Recently, Ilana Sinay’s seventh-grade language arts students related their own experiences to the main character of Fish in a Tree, a story about a girl named Ally with dyslexia, who struggles in school until a teacher recognizes her learning disability and helps her obtain supports.
Always a popular part of the language arts curriculum, this unit included a deep exploration of text-to-self connections, with students sharing their own experiences in school before joining the Windward community. “This novel has been a student favorite for a while, as it’s highly relatable for our students. It features a smart, creative character who had been told for years that she was not trying hard enough, when, in truth, she just wasn’t receiving the right instruction,” Ms. Sinay shared.
Students participated in complex discussions about the internal and external conflicts experienced by the protagonist, inferring what the character may be feeling in a specific moment. At one point in the story, Ally surprised her class by solving a complicated riddle. Ms. Sinay had students pause their reading prior to the solution’s reveal, and she encouraged them to try solving it as well. Another lesson included students filling in a story grammar frame, an outline for the book, where they identified the main problem and how the character tried to solve it.
Students highly engaged with the unit, with some volunteering how they felt at their former schools, feeling left out in class or unable to understand what seemed to come easily to others. One student mentioned that they felt that school didn’t truly start for them until they came to Windward. Ms. Sinay explained, “Students really connected to the message in the story about how dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities are not inherently negative; instead, they just represent a different way in which information travels through the brain and can actually be a great strength.”