Monday, August 25, 2014

The Power of Choice

Today was one of the only days in my teaching career where I walked away feeling like I had truly done the right thing by every student. Being an educator means that you will never know for sure if you are doing the right thing; everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing in your classroom, after all. Test prep, close reading, word walls, exit tickets-I've been advised to do all of that (and more) at some point in every single class period-as if there really is some perfect recipe for a lesson. Hint: there really aren't magic bullets in education. Sorry.

But here at the beginning of my fourth year, after a very special summer with the Arkansas Delta Writing Institute, I plunged into my classroom with something resembling confidence. Okay, maybe that's not the right word-fear mixed with passion multiplied by commitment all poured over the top of years worth of reflection, sweat, and tears (all baked at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 months-to terribly mix my metaphors).

The balance to strike at the beginning of this year at my school is schedule changes, technology hot messes, and getting to know students in a meaningful way, all while itching to get started on whatever standards or units that have been shoved at you or you've carefully developed and edited-whichever. In my first week of school, my students read two non-fiction articles, set up writing notebooks, and worked on internalizing a growth mindset through discussion and a short exit ticket.

It was just alright-maybe a little energizing to actually meet students. But then today happened.

I took all of my classes to the library and all of my students checked out a book and established a page amount goal, based on Penny Kittle's Book Love. The only real direction I gave was in selecting a title that wasn't too terribly difficult.
Blatantly borrowed stock photograph. 
Did some of my kids wimp out and get really easy reads? Absolutely. Did some of my kids want to re-read books from junior high, probably out of a lack of confidence? Yes.  But In Cold Blood, The Things They Carried, westerns, sports books, biographies, and non-fiction books about wars were all checked out by kids who were excited to read. I was able to talk to almost every single student about books in a meaningful way. I gave a mini-lesson about dialogue on the side. Even my most reluctant readers walked away with a book and at least 20 minutes of reading.

My principal came in at the beginning of first period and asked if we were doing a research paper; I said no, we were just checking out books. I felt a twinge of embarrassment and shame-just checking out books? What was I doing? It turns out, I was building the foundation for life-long readers.

I feel energized and passionate; I still have a long way to go to sustain a meaningful and productive independent reading program in my classroom that leads students to increasingly challenging books. I am working on building in choice and creativity, as well as argument and research, into my writing units. But-I've jumped in. No going back.


Anonymous said...

I'm a school volunteer in Florida, and I love your blog! Kid's books are like shoes. You have to leave room to grow.

Meta Fore said...

Dear Jessica! This is what teaching is all about. You've captured the essence of what great teachers, esp Reading/Writing teachers do! Thanks for sharing your story of the first trip to the the magic of your teaching and your writing!


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