We’ve been meeting each week this spring with a group of teachers pre-K through grade 12, all of us exploring literacy teaching in our classrooms around our teacher research questions. We’ve all been looking closely at one student in our class that we are intrigued by or wondering about. In order to look at each student through fresh and positive eyes, we read aloud the bookÂ What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? (1998) by Richard Van Camp.
Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib nation of the Northwest Territories of Canada, and an emerging voice in the Native American literary movement. He wrote this children’s book in order to understand horses, since his people are not horse people and he’s always been curious to learn more about them. The format of his book is simple: he asks different people, “What’s the most beautiful thing you know about horses?” He receives responses such as: “The most beautiful thing about horses is that they always find their way home” and “I love their breath. You can feel their breath move through their chest. They stare at you as they breathe. Their soul comes right out.”
After we read the book aloud and shared the vivid and colorful illustrations, we asked everyone to write, “What’s the most beautiful thing you know about . . . your student?”
After a ten-minute quickwrite, we shared our writing in partners, and then with the whole group. As we discussed our discoveries, we found different ways to approach how we might work with our students.
Sandy wrote that the most beautiful thing about Jack is “when he is excited about something, his face lights up as if it is the best idea he has ever been part of. He is at the same time, joyous and serious, determined and open, elated and hard-working.” Sandy plans to try to tap into this energy more intentionally.
Erika decided “The most beautiful thing I know about Skye is her smile and the quirky, flirty way she said, ‘Maybe I will.’ When she gives me hints of confidence like this, I’m going to believe her and pursue it.”
Rob wrote about his case study’s “quiet determination to succeed that I could not see at first.” This realization in turn sparked Rob’s determination “to stick with him and share in his vision of success.”
It’s important to see — and re-see — our students. What we can recognize as “the most beautiful thing we know about them” can lead us to see new possibilities in our work together.
Spring time is a wonderful season to turn to these possibilities, remembering that during this long winter, just under the ground (and snow!) were plants ready to shoot up and blossom. We’re planning to expand to other ways to use Van Camp’s terrific book as a nudge for our study groups and work with colleagues with similar questions:
What’s the most beautiful thing you know about your teaching mentor? What’s the most beautiful thing you know about teaching reading? What’s the most beautiful thing you know about conferring with students?
We hope you’ll discover many beautiful things about teaching literacy this spring!