It’s Friday afternoon in the resource room. The regular resource teacher is absent, so I’m trying to take her place. Five students and I sit around a circular table. We’re reading a chapter from the book, Who Would Win? This section features two sharks, the hammerhead and the bull shark. It’s not really important to know who would win in a fight between sharks, but it provides some conflict and a chance to make predictions. We begin by making a prediction based on any background knowledge we have. I tell the readers that they may change their mind at any time if they get new information from the text.
Right from the start, J. has questions. “A bull?! There are sharks that are bulls?” He can’t quite get his mind around that idea. He demands a picture. I slide a copy of the book to him, and he inspects the photograph. It looks nothing like any bull he’s seen before. Then he spies the hammerhead. “Oh man! That is an ugly shark!” I’m thinking that I’ve never actually seen any sharks that I considered particularly attractive, but I understand J.’s reaction. It’s an odd looking creature.
I ask each reader to make a prediction in their notebook, even if they don’t have much background information. J., R., M. and A. predict victory for the bull shark. Sensing a landslide, I cast my vote for the hammerhead. I find, yet again, that I am not much of an influencer. S. joins me on Team Hammerhead.
As we dive into the text, we get information about the habits and the attributes of these two sea creatures. We find that hammerheads are twice as large as bull sharks. No one switches sides. We learn that hammerheads hang out in groups, while the bull shark is more solitary. No one changes teams. We discover that the bull shark gets its name from its tendency to bump potential prey before deciding to attack. We also learn that the bull shark is aggressive, while the hammerhead often avoids battles. I tell S. that I’m considering a change. She doesn’t budge.
The book has some humorous features as well. On one page it lists things that both creatures can’t or won’t do. A hammerhead doesn’t bake cakes, and a bull shark can’t paint pictures like Michelangelo.
“Who’s Michelangelo?” J. asks.
“He was a painter and a sculptor who lived about 500 years ago,” I reply.
“Is he dead?” S. asks. I remind her that he would be over 500 years old, so yes, he has died. I add that his paintings and sculptures are still very popular, though. I resist any allusions to Ninja Turtles and try to steer the conversation back to sharks.
On another page, we see a text box that informs us that sharks have been on earth for 29 million years.
“I doubt that,” says J. He is naturally skeptical of all information, print or otherwise.
“Why is that?” I ask.
“Because, we’re only in the year 2022. That’s way less than 29 million.”
“That’s true,” says M. “I think J. is right.”
I try to explain that creatures have inhabited the earth for much longer than the years on our current calendar. That’s just a calendar that humans created, but it’s not the beginning of the earth. I can see that J. is doing some thinking. I sense that we are about to get into a discussion of how the world was created. We have about ten minutes left in the day. I am doubting we can discuss religion, dinosaurs, calendars, creation, and the big bang theory and still have time to settle the important shark vs. shark debate. I steer the ship back to sea.
In the final pages of the section, the authors describe a theoretical battle in which the gentler hammerhead tries to avoid a confrontation, only to be bumped, badgered and bitten by the bull. Team Bull is cheering wildly, sensing blood in the water. I stop before any graphic mayhem and ask the readers to write their conclusion, basing it on evidence.
J.’s initial sentence is brief. “I was right! The hammerhead would lose because it’s ugly.” I beg him to dive a bit deeper. Reluctantly he adds, “And because the bull is aggressive and the hammerhead is heavier and slower.” I dismiss the group, most of whom are feeling superior to the substitute teacher.
As they say in the blurbs, “Read to find out if J. is right.”