Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Striving & Thriving: Remembering Purpose in the Reading Classroom

We sat huddled around our small table. We were delving into Rules by Cynthia Lord. Charlotte hunched over her book. Mya absentmindedly twirled her poker-straight red hair, and Bella's nose was so close to the page that she looked cross-eyed...the price one pays when one forgets her glasses. Aiden sat on his knees and bounced up and down as he read. 

We were at that chapter, that chapter in all good books where you can feel the characters shift, and it feels like the electrical charge that hangs in the air right before a thunderstorm.

Catherine, the main character, forgets to care about what others think and wheels Jason in his wheelchair out to the parking lot. He has just revealed that he sometimes wishes he would die. She describes the boundless freedom that is running, and he asks her to show him. She runs through the parking lot as fast as she can while pushing his wheelchair while he demands that she run faster.

As I read aloud, I can feel the knot forming in the back of my throat, and I think, "Oh damn. Here I go again. I'm gonna cry in front of them. Again." My voice tightens, and my students shift forward in their seats. Aiden's butt finally hits the seat of his chair and stays there. Mya's hand snakes out to the counter behind her and grabs the tissue box and nudges it toward me. They are patient with me. By now they know that good books can have powerful effects on readers, and that their teacher is a crybaby. 

Together, they theorize that I'm crying because I'm happy. Catherine has helped Jason, and as Aiden says, "Jason's helping Catherine remember what's important. And it's not what everyone else thinks." This from the boy, who at the beginning of the year, spent more time shopping for books than reading them. As I listen to each of my readers interact with the chapter, my nerdy reading teacher heart swells with pride, and the tears in my eyes become more about them than Catherine and Jason. 

This weekend, I've been with "my people" at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. I've swooned in the presence of Stephanie Harvey, but drew the line at asking her to sign my chest (Wink, wink. She signed a copy of her book for me instead). Pernille Ripp made my heart skip a beat when she said, "It is time for us to become reading warriors." And I basked in the glow of Donalyn Miller's brilliance as she signed her newest masterpiece. 

Everywhere I went this weekend, I heard the same messages: 
  1. Reading is about behaviors, not abilities. 
  2. In order for students to be motivated and engaged readers, they must value reading. In order for them to value reading, there must be collaboration, choice, relevance and meaningful purpose. 
  3. Our students must have access to texts, and those texts must be culturally relevant.  

It's as if all my teaching heroes skyped with each other before they came to present, and they agreed upon common messages. 

The funny thing is, when I left school on Friday to attend this conference, I was in the foulest mood. I felt drained and cranky, and my famously brutal teacher self talk had kicked in. I bet you know what I'm talking about. 

"You suck."

"You're not doing anything well."

"You're not doing enough."

"Maybe Starbucks will hire you."

But when I attend conferences, there are so many windows and mirrors. There are presenters who hold a mirror up for me so I can glimpse myself and my practice and realize that I'm on track. And, there are those presenters that take me to the window to appreciate a new landscape of pedagogy.  The opportunity to reflect is priceless. 

Without it, I would forget about Friday afternoon moments like this:

 "Ms. Willis! We didn't do First Chapter Fridays today. Can we do it on Monday? I need a new book!" Aiden calls out. 

My butt-in-the-air striving reader is beginning to thrive. 

When I remember to pay attention, I am amazed.

This month, I'm linking up with other fab educators. Visit them below!

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