Diary of a Wimpy Kid is about to absolutely rock the Hollywood box office this weekend. And it has been a rip-roaring success in the world of book publishing. As a teacher, when I see this I know that I can leverage the power of an author who has found a way to reach real kids into classroom success for me and my kids.
Here’s how I do it.
First of all, I know that the state has hired me to teach the content standards. (They clearly say so.) And when they assess my student performance, the material they test is not text specific but rather, standards-based. This means that they are not going to be testing my kids on Kafka, Twain, and Joyce but rather on denotation vs. connotation, theme, tone and so on.
And hey, Diary of a Wimpy Kid uses all of the literary elements of denotation vs. connotation, theme, tone and so on. So why not use Diary of a Wimpy Kid as a text to teach the standards in my classroom?
Now before I get crucified as being someone that does not revere the GREAT BOOKS of human civilization – a canon blaster, if you will — please take a few things into consideration.
California is a state with 6.4 million students. And 1.6 million of them are English Language Learners. This means that I need to differentiate, accommodate and be responsive to the real literary needs of the students that are sitting in my class — all while still teaching the appropriate grade level content standards.
I am not sure if there is a more accessible book for English Language Learners out there right now than Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
-It’s funny. (And kids will wrestle with text when the reward is material that will make them laugh).
-There’s a lot of white space on the page. (Check the research on the value of that to a student with low literacy skills – especially when English is not their first language).
-It’s relevant and kids relate. (The bumbling, fumbling shenanigans of Greg allow students to see their own lives reflected directly in the text.)
And Diary of a Wimpy Kid (for those who want to take a moment to jump off their high horse of that books in school absolutely must be dense, erudite art) is a good read. Personally, I greatly enjoyed it because it’s an energetic, funny and page turner.
Plus, guess what? There’s a theme. (A few of them, in fact: 1) We learn from our mistakes. 2) Self-image is very important. 3) No one escapes problems in their life. 4) You’ve got to show initiative if you are going to get anywhere in this world.)
And there are examples of denotation vs. connotation.
And the text provides me examples of tone, perspective, hyperbole and on and on.
The same stuff that the standards ask me to teach.
Should Diary of a Wimpy Kid replace Mark Twain? Nope, not even close. But can it be used as a bridge to build capacity? Can it be used as a text to illuminate literary devices?
Can it be used as a vehicle to get 100% of your class to do ALL the assigned reading? (And how often do our classes do that? I mean “faking it” through books has become so ingrained in our culture that there’s a multi-million dollar industry to provide resources as to how to better fake it — Cliff’s Notes, Spark Notes, Pink Monkey and so on.)
Yes, I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid with my classes. And guess what? It was a home-run success and a great teaching tool.
And guess what else?
We had FUN!
Since when are fun and and learning mutually exclusive to one another?
But, don’t worry — keep using those 20th century tools to reach today’s 21rst century kids. After all I am sure Hollywood is going to race right out and make a movie of your classroom textbook any day this week.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid… it certainly can have it’s place in a classroom where students are achieving.