Today we reviewed yesterday’s lesson (I apparently didn’t teach it very well OR no one paid attention…or both), then went to the library. Since I want to start doing sustained silent reading once a week, they needed a book. On advice from another teacher, I pulled a bunch of books and put small piles at each of the tables in the library. Instead of wandering the entire library looking for books, they sat at a table and had to pick one of the books on the table. For 15 minutes, they had to read that book, then at the end give a 1-minute summary to their tablemates about their book. Then, they decided if they wanted to continue reading that book or try a different one at the table. Because they only had to commit for a whole 15 minutes, I got a lot more buy in than if I asked for an entire period, or worse, asked them to finish the book.
The highlight of the day involved one of my most reticent readers. This is the one who at the beginning of the year insisted he was allergic to books. This week he has absolutely shocked me. When I was on my soapbox on Tuesday, lecturing them on the importance of reading, he out of the blue lifted his tired head off his desk where he usually parks it and spoke up. I had been saying that many students could count the number of books they’ve read on one hand, and he said, “No Mrs. H. I’ve read a book on my own. I read…what was it called…Hatchet.” Now Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet is basically required reading for all American fourth graders, but he was proud that he had read it on his own. When we went to the library today, I was sure to pull a few of the sequels Paulsen wrote in the series. I don’t know if he just really enjoyed Hatchet, or was happy that I took the time to find books I thought he would like, but he read a book all period. While I was confiscating cell phones and redirecting other students back to their books, he was quiet and attentive and READING. And at the end of class, when everyone else was putting their books on my shelf to take back to the classroom, he asked politely if he could take the book home over the weekend, to read. Another boy said, “Yo J, you ain’t gonna read that this weekend.” He replied, “I ain’t got anything else to do this weekend.” And he took the book.
You must understand, this is one of the LAST of my students I would expect this from. I was on Cloud Nine, and had to resist the urge to the do a Discount Double Check and let on to him how psyched I was. I told that yes, of course he could take the book home to read, and to have a good weekend.
I promptly ran and told several other teachers and the principal, who were all equally surprised and excited. My principal told me that these are the moments that remind us why we’re teachers, and they often occur when we are the most down and need them the most. Right at the point we feel like total failures and question our life choices and effect on our students, one will do something that shows us we are making a difference. He is so right. Earlier in the day students were analyzing a Shakespeare sonnet #97 and were working on labeling the rhyming scheme. They were stuck on the fact that they didn’t think “been” rhymed with “seen.” (How like a winter hath my absence been/From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!/What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen/What old December’s bareness every where!) Here’s my conversation with the class:
Me: “What country is Shakespeare from?”
Me: “Pause. Different tact – what language did he write in?”
I sat on the floor right in the middle of the classroom. I didn’t know what to say. We read Julius Caesar barely a month ago, and c’mon, we’re in English class.
Boy: “Is she dead?”
I was TRYING to get them to realize that when read in an English accent, “been” and “seen” CAN rhyme, but we got so far off topic in the devastating realization that my students refuse to think before they speak, that I don’t know if they got the right answer. Anyway, I was glad for my student’s miraculous request to read his book at home, because boy did I need the encouragement.