I was pleased with how deeply the students got into the book, and I would certainly use it again in a sixth grade class. I’d have the students do more writing (probably in a journal-type format) about their reactions to Ishmael. I’d also hold them more accountable for vocabulary: rather than giving them a final vocabulary exercise, I’d incorporate the new words into our discussions on a more regular basis. I’d recommend balancing the critical reading component for the philosophical sections of the book with regular reading for the sections of plot — a technique I’ll try in the future.
The daily moderating process was remarkable. Sixth graders are a creative bunch, and my students really took the opportunity to create some engaging classroom dialogues as moderators, using either the techniques I suggested or the ones they created themselves. Any opportunity to provide them with a creative outlet for the ideas in the book proved useful. We even got the students together with a class of twelfth graders who had read the book, and they put together a full-length film version of their interpretation of the book. Very cool!
There are all kinds of ways to spin off the ideas in the text (ecology, media studies and literacy, ancient history, current events, etc.). I’d advise going slowly at first, and laying the philosophical groundwork. I found that students this young needed to be reminded continually of their responsibilities to the text and to each other. But they soon found that learning from one another is both challenging and fun, and I was rewarded by realizing that I’d empowered these students to be independent learners — certainly a worthwhile goal. Ishmael is of great significance in raising challenging and provocative questions about our own culture, where we’ve been, and where we’re headed. Thus, it’s an important book.
(In their original form, each of the following examples was a sheet of one or more pages. We’ve condensed — and in some cases abridged — them because of space limitations. But because these students are the youngest we know of using Ishmael, we wanted to give you most of the actual material used with the class. ED.)