In 4th and 5th Grade Reader’s Workshop, we have been studying The Real Thief by William Steig. In this book, Gawain the Goose is devoted to his King. He is so devoted that he takes the job as Chief Guard of the Royal Treasury, even though he truly wants to be an architect. But when the King’s treasure starts to go missing, Gawain is accused and found guilty of the theft by his beloved King. Adding insult to injury, Gawain’s friend Derek the Mouse is the “real thief” and remains silent while Gawain in blamed.
At first glance, the book seems to be an entertaining mystery or beast tale (a story in which animals play the roles of human beings in human settings). However, the story is far more complex.
The character Gawain is thought to be modeled after “Gawain the Green Knight,” most trustworthy friend of Sir Lancelot and, in some stories, the rightful heir of Camelot. The Gawain of The Real Thief is also a trusted and revered character, despite the betrayal of those close to him. The reader follows the emotions and decisions of the wrongly accused, the guilty and their friends through the book. The story has sparked interesting conversations and questions about empathy, expressing emotions and the choices we make:
- Have you ever done something that you really didn’t want to do, simply to please someone that you like?
- Have you ever suspected that someone did something wrong and later you found out that the person was innocent?
- Has anyone ever accused you of doing something wrong?
- Have you ever accused someone of doing something that they really did not do?
Thinking through questions about a text in this way allows for social-emotional learning in a safe, relaxed way while also leading our students to become more thoughtful, nuanced writers themselves. Another strategy students use to become better writers is to use a writer’s notebook to generate ideas and experiment with words and techniques.
Presently, we are learning new strategies for writing personal narratives and different ways to revise and edit. Students are learning to take the everyday events of their lives and make them into focused, well-structured stories. To begin the unit, we read a number of narrative books to explore how other authors write personal narratives. We then discussed how we can get writing tips and ideas from our favorite authors by studying their text and specifically what they do as writers.
The goal of this unit is to be able to “zoom in” on one small part of a story or event and stretch it across the page. Students learn to expand on their important moments with details, dialogue, questions and descriptive vocabulary. At the same time, students continue to work on correcting spelling, mastering grammar rules and organizing their writing.
After handwriting first drafts, students type their second drafts. Once on the computer, their writing becomes a working document. They are free to revise, edit and manipulate their work. Word processing allows students to add, cut, arrange and rewrite efficiently. At the end of every writing period, students are invited to share their writing with peers or the entire class to gain feedback and discuss revision ideas.
Meghan Sanchez-Peña, MEd
4th & 5th Grade Head Teacher