This morning I celebrate a chance to reflect… thank you Ruth for this space and ritual. I took a deep breath and tried to find my words. I didn’t want to preach. But I was so frustrated. After 36 weeks, these guys hadn’t yet decided to monitor their comprehension. I know it is a lot to ask of nine and ten year olds. I know that they may well do it with other books – books they want to read that don’t appear on my shelves. But I have worked hard this year to increase the variety of books I have on my shelves. I took off the restrictions of reading by levels, and pushed them to decide for themselves if a book feels right and readable, or not. Perhaps they aren’t ready, perhaps it will click next year. Maybe I haven’t done a good enough job of providing them with the tools to do this work. Maybe my lessons weren’t clear enough. Maybe I didn’t pull these guys close enough, and give them more focused instruction. Or maybe … OKAY stop. This teacher-head-talk doesn’t get you what you need in the heat of the moment. Do that later. This past month has found me teaching a unit on digging deeper in reading, trying to get my students to see how valuable it is to try and find the clues the author leaves– the trail of bread crumbs– thanks to Vicki Vinton for that image. I have been reading like crazy, trying to get my mind around different ways to help kids access this work. “So you guys, you say that you haven’t figured out the answer to your big question in this book. You aren’t sure if Leigh’s dad is back, coming back, or not. And you can’t agree about the dog. And yet, you are sure it is time to put Dear Mr. Henshaw back on the shelf and get a new book. Can you tell me why? I am trying to figure out why it seems like you are in a hurry to do that. Why don’t you want to go back into the book and try to get the answers to your questions?”
Stares and fidgets, no eye contact. “You aren’t in trouble! I am not mad. I just want to figure it out. Talk to me.” Brave N ventures forth. “It is just so much fun to get a new book.”
Well, that is fair. I get that. I nodded. “Okay, it’s up to you, of course. But I would like to encourage you to give it another try. Since your big questions were around his relationship to his dad, what if you read with a lense for Leigh’s reaction to his father whenever they talk? From this part of the book to the end, just focus on that. And then you might be able to answer your questions. You could move on to another book and at the same time know you persevered to find some meaning, even though it was difficult.”
They were not buying it. I guessed that they may be thinking the book was boring. I told them that I believed that when kids think books are boring it is possible that the book is indeed boring– to them– but it is also possible that because they haven’t read deeply, they don’t really get it, and it seems boring. N piped up. “Yeah! It isn’t actually boring. It is that the kid isn’t reading it. Like, they are reading it, but not deeply. It isn’t the book’s fault. It’s the kid’s fault.”
“Could it be both? I mean, I hate to think of blaming people for having an opinion, but I agree, it isn’t necessarily the book’s fault if the reader hasn’t been paying attention. So, can we pay closer attention tonight? And see how that goes?” They agreed. N’s speech had convinced them. And, happy ending, the next morning I glanced over and they were eagerly talking and pointing to places in their books, discussing and nodding and even smiling a bit.
I know that my teacher-head-talk questions are still valid and important for me to reflect upon. I am under no illusions that they figured it all out, but I purposely didn’t go in and question them again. I believe it was enough for them to gain a sense of control and agency –to feel like they were trying to dig deeper and doing it with success. That will stick with them next year and beyond.
I hate saying goodbye. I hate leaving them without teaching them everything I wanted for them to learn. But I can count this year’s victory to be a boy who understands that readers have a responsibility to engage when they read, that a lack of interest in a book isn’t always the book’s fault, and that it’s something over which he has control.