In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.
Lindsay, in second grade, gets to the final five pages of Charlotte’s Web and asks me to read aloud. Her palms are all sweaty, she tells me, and she’s having trouble holding the book. When I start to read, Lindsay stands up from the couch and paces around the living room, picks up a feather duster, dusts the furniture. I pause before reading the last two sentences. Charlotte’s demise is imminent. Lindsay turns to me with a panicked look and begins dusting my hair as I read, “Charlotte was dead. She died all alone.”
I recently watched a video featuring the work of Benjamin Zander, an orchestra conductor who has taken his philosophy of bringing out the best in each of his musicians to business organizations looking to revitalize their employees’ sense of purpose and commitment. Zander explains that inspired employees can be identified by their “shining eyes”: an unmistakable look of inspiration, respect, and passion. Often, these folks are in a “one-buttock” position as they work, that is, sitting forward on their chairs, perched on one butt cheek, like the most passionate piano players on their benches. If you’re interested, check out his TED Talk here.
Zander’s shining eyes theory prompted me to wonder, what metric of achievement exists to document Lindsay’s extreme physical response to the finale of Charlotte’s Web? What assignment requires teachers to look into a student’s eyes, hold her sweaty hands, observe her position in a chair, as evidence that she comprehended the story?
Lindsay doesn’t look at me when I close the book. In an ill-advised move, I ask some probing questions; she ignores me, and retreats to her bedroom. She shuts the door. I can hear her several minutes later, talking through the story with a stuffed animal audience.
“It’s okay, Wilbur,” she says, attempting to use science to explain the unfairness of Charlotte’s death. “Spiders don’t have a long life span.”
“Templeton,” I hear her admonish, “you have to be nicer to Wilbur now that Charlotte is gone.”
I am fortunate to spend time in schools with teachers whose classroom architecture, lesson plans, and interactions with children reflect a focus on the experience of reading. They’re the kinds of teachers who don’t ignore the data from standardized measures of achievement, but who understand that those numbers are simply a chapter in the whole story of a child’s learning. They’re teachers who understand that they are raising lifelong readers, not grade-level readers.
Zander’s audiences include ministers, CEOs, doctors, athletes, politicians, and teachers. He urges every kind of leader to see his or her role as “awakening the possibility in others.” In the classroom, that would be our learning target—awaken possibility in our students. The evidence that students met the target could be captured by a camera and added to a student’s portfolio: photos of shining eyes, sitting on one buttock, slippery palms. Teachers can add to the list of those signs that say a student got it, that she truly connected with her learning.
As I turn my attention to a new school year and my work with intermediate-age readers, I’m going to keep this question from Zander in mind: Who am I being when I am not seeing a connection in the eyes of others? I’m even more comfortable with a revised version of that question: How will I know I’m seeing a connection between my students and what they read, and how can we collaborate to document the evidence? Asking readers to tell us how they “got it” as well as watching and listening might be the best evidence-based tool teachers have in their assessment kits.
This week we look at books children love that challenge teachers in different ways. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Suzy Kaback is an associate professor of literacy education at St. Catherine University in Minnesota.
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Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris consider how many “just-right” books as defined by teachers may be about as inviting as a gift of a package of underwear on Christmas morning for many children. They give guidance for redefining “just-right” books to include student engagement:
Franki Sibberson reconsiders the value of some of the “shallow” books her third graders love when they explain why they embrace them:
Franki’s new blog series is a companion to the second edition of Still Learning to Read. In this post, she explains how she helps students fill their empty book bins at the start of the school year:
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In Critical Thinking and Captain Underpants, Christy Rush-Levine and some struggling eighth-grade readers consider misogyny in a popular children’s book:
Franki Sibberson explains why we need to move beyond our cherished definitions of quality when working with third graders in transition and embrace the books students love:
In this week’s video, Katherine Sokolowski helps a fifth grader add more “girly” books to her next-read stack:
Stella Villalba shares some of her favorite children’s books that mirror the home cultures of English language learners:
New PD2Go: Beth Lawson shows how to get the most from a conference about series books in third grade. Inferring and synthesis are discussed, as well as the use of written notes for making meaning from texts:
This video and workshop guide fulfill Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy RL 2.3: Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
That’s all for this week!