Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Seventh Wish: An Impact Letter

In January, my STEM partner and I posted a Donors Choose project for a class set of The Seventh Wish. We had adopted the book as part of our Healthy Choices unit in fifth grade last year and knew that learning could be more easily facilitated with multiple copies of the book to provide more equity and access for the students throughout the unit. The project was funded in under two days thanks to the generosity of many donors.

If you've ever posted a Donors Choose project before, you might remember that one of the requirements of completing the project is to write a project impact letter. I did. And I'm choosing to post that impact letter here, too. Besides, this forum allows me to include a couple additional notes (below).

Here's the letter:

Dear donors,

Thank you for the generous spirit in which you donated toward our project to fund a class set of the book The Seventh Wish.

In this note, Donors Choose wants me to describe for you what reading looks like in my classroom and what kinds of skills or lessons were introduced with these books. And I can do that. 

We read the The Seventh Wish as a class read aloud, and the class set allowed students to hold their own copy and follow along while I read. For the most part, we shared this book apart from our regular reading workshop routine with explicit lessons and lots of choice reading. In my Humanities classroom, we read a lot, write a lot, and talk about reading and writing a lot. The Seventh Wish invited many conversations about character development as we looked closely and shared the actions, emotions, and conflicts of Charlie and her family. We shared many conversations rooted in students' inferences and interpretations. While reading The Seventh Wish there were ample opportunities to model what deeper comprehension looks like with the Notice and Note signposts (Beers and Probst, 2012) and share responsibility for noticing places that made us think. Having a class set of the book available for students to read along, mark passages that prompted thinking, and return to the book for evidence to support their claims made instruction easier and more equitable.

What Donors Choose doesn't know to ask me is what the impact of your gift was beyond the predictable and generalizable methods and strategies for teaching reading. Beyond teaching reading skills and comprehension, I aim to teach students about themselves and others and this complex world we share. The impact of having a class set of The Seventh Wish to use in the classroom is eyes opened, minds challenged, and hearts touched. Inside the pages of The Seventh Wish, our fifth graders met a character a lot like themselves, and through this book-friendship, the students witnessed the struggle and strain of life impacted by drug use/abuse and addiction. 

Some of my students' lives have been personally impacted by addiction already. "Sometimes it's hard for me to like read aloud right now because three people in my family have died from addiction," one student confided quietly as we closed our books for the day. Another student shared vulnerably, "I know that addiction can mess up families, that's what my biological parents did." Other students have perhaps been shielded and are more naive in their realizations, showing their developing understanding with assertions that they will "never try beer." Sharing Charlie's story in The Seventh Wish anchored all of us on common ground, with one story to share and talk about that - whether familiar or new - was distant enough for students to be both curious and anonymous.

The DARE program has been part of the fifth grade students' experience for a long time, and while DARE educates students about the health effects of drug use and supports students with skills to resist and make positive decisions, DARE alone is not enough. Including The Seventh Wish in our Healthy Choices unit has brought the rippling impact and effects of risky choices to life as students imagined themselves in the place of Kate Messner's characters, the Brennan family. The story of addiction in The Seventh Wish is an important compliment to the sterile facts students receive from DARE.

There's no doubt for me that each students' takeaway was personal and individual. Yet, if I were to try to summarize the most significant shifts in their thinking, I would choose two repeated messages. First, students came away with a strong understanding that addiction is not undone and that recovering addicts work hard every day to make better choices. Through Abby's story, kids could see that there is no going back to "before drugs." And second, it resonated with students that one person's risky choices impact entire families and circles of friends. Whether it was their resentment of the change of plans that caused Charlie to miss the Montreal feis or their heartbreak in hearing Charlie's mom meltdown or the worry they shared with Mrs. McNeill, the students' empathetic muscles - their heads and hearts - responded.

I had the opportunity to see and hear the impact of reading The Seventh Wish with students every day. I saw the impact as students' conceptual understanding of addiction changed. I heard students revise their thinking about who uses drugs and why. I heard them grapple with the same sense-making as many of us about how addiction can be so strong that it causes people to lose control of their choices. It's difficult to say with certainty what the impact of this project will be in five years, or eight, or fifteen...but I believe that as these students grow, their memories of Charlie and Abby and broken promises and tried relationships might inspire them to act with compassion, remind them they are not alone, and influence care about their own choices.

Your gift made it possible to educate students in a most meaningful way. Thank you.

With gratitude,
Ms. Guerrette

Here's a smattering of the responses students shared on Padlet:

You can hear some of the students sharing thoughts in their own words about The Seventh Wish on our classroom FlipGrid. (Warning: There are *lots* of spoilers in their videos!)

The impact of The Seventh Wish has trickled outward from our classrooms, too. My Donors Choose project impact letter wasn't the place to mention the impact of The Seventh Wish on others in our greater school community. The morning after the project was posted, one of our new teachers let me know she had seen our project and did I have a copy she could please borrow, she has a family member who is dealing with addiction. I listened while she shared what was on her heart. And soon another colleague was saying the same. One morning soon after, a parent of a former student who works at a near by quick-stop store mentioned seeing the project and voiced her support for talking about big topics with kids. And still later in the project, another new colleague stopped by with a question and spotted the twenty-six donated copies on students' tabletops, waiting for their return. "What's this book?" she asked with casual and innocent curiosity. I started to book talk. "Seriously?" she interrupted. "Can I take one? Is there one I could borrow? This sounds like it is so my story." Yes. Yes, she left with my partner teacher's own copy.

When we made the decision to give The Seventh Wish to our students as a shared experience, we did not foresee the way incorporating the book into the fifth grade experience would also help provide so many others a place to see themselves, too, and make it ok to acknowledge a part of their lives they otherwise kept to themselves. Reading The Seventh Wish with our students has sent the message to students - and staff, alike - that it's ok to talk about this topic here.

I knew from past experience that The Seventh Wish is a catalyst to important conversations and learning. I'm grateful that we'll continue to share this book with our fifth graders, and these multiple copies definitely help.

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