September 23-28 is “Banned Book Week” so we stopped by Lee Hall to see if there were any banned books gracing the bookshelves of our Upper School teachers. We had five books in our hands within seconds.

“We don’t seek out banned books,” says Mrs. Jaffe, a sixth grade English teacher. “We seek out books that require students to infer in order to understand the deeper meaning of the stories. We seek out books that engage students’ critical thinking skills. Each day, our students discuss what happened in a chapter, what motivated the character to respond the way he did, what connections we can make to previous chapters or other books, and what clues were provided that help us predict what may happen next. Each book on our shelves requires students to use their critical thinking skills to better understand the story. These books are not simply plot driven stories that tell the reader everything that is happening while explaining why characters are acting the way they are.”

Each book on our shelves requires students to use their critical thinking skills to better understand the story. ~ Mrs. Jaffe

“Some of our favorite books happen to be books that have been banned by other schools,” continues Mrs. Jaffe. “Hatchet has been banned because some parents are uncomfortable with the trauma Brian experiences. The Giver has been banned because of Jonas’ rebelliousness when he breaks away from his society. Chains has been banned because of its graphic description of slavery. These books are beautifully written and more importantly they are written in a way that respects the reader. They do not dilute difficult situations or talk down to middle school readers. They are honest about difficult topics. This brave writing inspires our discussions, debates, disagreements, and love for literature.”

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Hatchet and the Sixth Grade Survival Trip

The students spend quality time in the outdoors and learn the self-sufficiency needed to stay in the outdoors by choice or by need.

The program reinforces and expands on the classroom curriculum of the survival literature unit and the life science unit by offering insight into the history of the residents of the area and by demonstrating actual examples of the technology and culture of early local Native Americans. Specifically, the students learn how food is obtained in the wild, how to build friction fires, make tools, create string from plant material and practice archery.

Cross-Curricular: Hatchet

The outdoor survival activities parallel the fiction adventure Hatchet, the first unit of study in sixth grade English. In this example, Mr. Legge, our Upper School Science Chair, recreates the novel on a 2-day overnight trip along the Shenandoah River. The sixth grade Survival Trip is organized by Upper School faculty and led by Mountain View Ltd., which specializes in teaching primitive living skills and survival activities. The outdoor survival activities parallel the fiction adventure Hatchet, by recreating different scenes presented in the book.

“They recreate a scene in the book during the trip where Brian, the main character, makes fire by gathering material in the woods,” recalls Mrs. Jaffe. “The students have been reading the book and the survival trip activities make the literature come alive for them.”

Reading this book allows the students to hone their inference skills and prepares them for the detailed reading they will be doing for the rest of the year. After we discuss each chapter, the students add to squares they have made in their notebooks. One square is labeled man vs. nature, and the other square is labeled man vs. self.

They engage in thoughtful discussions about the battles Brian faces against nature, but also the battles he has with himself. They write well-supported essays about the conflicts Brian faces in the book. When the group has finished Hatchet, they have a better understanding of the types of conflicts we find in literature.

“After reading Hatchet, I have a better understanding of each child’s strengths.” ~ Mrs. Jaffe

“After reading Hatchet, I have a better understanding of each child’s strengths,” says Ms. Jaffe, the sixth grade English teacher. “This knowledge allows me to differentiate their reading experience. I am then able to guide each student toward a more challenging book in order to strengthen their reading skills. The lessons we practiced while reading Hatchet for 3 weeks will be the lessons we hone in smaller book groups.”

Their in-depth reading of Hatchet also prepares the sixth graders for their Survival Trip. This is an overnight trip that involves spending lots of time in the Shenandoah River. They will see some of the most beautiful parts of the river and will camp across from tall cliffs that look over a calm part of the water.

Brian’s ability to make fire is a pivotal part of the book and the students learn how to make fire using items found in nature. While Brian remained alone in nature for 54 days, our students spend two beautiful days kayaking, canoeing, making arrowheads and blow darts, practicing archery, and sleeping under the stars.


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