Positive anything is better than negative nothing.
Literacy means different things to different kids. For some, it’s a respite from difficult things. It’s a chance to flip the switch on the world and create a silent space. These are the students who don’t even seem to need us as teachers; they devour books like a cool, refreshing drink.
For others, reading and writing is an ordeal to be endured. For these students, completing an assigned book or essay is simply something to get done and over with. We’ve all worked with these students. I certainly have. I can’t bear it when I hear a student moan with dread or say, “I hate to read!” Because I truly believe it doesn’t have to be that way.
How can we teach children that reading and writing can be a peaceful, happy, soothing place to go?
I do know one thing for sure: in terms of literacy, we need to always say yes. As parents and educators, we need to encourage whatever it is that will make literacy a pleasant experience for young learners.
I try to do this at school. If a student hits his classmate and gets sent to my office, I work through the reasons for the violence and anger, hand over tissues to soak up furious tears, and then I say, “Do you want to read a book together?” The expression on the face of the sad and sorry boy changes immediately. He gives me a tentative and disbelieving “yes?” Then he crawls into my lap and lets me read to him, a story about a pigeon who can’t seem to get along with anyone until the right friend comes his way. Yes. Let’s read together.
If I need to cover a class for a teacher, and students aren’t sure how to act with the principal in their classroom for a long stretch of time, I ask if they want me to read to them. They gather around and listen as I read, their eyes wide and calm. If they ask me to read another book before they have to start something else, I say, Yes.
I say yes at home with my own children, too. If my daughter wants to slip away for a bit, nestle down with her beanbag chair, and asks me if she can have a Popsicle while she reads, I say Of course. Yes. I try not to think about how she might drip red sugar on her chair.
If my son–who swears he doesn’t suck his thumb anymore–is quietly reading a book before sleep and his thumb slips accidentally between his lips, I think, It’s okay. Yes.
When my children are tired at night and they ask if they can paint, and I want to say, “We’ll do it later,” because I dread the mess they’ll make at the kitchen table, I muster up patience, suppress my sigh, and say, Yes. I hand them pieces of clean, white paper and the box of watercolors and paintbrushes. I give them little cups of water to clean their brushes. As if by magic, they suddenly go quiet and calm as they write and draw and think. They hunch quietly over their work in deep concentration. When they finish, I ask, “What does that say?” and they tell me about their pictures. I always marvel at their simplicity, beauty, and perfect truth. This is you, Mommy, and you are tired. This is me and Daddy playing baseball. This is my sister, and she’s really annoying, but she tries not to be, because she knows I get in trouble when I yell at her. They are proud and calm as they tell me their stories.
Reading and writing is also an escape for me, and my family knows it all too well. My husband knows when my patience is running thin or I’m worn out from a day of hard decisions. I’ll say, “Can I just read for awhile?” he knows what that means. Yes, he says, and folds the laundry so I don’t have to. Or I’ll say, “Hey, why don’t you take the kids down to the park? I just had this idea I want to write down.” He smiles indulgently and says, Yes.
He understands that literacy is a peaceful place for me. As parents and educators, we understand this as well. We all need breaks, and literacy is an excellent way to find that escape.
When a quiet time to read or write is needed, say yes. If we do that, we can teach our children literacy can be a happy, restful place as they grow into adults.
This week we’re focusing on connecting student research and the Common Core. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at http://jengoingbig.blogspot.com/
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In a new podcast, Chris Lehman talks about the ways teachers are changing their thinking about student research because of the Common Core:
In this article from the archives, Chris Lehman shares an unlucky 13 ways to turn kids off to research:
Our Problem Solving Quote Collection gets at the messiness of inquiry:
School Library Journal has 50 alternatives to the term paper for teachers trying to breathe new life into research programs for adolescent learners:
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When students are able to pick any research topic, they often will choose something they have already studied extensively. How can teachers allow students to pick topics for research they care passionately about and at the same time ensure there is the potential for rich inquiry? Maria Caplin describes the process she uses in her fifth-grade classroom to help students find and refine research topics for deeper learning:
Ruth Ayres and her colleagues use a marriage analogy to help middle school students and their families understand the research process in “We Gather Together”: On Research and Weddings. The article includes a nifty example of a pamphlet to share with parents:
In this week’s video, Andrea Smith’s fourth graders brainstorm possibilities for writing a proposal to support their owl research project:
Andrea’s video is part of our new Teaching Research Skills cluster, with four different features on student research from primary to high school levels:
New PD2Go: Katie DiCesare leads a Nonfiction Reading Group in First Grade:
This video and workshop guide fulfill the following Common Core State Standard:
ELA-Literacy W.1.6 With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.
That’s all for this week!