Big Bunch, Little Bunch


Here is a slice of life from last weekend. On Sunday husband and I made fresh spinach lasagna. We debated, as usual, as to the best way to cook it and how much to start with. We opted for four bunches, and it still wasn’t enough. It worked, but we could have gone with more. Geez! I was transported back to a winter’s night when I was in college and my roommate and best friend since fourth grade and I were experimenting with cooking. We felt so grown-up, in our own apartment and all. Living the life.


I can’t remember what was on the menu other than fresh steamed spinach. We were so proud of our healthy habits. We had a big bunch of spinach, and spent a long time washing it and getting rid of the sand. Then we steamed it. Then we lifted the lid. We were astonished and a little disappointed at the result. Enough to feed one person– one measly little bunch. After all that work! It started out so big…

It can be about this time of year that some of us teachers may begin to feel a little bit of the same disappointment/frustration/anxiety. Testing is around the corner. We are at or just past the half-way mark. We started out SO BIG. And, when we lift the lid… not what we are expecting. Some kids– still not reading.  Some going through the motions and complying, but not engaged. Some haven’t really moved at all from where they started with us.

And yet… if we remember to look at all of the students in our classroom, it can be quite encouraging. We need encouragement right about now. We don’t need to get down and frustrated and send out any hopeless vibes. We need a shot of energy – kind of like Popeye’s spinach.

Last week, I started looking at everyone. I found many examples of kids who have come a long way. During parent conferences I heard K’s dad say that yes, he has noticed a difference too. She is coming home, reading for longer, and her discussions of what she has read are filled with solid-sounding comprehension. And I listened to Y tell her grandmother all about the book she is reading right now, and she went on and on and on, and on. We both looked at each other. Wow. Very different than the first time we sat down and discussed her progress. K’s mom shared with me that he is spending more time reading and less fooling around than he used to. She’s not sure what is going on, but it is encouraging. Yes, it is. When I sat with A, who refused to do any reading or writing about reading whatsoever until about a month ago (when we started a book club for others like her), and gave her a running record, I had to give her the next two to find her independent level. And, at the beginning of workshop partner time, when I stop myself from running over to the seemingly-always-in-crisis group, and focus on what is working, I see many examples of authentic book talk. Not perfect. But real.

I reflect on this not to toot my horn. Nope, I reflect on this to remind myself time and again, it is my job to encourage and allow space for the act of reading and reading and reading. It is my role to help students in finding the books they love, and then giving them time to read and read and read some more. This will pay off in the end. It is messy and not clear all the time. But there is growth. Of course, it takes more than just letting them read. There are lots of other moves I make during a day. But, I remind myself that in a reading classroom that is designed to build readers, the focus must remain on building independence and engagement before visible growth and compliance. And it takes a BUNCH of process to get a little bunch of product.


Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the chance to share a slice. You can read lots more here.





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5 responses to “Big Bunch, Little Bunch

  1. I love your moves from your own messy learning/experimenting with cooking to your classroom. I love the moves back and forth… Love writing the process. 🙂

  2. Yes! Looking at the whole class when things seem not to be moving along is so important. My teacher Librarian and I looked at my entire class yesterday on a rubric we had created – some were indeed sort of stuck. But we looked at attendance and other things and the not yet moving made sense. Then we celebrated some flying! It’s all in there when you look at the whole picture. Just like the concentrated green of that steamed spinach!

  3. I love how you used the metaphor of cooking spinach to vividly describe the growth of your students right now. A favorite line for me is: We need a shot of energy – kind of like Popeye’s spinach.

  4. You are so right – and this is just the time of year in which to take a moment to look at each of our kids and mark their individual progress. An celebrate!

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