Connecting Ideas: Explosions of Thought

by JoEllen McCarthy

2012 Literacy for All Conference Speaker and Staff Developer

Thought grenades.  Word wars. The power of an idea! These were the things that resonated with me after revisiting Frindle, by Andrew Clements. It got me wondering…

In our schools today, students and teachers are wrestling with the new Common Core State Standards.  The purpose of these new standards is to have children be career and college ready.  Ironically, career ready for those careers that do not yet exist. In the fictional book by Andrew Clements, “frindles” didn’t exist either.  That didn’t stop the main character, student Nick Allen, from wondering.

I wonder if thought grenades are the explosions of ideas that give us the ability to think more critically.  Isn’t that what we need for our students to be “career and college ready?”

Andrew Clements mentions, “Wondering and thinking are not the same things.”  Of course we want our students “to think like detectives, and read like investigative reporters” as per NY commissioner John King.  However, we want them “wondering” too.  There is a beauty that is intangible in thinking about students’ ability to wonder, to question, and to act on that inquiry.  Isn’t that the premise behind all really great ideas?  A curiosity or a passion exists that is so powerful, that it causes our students to act – to want to act: to read the next book by an author, explore a theme or to further investigate an idea, to read more, to write and in turn to think more deeply.

When we provide text sets (a string of texts around a theme, concept or idea of different genres, levels, media and resources) we provide a wider lens to spark deeper thinking.  Text sets encourage investigations that naturally help with the infamous balance of literature and informational texts required by the Common Core State Standards. But more importantly, thought grenades happen that enable us to reach our students’ diverse interests and learning styles. We can ignite their passions and allow for personalization and differentiation to meet the needs of all learners.  As facilitators of our students’ learning we need to encourage their conversations and collaborations around ideas.   Likewise, as teachers, when we talk with one another, attend conferences, book swap, friend each other on, connect as part of a Professional Learning Network like Twitter  (thanks Nerdy Book Club), our thinking grows and impacts our work with students.

In terms of the power of “thought grenades,” I will leave you with a “wonder-ful”  example.  There has been a gigantic explosion around the book Wonder, by R.J. Palaccio.  Teachers and students all over are reading the book Wonder.  The book is a must read for all.  It is also a great opportunity to create a text set around empathy:  Trudy Ludwig’s picture books My Secret Bully, Confessions of a Former Bully, Just Kidding; poetry from Baseball Snakes and Summer Squash, by Donald Graves; nonfiction short stories from Bullying & Me: School Yard Stories; videos from; or Bully, Patricia Polacco’s newest picture book that explores cyber bullying – to name a few.

We were given the gift of Wonder from R.J. Palacio.  Her idea was triggered as a result of an experience, followed by the encounter of the song Wonder by Natalie Merchant. A thought grenade happened.  In essence, because of her connection around an idea, her idea became more than a spark, it became an explosion.  Now, all over our country, thanks to R.J. Palacio, she has given us the “choose kind” mantra to wonder about…and hopefully act upon!  Deep connections across texts and around ideas increase understandings. Text sets and thought grenades both speak to the power of collaboration and connected ideas.  Be connected. Stay curious. Believe. Keep wondering. Thought grenades really do exist.


JoEllen McCarthy is a teacher, lifelong learner, and mother of 3 boy readers and writers.  She spends her days in classrooms as a regional staff developer outside of NYC.  She is passionate about literacy and has recently become addicted to Twitter. She is proud to be an official member of the Nerdy Book Club. @imalwayslearnin

JoEllen McCarthy will be presenting at the upcoming Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI.  Her session, “Reading, Writing, and Thinking Across Texts”, is scheduled for Tuesday, November 6, at 10:15 am. 

To read more about RJ Palacio

See #wonderofwonder or #choosekind on Twitter.

Recent guest blog for the Nerdy Book Club

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