I met my students where they are, and it was a magical experience.
Yesterday, a group of students went to the high school library with me to choose independent reading books.
(By the way, I have the coolest classroom ever, in my opinion, because when you go through my second door, you enter the library. It’s right there for me to use almost any time I choose.)
Overheard during our search for the perfect book:
- “I haven’t been in a library since sixth grade.”
- “Oh my God, this is really weird.”
- “Where’s the sports section?”
- “Dude, what?”
Some questions students asked me (my responses are in italics):
- “What are we supposed to pick?” Well, look for something that looks interesting to you. Here’s the fiction section. There’s the section for new books of all kinds. And a couple of stacks that way is the sports section.
- “Can I read this one?” That’s a very thin book. In other words, no.
- “How about this one?” Are you really interested in guinea pigs? Because if you are, go for it.
- “What if I can’t find anything?” My friend, there are thousands of books in here. I have a feeling you will find something. Let’s take a tour.
There was laughter. We were building rapport. We knew each other a bit better after the experience. Everyone found a book. Yes, I had hoped they would pick more challenging books, but I believe their reading stamina and confidence will build over time. I am hopeful, especially after the positive experience we had in the library.
As the students checked out their books, the superintendent came up to me looking a bit sheepish. He “confessed” to having “cut through” my room to get back to his office, which is on the other side of the library. I laughed. I told him any time he wanted to come through was fine with me. He also said he was glad to see the kids using the library, and that he thought I probably had the best room in the school.
See? I’m not the only one who thinks that way about my classroom.
But Wait! There’s More!
We returned to the classroom. I could tell they were anxious about this assignment. There was a lot of chatter I wasn’t meant to hear. When I asked what was going on, the reasons for their anxiety came out in a stream.
- “Miss, you don’t understand. I read on a sixth grade level.”
- “I skip words, I skip lines. I can’t focus.”
- “I’m a really slow reader. So, you know, like how the teacher will have you read aloud and go up and down the line of desks? Well, when I figure out what paragraph I’m supposed to read, I practice it in my head over and over so I’ll read it right and not make a fool of myself.”
- “I just hate reading. I’m so slow. I don’t understand half of it.”
- “Miss, when is this due?” October 13. “Oh, OK.”
Keeping all this incredible feedback in mind, I addressed what they said, after I thanked them for their candor. First, I told them that newspaper articles are written at a sixth-seventh grade level because many people actually read at that level. Then, I told them about my own issues with reading.
“Do any of you,” I asked, “Find yourself reading the same sentence or paragraph two or three times?”
Nods all around.
“Me too. I also skip words. I sometimes skip lines. If I hate what I’m reading, it’s quite possible I’ll start flipping pages and put the book down in disgust. I lose focus. It can be maddening. That’s why I wanted to start our adventure with you choosing a book that interests you.”
Perhaps it was my imagination, but it was like the anxiety was sucked out of the room.
I met the students where they were, and they recognized their teacher had been through the same journey upon which they were now embarking. It felt so good to reach out a metaphorical hand and feel them take it.
Thank you for reading this post. Feel free to leave a comment; I love to read your thoughts.