"Why do potatoes make good detectives? They keep their eyes peeled."
This was one of many amusing jokes our students and teachers enjoyed together as part of our Community Read program. A Community Read or One Book program is a shared reading experience where members of a community all read and discuss one book. These programs are designed to bring books and people together.
The idea for the "one book" movement began in 1998 when librarian Nancy Pearl, executive director of the Washington Center for the Book in the Seattle Public Library, initiated the themed program "If All Seattle Read the Same Book." The concept of community reading has now spread to all 50 states. You can find examples of Community Read programs in many public libraries and schools across the country.
This year was the first time that the Detroit Country Day Lower School participated in this type of program. The book Potato Pants! by Laurie Keller was chosen for a full month of planned activities. It was a tremendous success, and here are five reasons why we loved it!
Building a Love of Reading
Building a culture of reading is a goal of our school community. Planning opportunities to develop a love of reading is something we are always working towards. This program allowed us to make books a big part of our conversations at the start of the school year.
Using what we know about Mind Brain Education (MBE), we started by building student schemas with a week of pre-reading activities related to the book Potato Pants! These included sharing potato jokes, placing real potatoes around the school, and sharing potato and pants facts. By sharing a bit about what was coming without providing all the information, we were able to grow excitement and acquired background knowledge.
Then, as we moved through the remainder of the month, all students in preschool through third grade read the book and gained skills in comprehension and social emotion learning concepts. This is what our plan looked like.
Discovering Our Inner Potatoes
One of the MBE concepts we planned as part of this unit was to provide dedicated time in the school day to build a culture of belonging where each learner felt appreciated as part of the learning community. After reading the book, each child in kindergarten through third grade was given a picture of a potato. They were told to design their potato to represent themselves. For example, if a student loved to sing, they might have added a microphone to their potato. If a child adored superheroes, they might have turned their potato into one. These projects were then hung outside of each classroom so that others could see the variety of representations.
While reading the book a second time, classes identified the emotions that the main character experienced. Then students were asked to reflect on what Potato had learned throughout the book. Students were asked to share their reflections using an app called ChatterPix. This app allows you to take a picture and then make it talk. Students were excited to have their personalized Potato share their ideas. View their videos by entering the password LS.
Collaboration Between Classrooms
Since all faculty and students read the story, it was not uncommon to hear conversations happening around the building about potatoes. In kindergarten through third grade classrooms, teachers and students were participating in similar projects, so they were able to share their work. Several of the preschool classes were able to take potato walks to view the various potato displays throughout the hallways while learning about the layout of the school building and connecting with other grade levels.
This collaboration happened beyond the homerooms as well. The essential area teachers planned potato activities too. Although potatoes were the connecting theme, each classroom added to its curriculum objectives. For example, in science, first-grade students were learning about plants, so they identified how potatoes grow. Second graders were learning about insects, so the potato bug (aka the rollie pollie) was added to their discussions. In music, students learned potato songs and dances too. Students in preschool and JK enjoyed the book in the library and designed their version of potato pants to add to potatoes around the room.
Partnership Outside Our School Walls
As part of our Community Read, we wanted to connect beyond the walls of our school building. We were able to purchase a copy of the book for each student in kindergarten through third grade. This book was used in the classroom while reading aloud. Then students were able to take the book home to share with their families. This allowed the reading experience to extend beyond the school day. Parents were excited to be part of the experience as well.
To end the unit, the author and illustrator Laurie Keller spoke with students during a virtual author visit. Students were able to learn where her idea for Potato Pants! came from and a bit about her life as an author. She even gave us a drawing lesson showing us how to make emotions come through our illustrations. She was excited to hear about all the things we had been doing to relate to her book!
Fun for All Involved
The Community Read allowed us to really start the year in an engaging yet focused way. Potatoes were everywhere! Teachers and students alike were sharing potato jokes and turning their potatoes into unique characters in their classrooms. From a potato who was deep sea fishing to one that transformed into an insect, the creativity was endless.
To wrap up the unit, we celebrated with Potato Pants! Day. All students and staff were encouraged to wear a fun pair of pants to school. The sillier, the better! It was entertaining to see everyone sharing their potato pants together.
This program went beyond our expectations and we are so excited to see what book will be chosen for next year!
Cole, John Y. “One Book Projects Grow in Popularity News from the Center for the Book.” One Book Projects Grow in Popularity - Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Jan. 2006, www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0601/cfb.html.
The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning. The Elementary Roadmap, St. Andrew's Episcopal School, 2020.
Bardeen, Tara. “Community Reads Program Guide: Build a Lifelong Love of Reading.” Scholastic, Inc. https://www.scholastic.com/content/dam/scholastic/educators/discussion-guides/community-reads-program-guide.pdf