Monday, February 19, 2018

The Ultimate Character Tournament 2017-2018

The K-1 Public Vote Results.
If you follow me on Twitter, by now you will have seen tweets about #TheCharacterTournament. There have been brackets, voting updates, results, and even requests for your votes. Some people have asked questions about the "The Ultimate Character Tournament" as we're calling it for our students, and I realized I never explained what it's all about. Se let's give it a try...

The Idea: How It Started and Why
The character tournament started simply as a desire to increase engagement and excitement about reading with my elementary students. That sounds fancy and all, but basically, I just wanted something fun. At first I focused on my school, but the idea quickly expanded to include all kindergarten through fifth grade students in all eight elementary schools in our district. (And has since grown to include YOU! See below.)

The Ultimate Character Tournament, as the idea became, originally featured sixty-four characters from children's books in a seeded tournament bracket, but was eventually pared down to three divisions (K-1, 2-3, and 4-5) with sixteen characters each.

The Characters: How were they chosen?
Last May I asked elementary students and teachers in our district what characters from their reading really stood out to them from the school year. What characters were truly memorable or continued to come up in class conversations? I made some silly YouTube videos about characters, asked teachers to share them with their students, and then email me a brainstormed list from their class. I made a master character list from this straw poll including tallies of how many times each character was mentioned at each grade level.

The final list of characters came mostly from that list. Characters from popular series were given higher priority. After all, if my goal was to use characters to motivate readers, I wanted to make sure students had ample opportunity to spend time with those characters. Fly Guy, Elephant & Piggie, Jack & Annie, Greg Heffley, and Fone Bone are not only popular but are featured in multiple titles. Characters from books teachers used with students, especially read aloud titles, were also given higher priority.

The Process: Brackets and Voting
Characters were seeded based on how often they were mentioned in the straw poll, and special care was taken to ensure the best match-ups happened in later rounds. I also didn't want characters from the same book meeting too early. At the same time, some characters made perfect first round match-ups (I couldn't resist Poppleton vs. Mercy Watson in round one!).

Character lists were provided for teachers early in the year along with various promotional materials. Teachers were encouraged to introduce their students to the characters. In many cases this happened naturally. Most characters are from books that are popular year to year, and many are from books that teachers read aloud and use as mentor texts.

Voting started with K-1 after Christmas break and has progressed one round each week. Every Monday I record a video of the previous week's results and a preview of the current week's match-ups. Each week teachers take a class vote and then submit one classroom vote for each match-up. Voting is done via Google forms.

The Hope: Engaged readers
The goal of the character tournament was to create a buzz about books. By asking students and teachers which characters resonated with them, I hoped to capitalize on the reading that teachers and students were already doing.

Some teachers are using the tournament as the basis for persuasive writing. I've seen a class run out of Fly Guy books, and I negotiated a peace treaty that involved partner-reading an in-demand Ricky Ricotta book. I received a letter from a student, sent by his teacher through intercampus mail, complaining that his favorite character wasn't included. (He's a third grader, but Greg Heffley is in the 4-5 division.) Some first grade students were reading aloud to toy versions of the characters.

One might argue that students are reading the same as they were last year, but there's an added layer of engagement. There are discussions, books are being shared, and letters are being written. Students are becoming more aware of what they like to read, why, and are able to explain (and argue for) their preferences.

And Finally: I Need Your Votes!
As part of my professional development this year, I am running a public character tournament on Twitter that coincides with the one in our district. By asking for votes via Twitter, the majority of the public respondents will be teachers, librarians, and people who love children's books. Admittedly, this is an unscientific study, but the results should be interesting nonetheless. Who will our students choose? Who will adults choose? What are the differences? And how do our preferences affect the reading done in our classrooms?

Voting has already finished for the K-1 division, but the 2-3 division is just starting and 4-5 will start in April. Follow me on Twitter and watch #TheCharacterTournament for updates and weekly match-ups.

And don't forget to vote! Ballots are available on Twitter. Thanks, everyone!

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