Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Day They Loved To Read

I must reflect and share about Friday, (my "what went well" for the week) and it will go down in history as "The Day They Loved To Read." Friday was so magical, that I immediately came home and wrote down all of the details so that I would never forget. Here is my story:

       I had stumbled upon these books a few times in the past, but I noticed them at Trinity's library and had a thought. I knew how effective these books would be with ELLs and low readers, but my hopes are to teach in 3rd-5th grade. Would they even like them? I decided to rent my college’s collection of the books and bring them into my 3rd grade student teaching placement and see how different kids responded to them. Mostly, I was curious if some of my advanced readers would even be interested in what they call “baby books.” So I hand “There’s A Bird On Your Head” to one of my students reading at a 4th grade level. I’m pretending to work on something but really, I’m watching her face. Slowly she starts to smile, then I can hear her chuckle, and then she’s laughing and running over, saying “Miss B. this is so funny! Look at this Piggie! Look at her face!” She gets it; she sees the magic too.

Later, it’s free time. Half the kids are taking a reading test with my cooperating teacher in another room and the other half are zoned in on some arcade game on their computers. I mourn momentarily that no one whips out a book to read for free time (one of my classic moves as a child) and I find the student I’m looking for. I show “Elephant’s Cannot Dance” to my lowest reader in the class. He has the problem of trying to read quickly and he looks at the first letter in every word and guesses what the world might be. Consequentially, his comprehension is about zero when he’s reading on his own. This is one special kid though, with a fantastic personality and a determination like none other. 

In the spirit of preparing to act this book out for my Lit class, I ask him if he’d like to read with me. I’ll read the parts of Piggie, and he’ll be the Gerald the Elephant. On our very first read-through, he’s got the character of Gerald down. I immediately channeled my inner Piggie, sweet, funny, innocent and equal parts insane. With every page we are becoming more and more animated and my student has not made a single mistake. We are getting louder, breaking out into fits of laughter occasionally, like when Piggie deadpans “You have got to be kidding me” and when Gerald can’t seem to get any of the moves right. We are dancing and reading and my student jumps and hops and stomps his feet as Gerald cries “I have tried and tried and TRIED!” A few of the students around us have lost interest in their computer screens. They are watching us with goofy smiles on our faces. 

By the end of the book, he wants to do another. We pick “I Will Surprise My Friend!” We move to the front of the room, a couple of girls are recruited to play the squirrels at the beginning who give the two friends the idea to scare each other. No one is staring at their computers anymore. What follows is a mini-production for the 7 students not at the front of the room. We are crouching down and crawling around a chair (our boulder) and the students are watching and laughing. After we finish they run at me, and the six books are snatched and little productions are formed. I hear “I want to be Gerald!” “I HAVE to be Piggie!” and everyone is in love with reading at that moment in time. I sit back, sweating from my acting exertion and watch all my students make crazy faces and twirl around the room. 

Eventually my cooperating teacher comes back, we return to academics for the last hour of the day and I can’t stop beaming. Everyone takes glances to my desk where the books rest. We get ready to dismiss and I catch one of my students trying to stuff the books into his backpack. He freezes when he sees me. He’s considered a trouble-maker and is punished often. I just smile at him and tell him that he could borrow these books if only they were mine. At this moment in time, I’m cursing myself for not owning every single one of the books that my students loved to read. I tell him that we can read them together the next day. He wails “BUT TOMORROW IS SATURDAY!” I tell him, “Monday, then, it’s okay.” He returns my smile and nods his head. 

After my cooperating teacher takes her line of students who walk home, I can’t seem to end the exhilarating feeling of reading these books with my students. It was classroom procedure before I arrived to watch a video on youtube while we waited for bus riders to be dismissed. But today, this magic day, the busses are all running late and the internet is out from a rain storm. They groan until I pull out “Elephant’s Cannot Dance.” Many of them weren’t in the room when I had read before, but through the whispers of their classmates had heard about it. They cheer. I decide that I can’t bear to tell one of the eager hands raised that they can’t play a part this time, so I assign them all the role of Gerald. They dance and laugh and read in unison. I heard one of my students laugh for the first time, after 15 weeks in the classroom. The bell calls for their dismissal and we line up. Usually the girls all clamor for a spot to hold my hand on the way out, but the two most shy boys in the class ask to please walk with me. Everyone hugs me before getting on their bus. Something has changed in their eyes, and reading did it. I swallow tears as I walk back into the school, never feeling prouder as a person, and thanking God I brought those library books to school. 

So that was my Friday, and it's never been more clear that teaching kids in my own animated way to love to read is what I want to do. I felt life I must have been reflecting light, like every color imaginable was shining off of me in little bright rays, but that's just what reading does for you. I probably should articulate that what I learned from this week and this experience is that children respond to enthusiastic teachers and that engaging them in a unique way is what gets them excited about learning. 

I feel like what didn't go well this past week was my final observation. It was another illustration of the many things in the classroom that you cannot control. It was picture day, and I was informed about an hour before my observation that the paid students from my class would be pulled from the class (coincidentally) at the moment my lesson began. The lesson was on subject and object pronouns, a brand new topic for my third graders. I did the best I could teaching to half the class, and keeping students focused as they slowly trickled in. I think that if this situation were to happen to me in the future, I would move the lesson until we could all be present. 

In the week ahead, I hope to finish strong my last week of head teaching. My teacher is a part of a group of 5 that will test every student in the entire school's reading score, so I will have a sub the entire week, which makes me feel like the one in charge! I need to be observed by the principal this week so that she can write the letter of recommendation that she offered to write for me. Also ahead, looms the end of student teaching. This experience and these kids have changed my life in such immense ways, I dread the day that we say goodbye. 


  1. Hi Sasha,
    Almost all kids respond to Mo Willems. He would be a good author to begin your classroom library. I love his books. They are full of imagination and fun to read, so childlike! You had a real ah-ha moment!

    I thought you did quite well with your lesson, even though some of the children were pulled for pictures. That's part of teaching!

    Good luck this week. I enjoyed your blog. Happy smiling. I can't wait to hear how this week goes, after your connection to the students on Friday.
    Mrs. Hysell

  2. Wow! Friday was magical!

    The books you found are great!

    The story of you acting out the book with the non-reader is wonderful, magical! How fun for you and him to discover reading!

    The curiosity created and the desire to read is palatable. I’m so happy for you!

    Ending the day reading “Elephants Cannot Dance” was a great idea. I cannot believe you finally heard that student laugh for the first time. You truly experienced an unusual moment in your classroom and I’m so pleased you had that experience. to school.

    A wonderful post.

    Prof. Meyer