Whenever talk turns to – what we do well in our class – two responses are common. We do challenging or deep thinking maths and “we read a lot.” Each time I hear it I think, why are we so different in this regard given the benefits on so many fronts – from celebrating literature – in senior primary classroom?
It’s early in the year and not many of my students are keen to read. I begin Read Alouds of the Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and Boys or Kids Who Dare to be Different books. My previous class loved them because of the diversity of people they could identify with. I wondered if my current class would respond like-wise. They did. So much so that we create a MUST READ stories list and this series of books is prominent on it.
Since many of my students won’t pick up chapter books, I begin looking for information books on their favourite topics – dinosaurs, space, wonders in the world, science etc. I choose books that are visually appealing with short chunks of text that appeal to their curiosity and sense of wonder. I briefly promote them then I watch. There’s a rush – each day – to get these books. Then…
- they read together while responding and discussing the content;
- they quiz each other about facts in the books;
- they delight in the detail of images;
- they try to make sense of what they’re reading:
- With The Book of Comparisons – which compares unlike things – they often draw what they’re reading about. They also raid the cupboards for measuring equipment to get a sense of the heights, weights, or areas they’re reading about.
- students often astound me with their memories of something read, telling me of specific pages in a particular book that relate to a topic or issue we’re discussing.
- students frequently bail me up with questions like:
“Mr Curran did you know…?”;
“Mr Curran, [insert any how, what, where, why, when, who question]?”
These varied reading practices continue across the year as I continue to purchase information books and topical books I think they’ll love. And it’s no surprise to see the well worn, obviously well-loved books sitting in Mr C’s Books tubs at years’ end.
Another reading moment stops me in my tracks – has me pondering the teacher and student roles in the classroom. A small group of students are sitting in a circle, each with a different Rebel book resting on their lap. They open their book to a random page and pass it to their right. Each then has a moment or two to read the page which they briefly summarise and respond aloud to – to the group. Then the next round commences. I wonder: why do we so often look outward, to books or videos or other teachers for ideas, when there’s so much learning that can come from observing our students’ practices?
This year I’ve been purposeful in my choice of Read Alouds – focusing on human interest, in/justice, and social and emotional learning. Sitting together on the floor, we discuss themes and issues, make connections to our lives-to other texts-to the world, we ponder and question (a lot), and respond emotionally. The depth of spoken and written responses has frequently floored me. I often find myself involuntarily catching my breath in response to the ‘hand on heart’ thought or sentiment being expressed.
As our range of reading practices and experiences expanded, it became increasingly common to hear the following:
Mr Curran, is it Independent Reading time yet?
Mr Curran, we haven’t had ‘Independent Reading time today.
Mr Curran can we read for longer?
Over the course of the year, I came to see the value of Mentor Texts, in respect to developing the writing skills of my students. Here building a culture whereby we learnt from published authors and each other (as authors) was key. We noted sentences that moved us, astounded us and made us think. We noticed how the structure of a text affected or impacted us as readers. It became something of a community building moment to create sentences (or paragraphs), inspired by mentor texts, that stopped us in our tracks, or made Mr Curran catch his breath.
Then there’s the writing that reveals the quirky personalities, the passions, or the uniqueness of the author. So often this year I looked up to a sea of hands or a line of students wanting to share particular sentences or paragraphs they had come up with! These moments were inspired by the collective experience of reading what mattered to us, what interested us and what moved us. I also think there was a bit of, let’s see if we can move Mr Curran, or get him to catch his breath.
There is value to building a community of diverse readers.
Providing space and time for students to lead and participate in a diverse array of reading experiences matters. As does:
- being observant, finding out what students are into, and finding attractive, inviting books that cater for such;
- reading for fun and pleasure – and being moved;
- seeing ourselves, and feeling like we’re home, in books;
- feeling connected to friends through reading;
- feeling part of a kind and caring literary community;
- having a greater appreciation of the humanity of the Other;
- learning of, and responding to, injustice;
- delighting in the universe along with pondering and asking questions that aren’t easily solved.
These aspects and so much more are the heart and soul of reading in my teaching They’re what make us different. They’re why we read a lot and why reading looks so different in our classroom.
Listen to my Education Podcast
I chat to teachers, principals, and community leaders who challenge the business as usual in teaching and learning.
Not content with traditional approaches to diversity and inclusion they’re re-making their environments, supporting and uplifting the voices and worlds of those students and communities who’ve been sidelined for far too long.
Here’s some of my guests from Season 5 – Standing Up for Our Students in Challenging Times.