Thursday, April 30, 2009

Should they or shouldn’t they?

Yesterday I visited a teacher at her wit’s end with book abandoners. She said, “I can’t believe that here we are in April and I still have kids who pick up a book, read a couple of pages, and put it down only to start the cycle again with another book!” She continued by saying, “These are fourth graders. They should be reading chapter books!”

Understanding her frustration and knowing that she is feeling the pressure of June, my question for her was simple. “Should they?”

She thought. “Shouldn’t they?”

Reaching our wit’s end is not a comfortable feeling. However, it is sometimes just what we need to rethink our instruction and evaluate what WE are doing that might be impeding the change we hope to affect.

When children abandon books, it is often their way of telling us that their reading is too hard. Perhaps if these children were reading shorter texts they would build the stamina they’d need to sustain a longer text. Or maybe, if these children spent some time with picture books they’d rediscover a passion that died when the books they were expected to read stopped having the lovely illustrations that they fell in love with as young readers. Either way, maybe fourth graders shouldn’t always be reading chapter books. I’m thirty-eight and I haven’t picked up a chapter book today. I have read the newspaper, my email, and several samples of first grade writing. I feel a sense of accomplishment. Could it be that chapter books don’t always give our young readers a sense of accomplishment? Are we perpetuating an anti-reading sentiment by pushing them into long texts all the time?

I warn to be wary of the word should. Very often the change that we seek rests with “should not.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Awakenings

A girl writes about a painting in a museum. She shares how it looks “like a line of poetry,” and how the colors blend together like “a rainbow under the sea.” After she reads aloud, the class claps. Another boy stands to share his work. He begins to read: “Thor gives dry kisses, not drooly ones. When he is done, the class claps again. This group of fourth graders is doing the difficult work of “showing” instead of” telling” in their writing and they are impressed by the accomplishments of their classmates.

I, too, clap after they share but secretly I am celebrating something very different. These two writers have spent countless writing workshops staring at the blank page watching the clock slowly tick, wishing the period over. As I cheer their accomplishments, my mind wanders to the daffodils I had seen on my morning walk: tiny green stems topped by yellow buds poking out from beneath the hard weathered grounds of early spring. “Finally,” I thought to myself convinced that the flowers would never come out.

How many times had I thought the same thing about these two writers? Would they ever be able to find an idea that seemed worthy of writing? Would writing ever be anything but painful hard work? At times I felt doubtful, but like the daffodils that slowly took root and found their way through dirt and rocks, these writers, found their way to beautiful words and vivid descriptions. They were nudged and nurtured and what emerged? A beautiful flower. Finally.