A couple of weeks ago, I was faced with quite a predicament during my reading lesson. I sat and watched my handful of students as they crumbled before me. Pens served as tools for distraction instead of tools for writing, papers quickly turned into pieces of highlighter artwork, and my blood pressure slowly began to rise. Was I not engaging enough? Was I doing something wrong?

And the answer is yes, I was doing something wrong.

It’s hard to admit, but when there’s a problem to that scale, it’s generally a systemic problem, and in the classroom, the educator is responsible for putting systems in place. It was important for me to own that responsibility and make a change.

I was trying to teach about fables, but there simply just wasn’t buy-in. It was obvious that students did not see themselves in the curriculum and as a result, had disengaged and resorted to other alternatives to maintain their attention. But how would I help them see themselves in these fables? While I knew there was great value in the lessons that fables teach–and not to mention, an incredibly concrete way to bridge the gap between literal and inferential lessons–I would never be able to reach them if there was no buy-in. My enthusiasm just wasn’t cutting it.

But it came to me about a week later.

I thought to myself: Kids love to be in control, and they love to feel an ownership over their experiences; they love to feel successful, and they love to feel important. Don’t we all?

And that’s when it came to me. In order to get some buy-in, they’d have to write the stories themselves and then use them as our shared reading pieces. We’d write them surrounding a common lesson, not only to add some structure to the writing piece and provide a clear mentor text, but also to allow them to see the various expressions of a similar theme, reinforcing the idea of the universal lesson and reiterating the differences between the experiences through which the characters learn lessons and the lessons themselves.

I know what you’re probably thinking: Shared reading needs to be at a certain level, and in order for children to grow, they need to receive instruction at their just-right reading levels. I accounted for this by creating shared reading lessons using Educreations (It’s true what Sal
Khan says: They’d rather hear me on a video than in person.) and planning for small-group and individual lessons where students will have to conquer new texts on their own. More to come on that next week.

In order to anchor and structure the experience, we began with a shared writing experience where students participated in a whole-group writing of a fable. This responsibility was then released to the children, where they wrote stories in pairs.

Today, we used those stories in a carousel, where students were able to answer questions about their stories and others, embedding inferential skills and authentic comparisons between stories, meanwhile eliciting more of the buy-in I was hoping for. They excitedly read their stories and the stories of others, achieving the meaningful experience I had hoped for, meanwhile preserving the rigor of the task.

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Kids want to please, and they want to behave. More importantly, though, kids want to be heard and they want to be seen, and when they feel that way, the expected behaviors follow. Today they were able to hear their own voices through reading their writing and see that published authors aren’t the only ones who can communicate salient messages. They realized that they could voice those messages, too.

And we owe that to them. We owe it to them to help them see that in themselves.

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