Sitting at PD with Donalyn Miller taking a little time to reflect on Monday and some moments.
I spent the weekend reading through some of my Grade 9 student work and was just so excited with how they are developing as writers. I wanted to take a moment to share with my kids that not only was I impressed with their writing but that at times it moved me. From fits of laughter to moments of WOW and the golden lines they bravely shared. A student wrote about the quiet moments as he sat in the shop watching his Grandpa work, another about the “meat rabbit” named Lucifer that her sister purchased at an odd and unusual sale, the friendships tested by a conflict over boys…or girls, and a beautiful piece written as a tribute to the Basketball court. My writers are unique. Our writing so far has been anchored in experience. We are looking at following the writing plans of Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle in 180 Days so we have started by exploring narratives. We started with places and moved around to others areas. As I read out student samples anonymously the most incredible thing happened. Students started to smile. They noticed their work but perhaps more importantly they noticed the work of their peers. There were gasps as I crossed over a beautiful line. Demands of who wrote each piece as I read them out and their peers wanted to celebrate with them. There was PRIDE in both our classmates and the individual writers. When we stretch ourselves we grow.
Shifting over to my reading and the reading lives of my students I reflect on the practice of book talks. I have challenged my students to read at least 1 book a month. I know it is difficult and if not for audiobooks I am not sure I could meet that goal myself some months. Currently I am spending my time in The Toll by Neal Shusterman. I love it but I don’t have time to always sit and read it. Neither do all my students so we adjust. We do book talks when we finish. A student currently reading Internment by Samira Ahmed came up to me at the end of a class yesterday. She had tears in her eyes and told me she needed to hand the book in. “I am just too busy and I know other kids are waiting for it”. I asked 2 questions, “Are you enjoying it?” and “Do you want to keep reading it?” She answered yes to both and I said keep it. I can buy a few more copies if other readers really can’t wait. My copy of The Hate You Give has been stolen and I am happy about it. I have purchased more copies of the Crossover than I care to admit and now that the Graphic Novel is out I will buy more. But I still have a problem I am trying to figure out. How do I help my students, the self professed non-readers get over that hurdle. The hurdle of “happy with a single book in the year”. The hurdle of fake reading. So after our IR time ended and the same students who are begging to book talk volunteered and the same who hide, ask to go to the bathroom or simple say I am not done yet I decided to talk to my students. Those that follow me and my blog or Twitter know that I have a few passions. Beyond teaching, reading, talking books and talking smack about AR and Teachers Pay Teachers I love to spend my mornings in the weight room. I am taking a Personal Training course currently and learning about the science of working out not just the “how to” but the why. One point stuck out that I was reviewing last week as I thought about my students reading lives, especially those who resist reading at all costs. A principle of training popped up. My students had settled into books they find easy, books that did not push them. So I shared how we become stronger. About adding more weight and that when we don’t our body gets use to what we are lifting and eventually we start to perform less. At first I didn’t think this theory was true. I discovered it was when forced to limit my workouts because of gym renovations. I was lifting for months at my repping weight. I could not add more but assumed I would stay status quo if I just kept lifting at that level. To my shock and horror things became harder to do. I actually was losing gains despite staying at my established level. I explained this principle of training to my kids, with reference to reading. If we just stay in the comfort zone, if we don’t try to stretch, we don’t add a bit more in difficulty or length or perhaps dipping our toes into different genres we limit our growth. We experience a bit of atrophy. If we allow ourselves to just live in comfort we jeopardize our growth.
To my students in both our reading and writing lives it is time to increase the weight. Even just a bit. A couple pounds on the bar counts as training. A couple more lines written a couple more pages read. This is how we lift literacy.