By Andrea García, Hofstra University
I want to see children curled up with books, finding an awareness of themselves as they discover other people’s thoughts. I want them to make the connection that books are people’s stories, that writing is talking on paper, and I want them to write their own stories. I’d like my books to provide that connection for them. — Patricia Reilly Giff
Finding stories that help readers become aware of themselves as they get to “discover other people’s thoughts,” like award-winning author Patricia Reilly Giff describes, ensures that readers have the opportunity to entertain multiple perspectives on life and consider multiple possibilities for what it means to be human in today’s world. Patricia Reilly Giff’s achieves these goals through her remarkable storytelling and her impeccable character development. As the author of over 80 books, including Newbery Honor Books Lily’s Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods, Giff’s stories remind us to stop and consider the power of our daily experiences, as we go about our lives meeting people who help shape our identities.
This past spring, Hofstra University’s Literature and Imagination Conference featured Patricia Reilly Giff as one of the keynote speakers. Knowing that teachers would have the opportunity to meet her at the conference, I selected Pictures of Hollis Woods and Lily’s Crossing as two of the choices for our literature circles in my Children’s Literature class. This week, my blog focuses on our transactions with Pictures of Hollis Wood featuring a multimodal response project that a group of teachers completed to represent their interpretation of the story through the creation of a multimodal text.
In Pictures of Hollis Wood, Giff introduces us to Hollis Wood, a twelve-year-old foster child with a unique artistic talent who has faced the challenges of a system that fails to provide her with a house that she can call home. That is until she meets the Reagan’s and she begins to believe that she can finally belong. After a series of unforeseen circumstances, Hollis Woods leaves the Regan family and finds herself searching once more for that special place. Then she meets Jossie, an elderly artist who recognizes Hollis’ special talent. Together, Jossie and Hollis discover the meaning of friendship and family, while they forge ahead to create a different future for themselves. Giff’s inviting narrative draws readers into considering what it means to belong, while reminding us that there is much diversity in how people experience being part of a family.
In addition to using Literary Letters to document their initial responses to the book, teachers were asked to represent their personal interpretation to the story by using multiple sign systems. The purpose of the literature interpretation project was to invite teachers to recognize the power of multiple modes of expression in responding to literature as a way to go beyond the centrality of oral and written language in response experiences. It has been well documented that in the 21st century readers encounter and compose multimodal texts everyday. Our digital tools enable us to express meaning using complex layering of images, text, music, etc. My hope was that teachers would experience this process first-hand in their responses to literature, by making choices about which sign systems would best represent their meanings, while making decisions about design, color, and medium.
In her response to Pictures of Hollis Woods, Colby created a collage juxtaposing images with print. When presenting her collage, Colby explained that she selected black and white images to represent Hollis’ dreams, and used images of a mountain to frame the background of her collage, making reference to the special time that Hollis spent with the Regan family. In the forefront, color images denote reality, and she used green and blue to represent Hollis’ life, like her artistic talent and her sense of belonging in the Regan’s house.
Jamie, on the other hand, selected a different combination of sign systems, by using objects as texts in the creation of an “I am box” for Hollis and one for herself, and then layering meaning with an “I am Poem” in two voices, one for Hollis and one for herself. Jamie explained that her interpretation of the story centered on her learning from Hollis’ experiences. Using objects as texts, Jamie featured how she came to know Hollis as a character with a different story from her own.
The second layer of Jamie’s interpretation included poetry, which captured Jamie’s intent to demonstrate her transactions with the story as she came to learn from Hollis’ unique life experiences as a foster child, contrasting them with her own experiences growing up.
Teachers also used digital storytelling and power point to create multimodal texts about people they love, centering their response on the themes of family and belonging. Reflecting on this experience, teachers expressed their initial concerns for doing this project, as some felt they needed additional guidelines from me to know “what I was looking for.” However, they also validated their transactions with the story and the learning from this experience.
I enjoyed doing the art piece on Hollis Woods. Being that I am not artistic, I originally froze when being presented with this assignment. However, I feel that it stretched my ability t and challenged me to complete something I wasn’t sure I was capable of. It was very rewarding presenting it to my classmates and receiving their feedback.
Jamie explained that the experience she most enjoyed during the semester was the literature interpretation project because “I enjoyed the freedom to express my thoughts.”
Finally, Katie’s reflection demonstrates the importance of teachers experiencing first-hand the potential of multiple modes of expression for responding to literature so that they cant hen bring these experiences into the classroom. In Katie’s words, “I see how giving students the freedom to choose how they will respond yield the most meaningful result.” Have you tried multimodal composition in responses to literature? What has been successful? What has been challenging? What have your students created?
Note from the author:
I want to acknowledge the guidance of my colleague Barbara Cohen in helping me to plan for this experience for my students this semester.
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