Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out.
On an early morning walk to the farmers’ market with my husband Jim, we were enjoying the quiet sounds of the neighborhood: doors opening and closing, birdsong, and then the rumble of a vehicle struggling to start.
“That’s a Ford,” said Jim.
“What?” I asked.
Eyes still straightforward, Jim commented on the sound as the engine caught and the vehicle rumbled down the street behind us. “That’s a Ford starter that needs some work,” he explained. “Turn around and you’ll see.”
I turned and caught a glimpse of the rear end of a rusted green Ford truck. Mightily impressed, I confirmed, “Yes! It is a Ford truck! How did you know?!”
He shrugged. “I spent years working for a mechanic, fixing cars when I was in college. I know a failing Ford starter when I hear one.”
“But how can you tell? Is it just Fords? What are you listening for?”
He seemed surprised that I was so intrigued by this newfound talent. “I don’t know—I can tell VW’s for sure, and I’d say Chevys. It’s just that you get to recognize certain sounds that you hear all the time. Then you know where to start looking for what’s working and what isn’t.”
I could sense that my “starter whisperer” was finished talking about this skill, but I kept turning it over in my mind. As we walked that morning, Jim heard sounds that I was oblivious to; he tuned in to those sounds with his years of experience, listening in with an ear for the craft of car maintenance.
It reminded me of the power of teachers who have an ear for their craft, relying on years of teaching experience and their accumulated teacher lore. We trust our guts as we listen to children in the work of reading and writing, not because we are “winging it,” but because we’ve been at this a long time. Our data comes not from a checklist, but from inferences we make based on knowledge and experience.
Teaching literacy is not just a job, but a craft that requires an ear that is finely tuned to the sounds of the classroom and the children in our care. Just like Jim and the sounds of failing starters, we teachers get to recognize patterns and behaviors that we’ve heard over the years. “Then you know where to start looking for what’s working and what isn’t.”
This week we look at literacy routines and habits. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Ruth Shagoury is a professor emeritus at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She blogs with her daughter Meghan Rose about children’s books at www.litforkids.com.
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Gretchen Taylor’s overscheduled middle school students have almost no time for reading outside the classroom. She finds that some reflective inquiry helps them build reading habits at home:
Ruth Ayres discovers some of her routines and habits are getting in the way of building relationships with teachers. She has creative suggestions to help literacy coaches strengthen their connections with colleagues:
Franki Sibberson helps her third graders develop good habits and routines for planning informational writing drafts and projects:
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Shari Frost finds that shared reading routines are easier to implement now because of tech tools:
Jennifer Schwanke questions the routines of how wall displays are used in classrooms in Avoiding Implementation Through Lamination:
In this week’s video, Sean Moore helps his second graders remember the classroom routines and protocols for sharing reading reflections through a circle group:
Mary Lee Hahn realizes how much a workshop approach has changed her planning process and comfort level with the unexpected in Planning and the Tuesday Effect:
In this encore video from a first-grade classroom, Katie DiCesare demonstrates how she has made writing share time more productive by linking student work to recent lessons.
That’s all for this week!