I have been dismayed to realize that despite my self-image as a teacher with a learner centered classroom, I am far from truly achieving that goal.
It was one of those moments when I wished I could have recorded the discussion.
But I couldn’t have anticipated the depth of or interest in the conversation.
In fact, I couldn’t have planned the conversation even if I’d wanted to.
We had just finished a chapter in our current read aloud, Pax by Sara Pennypacker.
It was suggested by one of my students and since it was a book that I hadn’t read, but wanted to read, I said, “Sure!”
I had planned on spending a couple of weeks reading the book to the class, but this is such a rich book that it will probably take twice as long to finish it. The kids don’t seem to mind and neither do I, though they want me to read at least two chapters or more every day because they want to know what happens next.
At the end of the read aloud yesterday I asked a question about the characters: What do we now know about each of the characters and how do we know that? They humored me for a few minutes until someone changed the topic of the conversation. I don’t remember who it was and I don’t remember all that was said, but it was powerful. I tried to stay out of the conversation and just spoke up when it seemed like adding my voice might help connect their thinking.
The conversation in italics is what I remember though these are not my students’ exact words.
“Why is it that in all of the books we’ve read, the main character has a problem.”
“In Rules, the brother has autism.”
“In Out of the Dust, the main character burns her hands in the fire.”
In Home of the Brave, Ganwar (the main character’s cousin) is missing a hand.”
And, on and on and on. They kept bringing up books in which the character faces a conflict or a problem of some kind and must overcome it to change. (This was me with contributions from some of of my students.)
“A book is not a book if there isn’t any conflict.”
“Don’t call it a problem. It sounds bad when you say that.” (This comment was referring to the brother in Rules who has autism. Lots here to uncover.)
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, most of the rest of the class started naming other characters in other books where the main character has a “problem”. Their examples were mostly about physical disabilities. Nevertheless, they are starting to piece together the relationship between characters and the challenges they face on the way to becoming better people. And, that is why we read: to become better versions of ourselves as we live the lives of others in the books we read. Although this is what I want my students to understand about fiction, we’re not there yet. However, this conversation will help me think about next steps. One action I will take is to record our read aloud conversations and analyze them for depth and growth across the remaining two months of the school year. In the fall, I will start right at the beginning of the school year.
And, this is why I love teaching!
Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday.