Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Enduring Understandings
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Slice of Life: Enduring Understandings

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hToday 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.

Clare

17 Comments
  • Avatar
    Fran
    Posted at 11:36h, 03 June Reply

    Fabulous thinking about “Enduring Understandings” in your post. Not all Enduring Understandings or Essential Questions fit into kid-friendly “I can” or “We will” statements. This post is about creating readers by sharing the impact that an author can have on the reader.

    Life does not get any better than this! This is why I read. This is also why I work to improve my writing! (Not a number or a score!)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! This is perfect as we begin our unit work!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 00:58h, 04 June Reply

      It doesn’t get better than this –well said! Thanks
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Julieanne
    Posted at 12:26h, 03 June Reply

    This post is truly inspiring. The power of her authentic reaction in the beginning and that enduring understanding that lingers after the read aloud is worth a thousand we well statements. I love the idea of framing a read aloud in this manner. Beautiful piece. Thank you.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 00:59h, 04 June Reply

      Framing is a nice way to describe it — we decide how we frame our instructional objectives. It gives us the power to make our curriculum meaningful to our students.
      Thanks
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Margaret Simon
    Posted at 14:13h, 03 June Reply

    When a teacher connects with her students and brings to them an authentic reader, her students will value reading, too. That is why I have committed to Donalyn Miller’s bookaday challenge. I will read middle grade books to create authentic reading experiences for my students.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 01:00h, 04 June Reply

      It is important to be authentic with our students. We cannot help our students value what we do not value.
      Thanks
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Linda Baie
    Posted at 15:44h, 03 June Reply

    If the teacher had not already made personal connections all year, her statement would not been as powerful. Clearly the group has probably already had wonderful & heartfelt connections, & I hope share the feelings often. What a special time you shared today, the ‘story’ that students will hold close as they move on to another classroom.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 01:01h, 04 June Reply

      It is true that this group is a true community of readers. It is clear they will hold dear all they have learned as readers, writers and people this year.
      Thanks
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Leigh Anne
    Posted at 17:03h, 03 June Reply

    There is such power in an effective read-aloud and it is obvious this teacher knew what she was doing. You are so right when you say that not all learning can be put into “I Can” statements. What a great experience this must have been for you. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 01:02h, 04 June Reply

      Read-aloud is the heart and soul of reader’s workshop. When it works it is truly magical.
      Thanks
      Clare

  • Avatar
    fireflytrails
    Posted at 18:47h, 03 June Reply

    Yes! We must teach – and show – students that engagement with a book is what makes all those “skills” they use in reading come to life. Great examples. The Art of Slow Reading is so good at explaining this connection.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 01:04h, 04 June Reply

      I love that book! Bringing reading to life is a great image for this. Thanks
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Tara
    Posted at 21:14h, 03 June Reply

    I love the way you described what really got the students to commit to the book – the teacher’s own investment. We model our reading habits, and our kids pay attention. If reading is something that we are invested in, and our kids get to see that – it’s golden.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 01:05h, 04 June Reply

      The teacher was clearly sharing her investment and passion with her students –it was truly golden.
      Thanks
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Matt Renwick
    Posted at 22:51h, 03 June Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experience. You are so right; the learning targets posted on the board are only as powerful as how well the teacher engages the students in their learning.

    Thinking about engagement…if you look this term up in a dictionary, you will find a definition related to marriage. Engagement is about commitment, about loving something beyond yourself, in good times and bad. Creating a sense of engagement between learners and the written words is an incredibly complex task. Maybe that is why teaching is such a rewarding position.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 01:16h, 04 June Reply

      Thank you for sharing the definition – I never thought if it in that light before. It does take commitment to create a community of learners. I have seen too many learning targets getting in the way of engaging students — we need find a balance so our studeant are part of the process.
      Clare

  • Avatar
    Stacey
    Posted at 12:02h, 06 June Reply

    I love the way this teacher engaged her students by telling them what to expect when she came to that chapter. This is the kind of teaching (and read aloud work) that needs to happen daily.

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