Depth and Complexity in “Escape”

Here are some ideas of how the depth and complexity and imperative content icons might be applied to “Escape,” one of the selections in the fourth-grade Open Court Risks and Consequences Unit. Although some of these ideas (particularly parallels) may come up in the course of a class discussion even without deliberately applying the GATE icons, I believe that by thinking, in advance, about how the icons relate to a selection, the teacher can help guide the students to think more profoundly. Of course, the questions remain of how much we want to involve ourselves in a student discussion and in what other ways we can encourage this kind of thinking during a story discussion.

Universal Theme – Power
• Does Wilbur have any power?
• What power does the Zuckerman’s have?
• How do the Zuckerman’s “control” Wilbur?

Big Idea

What statements can be made about risks and consequences?
• Sometimes we experience unanticipated negative consequences when we take a risk.
• Sometimes we take risks without really thinking about the possible consequences.
• We can be encouraged by others to take risks that we wouldn’t have otherwise
• We can regret the risks we take.

Other big ideas

• Once we get what we think we want, we may not like it as much as we thought we would.
• We may think we’re unhappy, but when we try something different, we learn to appreciate what we had.

Language of the Discipline – setting, characters, problem, climax, conclusion

Unanswered Questions

• What would have happened if he had escaped to the woods?
• Would Wilbur have liked being out of his pen if the animals hadn’t been yelling at him and the Zuckermans hadn’t tried to catch him?
• Will Wilbur start to feel bored again with life in his pen, or will he start remembering how he didn’t like it once he was out in the world?
• Does not liking to be out in the world resolve Wilbur’s issue of boredom at home?
• It said in the selection that the other animals got excited when one of their own got out.
Do the other animals wish they could escape? Might they change their mind after
seeing what Wilbur experienced?


The selection follows a familiar pattern: 1) description of setting 2) description of the problem and its cause 3) new problem arises in the course of solving original problem 4) problem is resolved.


• What might Mrs. Zuckerman be thinking?
• What might the other animals be thinking?


If the goose had not prodded him to escape, would Wilbur have left his pen if he had noticed the loose board on his own?

Convergence Many events had to have happened at the same time for the story to unfold as it did: Fern had to have not come, Wilbur had to be bored, the board had to be loose, the goose had to notice board was loose, the goose had to coax Wilbur to leave the pen, and Mrs. Zuckerman had to have been standing at the window.


How does the risk Wilbur takes compare to the risks the characters in the other selections took?
• Wilbur and Mrs. Frisby: Mrs. Frisby thought through the possible negative and positive consequences of each choice, both of which involved risk, before deciding which path to take home. Wilbur, on the other hand, didn’t think about the possible consequences of leaving his pen except that he might have thought it was a solution to his boredom.
• Wilbur and Jeremy (the crow): Wilbur’s risk is like Jeremy’s in that neither of them thought much in advance of the possible consequences. They were both motivated by a desire for pleasure.
• Wilbur and Toto: Both characters took risks of going into unknown territories.
• Wilbur and Sarah: Both took a chance because they wanted a change in their lives.

How does Wilbur’s experience relate to our own lives?
• How much freedom do we want?
• How much do we want to be taken care of?
• What’s it like being out in the world vs. staying at home?
• In what ways is Wilbur’s experience of freedom like our own experience of being “out in the world” or away from home?
• Do people in our own lives ever prod us to do something we later regret?
• Have we ever felt like Wilbur – bored with life?

Nothing comes to mind for the following icons: Patterns, Trends, Change Across Time, or Paradox. Perhaps someone else might have some ideas of how to apply those icons to this selection.

Five Habits of Highly Effective Online Students


Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of students in on-ground classes, online classes and hybrid courses too. Though the technology has changed continuously, certain things have not. Check out the five online habits used by the highest grade earners.

  1. Successful students stay in touch with the online environment. Some login once or twice every day. Others synch their wireless phones with the discussion forums and announcements. Whatever their exact method, the highest scoring students don’t wander away for days and then rush to catch up.
  2. They make the time. Every couple weeks, a student sends me an email detailing why they didn’t’ have the opportunity to do this or that and can they now please have more time. The funny thing is, these emails can run 500-700 words in length, leading me to think that if they had the chance to write all that, they had time to do their homework. The most successful students never ask for more time because they carve out as little as twenty minutes a day to stay on top of their studies.
  3. They control their time. It’s not enough just to make time; you have to manage it. Did you know as much as 25% of our time is spent shifting back and forth between projects? People call this multi-tasking, but at the end of an eight hour day, that’s two whole hours spend doing nothing but figuring out what you’re doing. Successful students dedicate blocks of time to each activity and batch similar activities together. For example, twenty minutes in the online discussion forum responding to posts. Then, full stop. Open the reading. Read for twenty-minutes. Full stop. Write for twenty minutes. You’d be amazed what I’ve seen super-busy students produced in just an hour, only by managing their time firmly. Remember also to make rest time and play time which is free of work. You need that too.
  4. Leverage new technology. A student introduced almost all the latest technology used in my classes. They’re always coming up with ways to save time, present work more efficiently or locate research. If something seems hard, google around a bit and see if there is a free app to make it easier. If there isn’t maybe you could build one and become the next internet billionaire.
  5. Reach out and get connected. Where are you going? What are your goals? Those will college degrees tend to make more than those without but don’t just sit back and wait for the jobs to come to you. The most effective students I’ve seen are in touch with prospective employers, grad schools and institutions while they’re in class. The Internet has made almost the entire world accessible, bring it into your classwork; take your classwork out into the world.