Your message means less than the way the message is delivered, because in actuality, the way the message is delivered, IS the message.
As we settled down to dinner, I reached over and lifted “the question book” off the counter. This is a nightly ritual in our house, one that has led to plenty of dinnertime laughter and interesting conversation. “The question book” is actually titled Q&A for Kids: A Three-Year Journal by Betsy Franco. Each day offers an open-ended question and a space to record your children’s answers. I opened to the page for that day.
“What is the most important thing to your mom?” I read aloud. My pen was poised in the air, ready to write my six-year-old’s answer. I smiled in anticipation of what I thought she might say: reading, being brave, choosing kindness, our family. I was not prepared for her answer.
“Being on time for work,” she answered matter-of-factly.
My heart sank. I guess our hectic mornings full of rushing and impatience and scolding had certainly sent a loud message. My daughter thought being on time for work was the most important thing.
Weeks later, I had a similarly unsettling experience at work. To kick off a coaching cycle, a fourth-grade teacher and I asked her students another open-ended question: What does it mean to be a learner? Here are some of their responses:
- “I think being a learner is being cooperative. No talking when the teacher is. Pay attention!”
- “I think being a learner means to pay attention, look at the teacher, and to share thoughts.”
- “Being a learner means to follow your directions and pay attention when you are teaching.”
- “I think being a learner is paying attention and follow the teachers’ rules. Also, you have to look at the teacher.”
As the teacher and I read their responses, our hearts sank. What about traits like curiosity and risk-taking? What about questioning and seeking out information? What about making mistakes and not giving up? I guess these children have been sent a loud message throughout their schooling as well. They thought being a learner meant being quiet and good. It was time for us to offer them a new narrative about what it means to be a learner.
In both of these instances, I knew I had to revise the messages I was sending. For my daughter, an earlier wake-up time and an effort to spend more quality time together did the trick. For the fourth graders, a heartfelt conversation during which I shared personal examples from my own life as a learner was a great starting point. From there, we delved into the trait of curiosity and how it impacts our lives.
As the seasons change and you return to the familiar rhythm of teaching, think about the messages you are sending to your students. The routines we establish, the way we react, and the words we use send a powerful message. Do your students know what is most important to you? What do they think it means to be a learner in your classroom? What messages have you delivered this school year? Think about it, and if you are brave enough, ask them.
This week we look at content literacy. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Lead Literacy
Dana Murphy is a literacy coach in the south suburbs of Chicago. She also contributes to the Two Writing Teachers blog.
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Franki Sibberson has suggestions for redesigning nonfiction sections of the classroom in Rethinking Nonfiction: Topic-Based Text Sets:
How do you work with teachers who refuse to change the quantity or quality of nonfiction reading and wriitng in their classrooms? Jennifer Schwanke provides strategies for principals and literacy leaders:
Even if you’re pressed for time in your classroom (and who isn’t?), chances are you can find 60 seconds to enjoy the “Nonfiction Minute.” Resources are available at this link:
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Melanie Meehan writes about how teachers in her state are dealing with the time-crunch issue in social studies instruction by naturally integrating more social studies into the language arts program:
Gretchen Schroeder finds the article of the week activity is an excellent vehicle for learning about content literacy gaps in student background knowledge and how to fill them in Extended Inquiry with Article of the Week:
Mary Lee Hahn rethinks her math workshop structure to more closely align with choice and problem solving in her reading and writing workshops:
In this week’s video, Andrea Smith’s fourth graders are working on an Owl Research project that integrates reading, writing, talking, listening, and content literacy:
In an encore video, Tony Keefer finds that the article of the week activity (adapted from Kelly Gallagher’s work) is a good way to integrate short shared texts into his fourth-grade literacy workshop:
Many more articles and videos for members are available at our Content Literacy link:
That’s all for this week!