Big Followers in Little Books

Posted by jlubans on March 04, 2014

One of the most engaging activities in my teaching involves children’s books.* I put the students into small groups (4 or 5) and give each group a blank piece of paper and a box of crayons. Then I have each team choose a children’s book from the several I’ve brought to class, and I tell them to go to it!
Why this assignment? Two reasons.
One is for the students to feel more comfortable with each other. Last week, I deliberately selected the just-appointed project teams to do the children’s book assignment. The project teams need to become effective groups as quickly as they can, so this is a low-risk way to begin the process of team-formation. I wanted them to see early on who on their project team has ideas (or not), who draws well, who synthesizes the assignment well, who takes initiative (or does not), and who keeps the group on task or not? Most of these questions got answered in this 20-minute activity.
And my second reason, equally important as the first, is to get the students thinking about the class topic – following and leading. All four of the children’s books included a few if not all of these stereotypical followers: The Yes Man, the Sheep, the Star, the Pragmatist and the Alienated follower. And, each book almost always has a least likely hero stepping up and succeeding. It’s a group dynamics’ concept well worth re-stating; the solution to a problem may come from the quietest member of the team or that the most creative person on the team may be the one perceived as the most different. These are workplace lessons worth repeating and where better and safer than class to make it manifest?
Caption: Rācenis (Turnip) Illustrated by Jevgeņija Antoņenkova.
Caption: Three hands drawing.
And, so it is that the mouse in the giant Turnip story adds his miniscule weight to the struggle, just enough to wrench the turnip free!
And, it is the humble page in “King Bidgood's in the Bathtub” that pulls the plug (an Occam’s Razor solution, no less) and gets the King out of the tub.
20140304-Menesim robs8.jpg
Caption: Mēnesim robs : Liels un mazs. By Ojārs Vācietis.
Caption: Reporting out to the class.
And, it is the little boy who among all those with good excuses to do nothing challenges the Putin-esque monster to give back the moon.
Caption: Sharing a laugh.
And, finally it is the little chick in “Tippy-Toe Chick, Go!” that displays the most bravery when all others cower at the barking dog. The little guy is brave and resourceful enough to confront the dog and get everyone to the potato bugs!
20140304-Sanita explain*8.jpeg
Caption: Reporting out.
So, how effective is this teaching technique? Is this over-simplifying a complex topic?
Not really if the students have done the several background readings prior to the assignment. The group work encourages creativity in their presentation and to draw the connections among the books, the drawings, the readings and the lectures. Could I not just let them read Kelley’s classic “In Praise of Followers” and leave it at that? Could I not just add my two-cents-worth in a lecture and let that suffice? Perhaps.
For me, the assignment helps the students better understand the concepts and, to form initial relationships within the team. This is clearly influenced by each team’s having to present their interpretation – their group work - of the story to the class; in most cases with everyone participating.

* The idea comes from Frances R. Yates, Director of the Indiana University East Library; it’s one she presented at the ALA conference in DC June 2010.

Leading from the Middle Library: University of West Florida

Copyright John Lubans 2014

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