell stories, interact with ice (and hopefully snow!), graph the temperature, make caves in the blocks center, prepare for winter in the dramatic play center, and more. I hope that next year, when it starts to get cold outside, José will once again be able to make connections to what he learned last year in school!