I have to apologize. When I first started blogging, I spent a whole lot of time thinking of catchy titles and creative ways to engage readers. Then I realized that this blog was mostly for me to reflect on my teaching and not a whole lot of people even read it. So with that, I will apologize if I’m more right to the point and less creative. This will be true in this post. While the situation is different, it’s related to a post I wrote almost 2 years ago about it not being all about me all the time in my classroom. You can read that creatively written post Here.
Anyway, unlike the last time I posted on this subject, the day was going just fine. There have been tough moments as I’ve been adjusting to the literacy program that my district purchased and is requiring us to follow on a daily basis. So maybe things aren’t as fine as I’m letting on.
So, after another cheer filled my room when I announced that textbooks wouldn’t be used on that day, I had to make a decision. Reading was becoming a chore and less and less enjoyable.
It was noticeable. It couldn’t be ignored.
So I decided to take a little break, which was allowable during the shortened Thanksgiving week as the 5th grade team agreed during our initial planning session. Well maybe I’d take a little longer break. In short, I decided to make a play on the March Madness NCAA basketball playoff “March Book Madness” that usually makes its way around Twitter in the spring. Instead of simply voting on titles, I needed to make this activity more academically challenging if I was going to break from the basal. I selected 8 of the most popular books last year and drafted a rating sheet, which featured text dependent questions that included queries about the authors craft and it’s affect on the reader within the first chapter, inferences on character motivations and personality based on their actions, etc. We’d read the first chapters of each book, look into the character and author’s craft, and rate the book on a scale of 1-10. We’d do this first with my full support and end with the students completing these activities in small groups, pairs, and ultimately with independence. The winning book will emerge as our next class read aloud.
After promoting this activity for a week, I finally unveiled the playoff board and procedures on Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The kids were buzzing with excitement! My initial plan was to walk through the voting form and questions together for the first book, One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and allow students to briefly talk about their thoughts before heading off to read independently while I gathered a group of students who I knew needed help making inferences from earlier assessment data.
I made my way over to the guided reading table to gather my plans and summoned my group to meet me with their pencil and journals. Before I could sit down, I was tapped on the shoulder.
“Mr U, can I see that book and read the next chapter?”
That was followed up by another small group of students coming up to me and asking me if they could go to the library to get a copy of the next book in the playoff bracket, Fish in a Tree (also by Hunt) so they could get a head start on the first chapter.
I looked at the reading table and we were still waiting for a few more students to arrive for reading group. That’s when I noticed a few more students approaching me with hopeful eyes.
“Mr U, do you have any pairs of books that the two of us can read the backs and first chapters so we can partner read? We want to be sure the book grabs our attention and has characters we can relate to.”
At this point, I knew what I had to do. I motioned to the reading group to go enjoy their independent reading books and that we’d meet another time. I’ve been here before. It can’t be about me all the time. It has to be about them. The kids. The ones dying for good books in their hands.
As I weaved my way through a maze of readers to the classroom library with two eager girls behind me, I noticed a few boys lingering as I made brief book talks about the novels I picked out. As the girls took them and subsequently returned them because the characters weren’t adventurous enough, they were quickly snatched up by the boys in waiting. As I made my way over to another section of the library to drum up interest in two more novels for the reading partners, more lingering ears were turned in our direction.
From a nearby table, a voice from behind a book rang out and said, “Hey Mr U, they may like the Everest series by Gordon Korman. There are both boys and girls in the book and they are the type to not give up since they have to earn their way to try to climb Mount Everest through a boot camp with climbing competitions.”
Another voice from against the window on the top of the built-in shelves chimed in with, “Yeah, take the Everest books. You won’t want to put them down. The end isn’t what you think!!!”
The minute the girls ran off to give Everest a try, I spun around to see another student with two books in his hands, Code Talker and The Green Glass Sea. He told me that he knew they both were about WWII, with Code Talker being about the Navajo Native American’s Role in the WWII victory and The Green Glass Sea being about the life of a girl, whose father was involved in the development of the atomic bombs used on Japan in WWII. I told him my preference to read Code Talker first and prepared him to be annoyed with the way characters are treated in the book.
By the time I could catch my breath, we had already blown through our Reader’s Workshop “work time” and “closing meeting time”. This time, I had a different feeling. A full feeling of gratification, a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time while teaching out of a textbook. This time I was glad that I wasn’t worried about it being about me. I know better.
Will I go back to the textbook? Yes. I’m a team player and I am not one to go against what I am asked to do. However, I will not compromise my mission of matching kids to books and lighting the fire of reading within them. If that means I have to break here and there or abandon small group plans once in a while, so be it. It’s not about me. Not even close.
I teach kids; not a program.