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Wednesday, March 18, 2009


by Peter Reynolds

Universal Themes:
Creativity, Identity, Uniqueness

As five and six year-olds in kindergarten, children have a high opinion of themselves as artists. Ask a kindergarten class, "Who here is an artist?" and you'll be awash in a sea of eagerly waving hands. Over time, however, that opinion changes; some educational commentators, such as Daniel Pink, even argue that it's school's emphasis on "right answers" that is partially to blame for this.

Why is self-concept so important in learning? How large a part does a child's opinion of his or her abilities play in the risk-taking process?

That question is answered simply, skillfully, and lyrically in Ish by Peter H. Reynolds.

Before Reading Questions
  • How many of you are artists? What are some of your favorite things to draw?
  • How many of you think that your pictures are good enough to be in a museum?
  • What is one thing you're really good at? Can you do that without ever making any mistakes? How should people react when they're not perfect at something?

Ramon loves to draw; he draws anything, anytime, anywhere. That is, at least, until a careless word from his brother makes him overly critical of his work, and he becomes less and less satisfied with his drawings. Because he can't be "perfect," he no longer enjoys what was once his greatest pleasure.

Then one day he notices his younger sister grabbing one of his discarded sketches. Chasing Marisol to her room, Ramon discovers that she has hung all of his crumpled works on her wall. "That was supposed to be a vase of flowers, " Ramon sighs, "but I couldn't get it right."

"Well, it looks vase-ISH!" Marisol exclaims.

Examining the drawings on her walls, Ramon begins to see them in a whole new way. "They do look... ish, " he says.

Feeling energized and less burdened to be perfect, Ramon begins to draw what he feels. "Thinking ish-ly allowed his ideas to flow freely." He also realizes now that he draw his feelings as well (Reynolds provides some exquisite examples of abstract feelings realized visually).

And Ramon lived ish-fully ever after.

After Reading Questions
  • Why did Ramon have trouble drawing his pictures after his brother's comment? If you were Ramon, would you have reacted the same way? What could Ramon have said to his brother?
  • What does Marisol mean when she says that the picture is vase-ISH"?
  • What are some new ideas Ramon finds for his art once he starts to see the world in this new, an -ish way? Why hadn't he thought of these ideas before? (point out to students that his earlier work habits required that he always look at what he was attempting to draw)
About Peter H. Reynolds

Although you may not at first recognize his name, you do know Peter H. Reynold's work, including the Judy Moody books and the most recent reincarnations of the Fudge series by Judy Blume. Many of the extensions described below are drawn from his excellent official site as well as his FableVision media site.

Teachers and parents, you may also be interested to know that his many of his whimsical drawings are also offered as clip art at his North Star Resource Library.

Extension Ideas: Language Arts

  • From Peter's official web site, have students choose one of his watercolors for a picture prompt. While you could assign the same picture to all students, I find that they feel greater ownership, and thus greater responsibility for the quality, when they choose their own picture.
  • From his FableVision site, Peter offers some creativity tips in a section called Sparking the Creative Spirit. The ideas shared there may kindle an idea for you and your students.
Extension Ideas: Tech
  • At FableVision, Peter has created a simple tutorial for working with Flash, the popular animation program. After students view Peter's animation of a tumbling boy, as well as a simpler animation created by a second grader, they can try the process for themselves.
  • If you're looking for software that will inspire the -Ish in your students, you might consider Peter's own Animation-ish, the "world's easiest animation software program." Click on the link to check it out, and to see a free demo.
Other interesting Peter R. Reynolds links:
  • For those who enjoy writing and illustrating, and may be considering a book for children, Peter gives some tips in the Strathmore Artist Newsletter (pdf download).


Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of Peter's work and I used some of these questions in a lesson reading Ish and it was fabulous!!

Keith Schoch said...

Always pleased to hear that some of my ideas actually work outside of my own class!

Anonymous said...

These are all great questions and I am going to try them out with small groups. How did you explain what ish was to your students and also were there any other words that you focused a lot on to help your students with vocabulary?

Keith Schoch said...

Rather than explain Ish, I read the story aloud and solicited their ideas on its meanings. Using all responses, we cobbled together a definition which pleased them all. We did the same for the other words as well. We try to avoid the dictionary if context clues abound!