A trip down memory lane: Part one
Thanks to Facebook memories, I was reintroduced to my first literacy blog I created for a grad school assignment. I am going to be reposting my old posts here. They are a reminder of why I became a teacher. They are a reminder of how I developed my teaching style. They are a reminder of my pedagogical philosophy. Many of the posts I have reread, still ring true to me and are embedded in my daily practice as a teacher.
Originally Posted on I'm Making Readers & Writers For Life December 4, 2011.
Last month I visited the bestie in the ATL who maybe the smartest person I know (hands down). Let’s just say he’s got the credentials to back up my very subjective opinion. I mean he is studying to be a doctor at an amazing school, after getting his master’s in public health, which he matriculated into after graduating from a top 20 university (Go Dores!). Did I mention he’s tri-lingual? So BAM! I learn so much from him that I am always taken aback when he asks me an intellectual question. I expect the fashion questions, you should have seen this boys wardrobe B.S. (Before Stephanie, get that mind out of the gutter), or why New York is the greatest city in the world (sadly he still does not get that one), but something that is a cerebral question will come out of left field. We were sitting in the car (you do that in the wonderful traffic that regularly graces Atlanta) chatting and one thing led to another. I can’t exactly remember how the question was phrased but Jon asked me how do you teach students to read and write? Well little did he know how loaded that question was. Since we were confined in the car with nowhere to go I started talking, and talking and talking. Remember, I can be a tad verbose?
Before I even delved into “how” to teach reading and writing I explained to him that we have spent the better part of 13+ years of our lives learning how to master the art of reading, writing, arithmetic, critical thinking to the point of where we as adults do not think about how we can do something, but just do it. Now imagine you had to take everything you do without hesitation and break it down. From that broken down point you then have to teach someone how to do it as naturally as you and I do it. That is a heavy duty task that has some major implications on one’s success. He basically responded with “Um, yeah, that’s a whole lotta responsibility.” Tell me about it! At this point in my education and teaching career I was just over the hump of the halfway point in the semester (my 1st semester). I told him that I am by no means the Dali Lama of teaching students how to read and write, but what I have read, what I have learned in class and what I have seen in practicum has influenced my opinions on how I will approach teaching reading and writing in the near future. I told him that the goal of a teacher is to create lifelong readers and writers (hey blog title! Hey!) where those activities do not feel like tasks but rather “play” time. I introduced Jon to the ideas and concepts of Reader’s and Writer’s workshop and how they were excellent tools to foster growth as well as love of literature (Calkins, 1994; Calkins 2001). I explained that for both reading and writing this is an opportunity for students to explore their interests through literature with guidance from the teacher. Students will begin gathered together for instruction. When I teach reading and writing I will start with a prompt (mini lesson) that helps the students focus. For example, I may want to show my students the importance of asking questions while independently reading (comprehension strategy for those who don’t know). To stimulate understanding I told Jon the teacher may model by doing a read aloud (I thought he would get from the context that a read aloud is when a book is read aloud, but I scaffolded and explained what that was) with her class. At points of intrigue in the book, I would have my class volunteer questions they may have about the book. It could be any old question from why does the main character have red hair or why is he going down that dark alley. The only stupid question is the question that does not get answered. Then after this quick lesson the students would all disperse and independently read their varied texts. [Side note: I told Jon that it is über, ÜBER important to have as many books on as many subjects in the classroom. There needs to be a book to fit any student’s interests and in this case quantity is quality.] The students would make themselves comfortable in their nooks. I explained that I have seen some kids in the funniest positions, but as long as they were engrossed in their book I did not care they were curled up in a ball on top of their desk. During this time, they are to read, but remember to ask questions. I would probably give my students a post it pads for them to write their questions down as they arise. They stick it on the page and continue reading until the next question arises. Also during this time, I would have the opportunity to work with my guided reading group to have more focused attention on a smaller, homogeneous group of students. (He picked up on that one that I would be working with a small group of kids on about the same reading level to give them more individualized attention). After time has passed we re-congregate and review and share what happened during their independent reading.
That was just reading. I reassured him that writing followed a similar structure. I told him ideally we would just let kids write; however don’t you remember in grade school when your teacher said write? Chances are there was a beautiful, crisp white sheet of paper staring you in the face. So to avoid the white page syndrome, teachers may want to use a prompt to guide students writing. Often times, limitation breeds creativity. With just the tiniest of confines, a student can create magical, wonderful, compelling, literature with their own words. I explained to Jon how I loved the writer’s process and how I naturally use it in my own writing. I mean if I see the validity in prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing as a writer, outside academia, of course I want to show my students how to write like a real life writer (aka their favorite teacher) (Tompkins, 2005).
So I know Jon asked me how and I have no mention of phonological awareness or grammar lessons etc. from our conversation, but I feel the structure of how reading and writing is taught is just as important about the skills being acquired. The mini lesson at the beginning is used to help our students better hone their skills from comprehension to the correct use of punctuation. Practicing those skills are just as important as learning them. Like an athlete we lose our strength if we do not keep training. Or maybe I went off on that tangent because I have been placed in upper elementary grades for practicum and have not witnessed firsthand the actual teaching of reading and writing foundations (well that’s a lie, my mom is a pediatric OT and I have been in her office my whole life observing, but that was well before my true passion for education bit me). This is one piece to the huge puzzle that completes a student’s literacy education.