30 Jan Slice of Life: Developing a Relationship with Words #SOL18
I ring the “attention chime” to signal a transition. The students stop, look and listen. I address the group of first graders, “Readers, please put away your materials and join me on the rug.” As the word, readers, leaves my lips, I notice about twelve students turn around to look behind themselves. While intrigued, I decide to ignore it and focus on the transition.
As the students gather together on the rug, I begin my lesson. “Readers, today we are going to meet a character who will get us talking.”
A hand goes up. I signal to the student to lower his hand and continue with my lesson.
“Readers, this character will make you…”
“Why do you keep calling us that?” he interjects.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“You keep calling us readers, why do you do that?”
I pause, pondering my next move. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, most of us aren’t readers. We don’t even like it. So, it doesn’t make sense for you to call us that.”
I am at a loss for words. How can a group of six-year-olds already decide they are not readers? Do they understand what they are missing? How will they find their place in the world? How will the connect to the universal themes of humanity without reading? How will they spark their curiosity and the love of learning?
Not a week goes by when we don’t have an encounter like this. It might be with one student or a small group, but we are hearing this message more often than we would like to acknowledge. We are asked by schools to model lessons, plan curriculum, and demonstrate how to use assessment data to inform instruction. While these are all important, none matter if the students are not engaging in reading.
There is no perfect lesson, scope and sequence, or intervention model to inspire lifelong reading. It cannot be packaged as a unit of study and there are no benchmarks or standards to measure. We do believe, however, it must be a priority to help every student develop a reading identity. We need to share our reading life with our students and take time to talk with our students about their reading lives. We must slow down and connect with our students so we can connect them to books. There are many paths on the journey to lifelong reading and our students need us to show them the way. It really is the most important work we do as teachers.
I have not been able to get this most recent “we are not readers” encounter out of my mind. It has been sitting heavy on my heart all week. Then I saw this interview of Jason Reynolds by Trevor Noah:
I replayed the last line of the interview again and again.
“… once you realize your life is dependent upon your relationship with words.”
These words. Every classroom. Every child. Every day.