03 Jun Slice of Life: Enduring Understandings
Today I had the privilege of joining a fourth grade classroom for reader’s workshop. The class was reading Loser, by Jerry Spinelli for their interactive read aloud. The classroom teacher modeled her thinking and facilitated a rich conversation with her students about how characters change over time and how these changes relate to the author’s message. There is no question that she supported her class in meeting and exceeding the “We will” objective posted on her white board for this lesson.
What impacted me most about this lesson, however, had nothing to do with her lesson objectives. I was struck, and continue to think about, the words she shared right before she began reading. She looked into the eyes of her students and with complete honesty and authenticity shared:
I need you to know that this chapter tugs at my heart. It is hard for me to read it because of this. I want you to know that parts of this will be hard for me to read.
The mood in the room completely shifted in that moment. Students looked up, shook their heads and seemed to mentally prepare for the experience they knew was to come. I found myself forgetting to breathe. I was so engrossed in the moment that she created among this community of readers.
When she shared her response to the next chapter she showed her readers what real readers do: think, question, laugh, cry, yell, shiver, hope, fear, miss, and remember. It is through connecting with a text – authentic, meaningful connections – that we truly understand the characters we meet. I have been left thinking about this experience and how we need to make sure we do not lose these moments in our rush to “cover” our objectives. These moments cannot be mapped or scripted. These moments are created when teachers share their reading lives with their students.
Wiggins and McTighe suggest that “the enduring understanding” is not just “material worth covering” but:
– Endures in value beyond the classroom
– Resides at the heart of the discipline
– Requires uncoverage of abstract ideas, and
– Offers potential for engaging students.
What I experienced today was an enduring understanding. An understanding of why readers read and an understanding of the profound impact a text can have on a reader. This cannot simply be put into a lesson plan. It needs to be true, honest and authentic. Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts in their book, Falling In Love with Close Reading, suggest that “close reading is something we should teach students to do, rather than something we just do to them.” Thomas Newkirk in The Art of Slow Reading suggests the relationship between a reader and a text is an intimate one and “when we become careful listeners of texts in this way, we smile in recognition, we nod our heads, and we create connections. This is the love that can come only from closely paying attention.” (Lehman and Roberts) In our efforts to teach our students to closely read to meet the CCSS we cannot forget the importance of engagement and passion in reading.
I struggle with trying to put these types of enduring understandings into “We will” statements. I am not in any way diminishing the importance of masterful explicit instruction. This is critical to students’ growth in analyzing and understanding text. I just believe that the power behind the instruction I observed was the connection the teacher shared at the beginning of the lesson. She set the purpose for closely reading about the characters in a book. The purpose is first and foremost to respond. It is through this response that we can begin to understand why an author makes the decisions he makes when writing a text. We can truly begin to think about the enduring understandings the author intended for his reader. By sharing her response with her class, this teacher engaged her students, uncovered abstract ideas and pushed students to think about how readers connect with texts they read within and beyond the classroom. I know I came home and found my copy of Loser and will read it differently this time based on my experience today.