Thursday, April 24, 2014

Compare & Contrast

I did a workshop yesterday at the Rockland County BOCES for K-6 librarians and other literacy types on pairing books for the Common Core.  The ELA Anchor Standard 9 is "Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take."  The specific standard varies by grade, of course, and is different for fiction and nonfiction.  But the basic idea is one of the best ways to start analyzing books.  Participants in the workshop paired up, with each pair reading two short biographies of the same person.  
First as a group, we looked at Jane O'Connor's Drawing with Scissors, illustrated by Jessie Hartland, and Jeanette Winter's Henri's Scissors, both about Matisse.  We'd talked about aspects of picture book biographies that kids might compare: illustrations, structure, tone, content, scope, point of view, vocabulary, uses, etc.  I provided everyone with a simple compare/contrast graphic organizer in which books could be contrasted by a few categories like those.  The O'Connor biography uses a frame of a student writing a paper on Matisse, and includes photographs, reproductions of Matisse's artwork, and some childlike drawings from the student narrator.  The artwork in Winter's book echoes Matisse's but doesn't include reproductions or photographs.  The O'Connor tone is upbeat and informative; Winter's text is shorter and more lyrical.  

 In looking at other biographies, some of the pairs of participants found one better for reading aloud, while the other worked for independent reading.  Some biographies focused on one part of the person's life while many cover the whole life in brief.  Some participanats found the two books complemented each other while others found they provided pretty much the same information.  The goal was to try an exercise to do with students, and the response was enthusiastic.  Middle school librarians felt that it would even work well with their students, short as the biographies were.  For younger students, a Venn diagram might be a better way for them to organize similarities and differences.
Sometimes it's easier to see a book's features in comparison to another book.  For example, we tend to assume biographies will be chronological, as most are.  So when a student reads What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz, the structure may seem insignificant.  But if the student then reads, Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta, the differences in the structures jump out. Both books supply a lot of information about Franklin's life but Now & Ben does it through looking at his inventions and innovations and their influences on the present. The discussion topic is then, "Why did the author do it this way?" and "How well does it work?"

The Compare-Contrast graphic organizer we used can be found here:

1 comment:

  1. This is a very useful idea. There are so many pairs of books that can be used. The experience of making these comparisons is eye-opening.