Reflective Renewal

finding meaning and inspiration in children's literature

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Reflecting on Description & Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

October 27th, 2009 by christine · No Comments · Uncategorized

How do these Hollywood screenwriters create an entire feature-length film out of a simple children’s picture book?

CloudyIn the case of the recent release of Sony Picture’s “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” which was based on the 1978 children’s picture book of the same name by Judi Barnett and illustrated by Ron Barnett, I think there may be at least two explanations.  First, the book contains rich description, which I always loved as a teacher to inspire my students to write with vivid details.

Second, as is the case with so many wonderful children’s books, while Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs may seem like a simple picture book, it actually contains a great deal of complexity in its simple pages.  The concept of food falling from the sky is obviously creative, fun, and unique.  Imagine the possibilities!

While engaged in writing instruction with my 4th graders in Vermont several years ago, I asked the children to write their own, original versions of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Not surprisingly, they soared with this assignment, and it proved to be some of their best writing of the year.  The book itself already served as a perfect role model.  Then, I did some brief, explicit instruction on how to add lots of descriptive details about the food, and the results were incredible—delicious, really!  There is nothing like reading a story with excellent, image-filled description.  We took the simple concept of food falling from the sky, and allowed any complexities to flourish.

As teachers, I think there are powerful lessons to be taken away from this Cloudy recollection.  One idea that I can’t get out of my head is that teachers are always asked to reflect, yet are rarely shown how to reflect.

So, what is reflection, anyway? We all know it’s important, yet are we doing it?  Are we doing it correctly?  Even our website is called Reflective Renewal, for goodness sake!

Well, much of purposeful reflection comes from rich description, so in much the same way I love Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs for its descriptive nature and how it inspired my 4th graders to describe in vivid details, I ask teachers to do the same.  As educators, when we encounter a situation that requires reflection (it may be an issue, a conflict, a perplexity) first describe it in detail.  Until you have thoroughly described the situation, you cannot move forward to the next step, which is analysis.

Let’s face it—in order to really analyze a situation, one must first have all of the details. So, once a teacher has thoroughly described the situation, she may then analyze it.  This analysis may happen best in trusted community with others, so that several perspectives can be offered and considered.

Once some analysis has occurred, then the teacher can begin to take intelligent action and grow to move on to the next experience.  Moving forward in this meaningful way is much better than dropping a situation like a hot potato, or ignoring it all together.  With a little courage and support from others, we don’t need to avoid sticky situations, and we can move forward instead of staying stuck or even regressing.

So, let’s all take some inspiration from the imaginative, descriptive writing of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and our creative 4th graders when it comes to our own reflection.

To all of you readers out there– As teachers and as women, on what do you wish to reflect?  What’s going on in your lives that could use a gentle nudge from a supportive community?

If you’d like to read more about reflection, I published a brief article in 2004 entitled “How Does Collaborative Reflection Play a Role in a Teacher Researcher’s Beliefs About Herself and Her Teaching?: Discovering the Power of Relationships” that was published in The Journal of Natural Inquiry & Reflective Practice.

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