At the start of this year, there was an epidemic of rainbows in my room--I'm not sure how else to describe it. I have nothing against rainbows. I get excited when I see them in real life, but I will admit to being somewhat less than thrilled to see rainbows on page after page after page of student writing. Not because I'm against rainbows, but because the rainbows didn't really belong there.
The kids have been writing since day one, and for the most part, they are writing stories and drawing pictures about things they have done or things they know a lot about...and in many of those drawings, there is a rainbow lurking somewhere. Sometimes the rainbow is front and center, arcing gracefully over the illustration showing when M. got her dog. Or maybe it's up in the corner, a spot of color to liven up W.'s writing about how to roller skate. In story after story and book after book, there were rainbows. Sometimes on every page. Sometimes in stories that take place completely inside. And the text? No mention of a rainbow anywhere.
I was going crazy trying to figure out why the rainbows were everywhere. These are kids that seem to know that the illustrations they create should match what they are trying to tell the reader, and in fact, when they are talking about or reading their writing, they never mention the rainbows. I was beginning to think maybe the rainbows weren't there at all and that I had developed some strange vision problem that superimposes rainbows on things.
Apparently there was a simpler explanation. It occurred to me that maybe I should ask the kids. When I did, I realized that maybe the answers shouldn't have surprised me as much as they did. Several kids said they like using all the colors when they make illustrations...and the illustration for the story didn't need them all so they added a rainbow.
Oh dear. The crayons are new. Many of them do not have things like crayons and paper at home. They want to use all the colors. I should have seen that one coming, and the fix is easy. I simply planned to provide another time and place in our day where they can create rainbows or other drawings that use each and every color crayola has.
But most of the kids looked a little confused when I asked, almost like they were as surprised as I was by the rainbows' appearances in their stories. Kid after kid had no idea why he or she had included a rainbow. S. even said, "I just always put one in."
After reflecting on it a bit, I realized that maybe I don't spend enough time at the start of the year talking about illustrations and how we can use them in our writing. After a week spent learning how to deliberately think about what to put in the illustration and how it helps show the reader what's happening and where it's happening and who was there, the rainbows started to fade. By the end of the week, they were gone, quietly and without a fight.
I'm pretty sure that the key was to focus on what does belong in illustrations--learning why we use them and how to think about it deliberately didn't really leave much room for random elements like rainbows. Though I don't know for sure, it is possible that if I had tried a no rainbow mandate things would not have gone so smoothly. Instead of the focus for kids being on what didn't belong, I chose to focus on what did belong--giving them something to include other than those mysteriously aggravating rainbows. I think it's that way with most things; if we want something to change, we probably should pour our energy into what we want to have happen so that kids know what is expected. Much more effective than putting the spotlight on what we hope goes away.
And when hearts begin randomly appearing in stories, I'll be ready.