Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Teaching Reading Again by Christine DePetrillo

I haven’t taught reading in ages. In the school where I teach, we’ve always switched classes for different subjects. While I have taught reading even in the switching model, it’s been a while since that subject was officially on my plate. I’ve been teaching math, writing, and social studies for the past several years.

Mostly I waded through math. I love numbers and computations and problem solving and how a square is a rectangle but a rectangle isn’t a square.

But teaching math? Well, that’s another story. With the standards we are required to teach, I often feel like I’m attempting to teach college-level mathematics to eleven-year olds which, by the way, is preposterous. I know I wasn’t solving for “y” until at least eighth grade.

In my old schedule, once I muddled through two periods of math, I looked forward to two periods of writing where we were writing machines, letting the creativity flow freely. Social studies always involved a trip to Revolutionary times which students consistently found fascinating.

Teaching reading this year, however, has breathed new life into my at-work experience. I’ve read so many children’s books over the summer and during these first weeks of school. I now see what I’ve been missing—the sheer joy of sharing treasured stories with children. I’m also digging the connections I can now make for students between reading AND writing because I can teach the two together to the same group of students. Our conversations have been so deep and meaningful and mature. I love hearing students’ thoughts about character, theme, and conflict. Watching them get lost in books is like watching magic happen. Listening to them talk to one another about stories is wonderful too, especially when they say things like, “I believe the life lesson the author is trying to convey to the reader is…”

Seriously. One of them used the word convey. I can die happy.

What’s really awesome is that many of these books we are sharing in reading class aren’t just entertaining for kids. I’ve laughed and cried through many of the pages, the stories truly moving and so well written. Even if you don’t teach or don’t have kids or grandkids, these are books you can enjoy just for the poignant tales they tell, the poetic words the authors use, the life lessons they offer. You might even learn a thing or two about writing.

Here’s some of the children’s books I’ve read so far (and the pile of to-be-reads grows every day):

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech
Sophia’s War by Avi
The House of Tailors by Patricia Reilly Giff
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park
Freak, the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
The Promise, by Nicola Davies
A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
Mr. Lincoln’s Way, by Patricia Polacco

As I said the list is endless. I’ll never live long enough to read all of them. I’ll give it my best shot though, and I can’t wait to discuss them with my students.

What’s a favorite children’s book that has stuck with you?


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Margo Hoornstra said...

You just brought up a memory, Chris. Mine would be Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders. I cried, and cried and cried, then managed to smile. You're right. Getting lost in books, at any age, is nothing short of magical.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I read so many books as a child, none held a special place in my heart except perhaps "Toby Tyler" about a boy and a monkey in a circus. What you're teaching your students is more than reading, it's a lifelong lesson to evaluate everything they read and not just swallow the hooey in newspapers and magazines that because it's in print, it must be true.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Black Beauty, Old Yeller, The Yearling come to mind. I didn't recognize one of the titles you showed us. Clearly you're impressed by the wide choices kids have these days...that makes me happy, too! I taught high school English for 23 years and the reading/writing combo was the most fun for me, as well. Passion is everything in a teacher...rock on, Chris!

Jannine Gallant said...

Sounds like you're going to have a great year. I didn't recognize any of the titles on your list. Most must be newer books (as in not dinosaurs like me!). The childhood books that stuck with me are all the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read those again and again, well into adulthood, and then encouraged my girls to read them. There must be something about fifth grade teachers... My girls both had amazing 5th grade years. Maybe something about that age just makes those kids exciting to teach.

Susan Coryell said...

As a secondary English teacher, I, too, taught and loved teaching reading to students from 7th to 12th grades. As a Granny, however, I am re-connecting with "kiddie lit" and loving it! Chicka-chicka-boom-boom is a fave w/my little lap-sitters. Make Way for Ducklings--still classically enjoyed, as well. Olivia and Pigeon books are pulled out time and again for Granny-reads. Hard to say who enjoys these sessions more--the kiddos or me! Nice post.

Brenda Whiteside said...

As a couple of others said, I didn't recognize any of the ones you name. I was a ferocious reader as a child and can't really recall any one book. A little older, I remember Little Women. How fun for you!

Diane Burton said...

There are so many books for kids now. When I taught elementary grades, I read to the kids every day. Lion, Witch, & the Wardrobe, The Hobbit, Wrinkle in Time. When I thought I'd write a YA, I asked my daughter (who teaches h.s. language arts to 7th graders) to recommend books to read. Oh, my! So many. None of which were on your list, Chris. Isn't it great that there are so many choices? The books that stand out when I was a kid were those by Elizabeth Howard (Peddler's Girl) that took place in 1800s Michigan.

Andrea Downing said...

My daughter, now 32, and I always read at bedtime. It wasn't until years later that she admitted after I turned the lights out, she crept into her bathroom and sat there reading! One book that stayed with both of us was The Tough Princess. I credit it with making her a strong believer in women's equality with men!

remullins said...

Before I could read my older sisters started reading Little House on the Prairie to me and I've been getting lost in books ever since.

Leah St. James said...

Wow, Chris, that is so cool. And how lucky those kids are to have a published fiction author helping them learn about goals and conflicts and plot and character...all that good stuff. Sounds like a win/win to me.