Reading is a conversation. A book on the shelf is dormant, but in the hands of a reader it springs to life. I’ve seen books that I’ve known for years suddenly take a class (and me) by storm. I gave up on discussion guides long ago, knowing that where we really want to be is just off the edge of the map. Trusting that children have interesting and insightful things to say, I start out with one of two very simple questions: “So, what do you think?” or “What is this really about?”
We read lots of different ways in Room 204. Every week we read a selection in the student anthology (Houghton Mifflin). The children have a choice in how they respond to these stories. This weekly selection is important in that it provides the context for skills and strategies, but it is only one small piece of the reading we do. Children choose their own books for independent reading. As the year progresses they become more and more accountable for this reading through their response journals and through conferences with me. I also read books aloud as the basis for discussions about what good readers (and writers) think about and do. These discussions have enriched my own reading immeasurably!
In the few minutes between math and lunch, we read a chapter of a novel together. Everybody has his or her own copy. Next to me, as we read, is a hand painted ceramic mug given to me by a former class. The words “Friends for life” are painted inside the rim. The mug holds twenty-two sticks and on each stick is written the name of a student. As I read from the novel, I pull a name from the mug, and that child takes over reading for a few sentences. I alternate reading with the children whose names I randomly pull. This not only provides strong support for reading with fluency and expression, it provides a strong community experience of a book. We just finished The Bears of Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh. After a pause to acknowledge that we’d just finished a book, I began our discussion by asking what the book was really about. “Growing Up,” said one third-grader. “Finding adventure,” said another. “Testing out what other people say,” another added. That is all true. What a wonderful springboard. This simple short novel invited us into a conversation that lasts a lifetime. That is what reading is. What are you reading?
It’s all about being “just off the edge!”
I remember the first “big” book I read when I was about seven. It was a biography of Roald Amundsen, the first explorer to reach the North and South poles. It took me to another world, where things happened that were unimaginable to me, living in sunny Florida. I still have that book. When I look back on the genre of books I enjoy most it all leads back to that one “big” book.
As I watch the choices Robert makes in what he reads for pleasure, I wonder what path these books will take him down in his life. One of his favorite nighttime reads is called “The Book of Knowledge.” I think he’s on a good path!
I’m reading, and recommend, Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. It’s my first McCourt book and I find him every bit as funny as Dave Barry. Tim and I also recently read two books by Bill Bryson. I can’t remember the exact titles but one is a travel diary and reflection on the quirks of the English (Notes From a Small Island?). The other is a series of columns he wrote after he returned to the U.S. with his English family to live in New Hampshire.
Given the state of the economy and other disturbing trends, reading from the humor genre is my coping strategy. A friend recently shared her strategy: “I’m throwing myself into the new season of Dancing With the Stars and hoping for the best.” That’s good advice too!
Bill Bryson is one of my current favorite authors, along with Peter Jenkins. I most recently read “Looking For Alaska” by Jenkins. He also wrote “A Walk Across America” among others. I have heard “Teacher Man” is good, but haven’t picked it up yet.