We're so excited to have RUMP author Liesl Shurtliff visit next month. Today, 3rd and 4th graders are reading different versions of Rumpelstiltskin and comparing/contrasting them with RUMP. Students love this book and we can't wait to meet the author!
An interesting conversation happened at school today.
I was chatting with a third grade teacher about a geography project she's doing with her class. She mentioned a particular student, casually saying, "Oh, and because of his APD, I've been getting an extra copy of the books I read to the class so he can follow along."
This stopped me right in my tracks. If you're not familiar with it, Auditory Processing Disorder affects about 5% of kids. They aren't able to process the information they hear because their brains and ears don't fully connect. Though APD can present many challenges, there are also many solutions. For example, as the teacher noted, if this student holds his own book while she does a read aloud, he's able to follow along and completely comprehend the material.
As interested as I was in hearing this, I was also a little shocked, and not in a good way. Here's this fascinating/super important information about a student I see once a week, and I'm hearing it now, in April? I instantly had about a gazillion flashbacks of the read alouds and other lessons I've done with this student's class in library throughout the year. How many times did I scold him for misbehaving or not following directions? How many times did I single him out for not paying attention-- when really, he couldn't understand and wasn't learning?
This was a huge eye-opener for me, as I realized that I need to take a more active role in asking for information about my students. Sometimes students and teachers approach us and tell us what they need, but sometimes they don't. Imagine if I had known this in August rather than the end of April. Even though I vary my lessons and use a variety of technology and teaching tools, I think this student probably would have been a lot more successful overall if I had known to make accommodations for him. Plus, I think he would have enjoyed library time a lot more. It makes me so sad to think that this student might not consider himself a reader because of his silent struggles during library time, and it makes me even sadder to think that I could have done something to prevent this negative attitude. Luckily, there's still time. When this student visits the library from now till school ends in June, I hope he'll find his experience is much better suited to his needs.
We all struggle silently from time to time. Sometimes, it's just easier not to share. To sit there and nod and smile and pretend we understand. But how many of our students are doing that every day in our libraries? And how many are we accidentally letting get away with it?
You know that moment when a student finally becomes a reader? When, after days, months, maybe even years of picking out books and talking about books and hoping that, one day, every student will connect with a book, your most reluctant reader comes to you and says, "I loved this book" and time stops for a second?
If you've ever experienced it, you know that it's literally the best thing in the world. You can actually see the joy, the excitement, and the thirst for books in the student's eyes. You hear music even though there technically isn't any playing. You remember that this, right here, right now, is why you became a teacher/librarian.
But after the imaginary music stops playing and time starts ticking again as it inevitably does, you realize that the hard work is only just beginning. Kids are known to change their minds about things relatively quickly ("Uhh, Ms. Cooper, Rainbow Loom was SO November" - direct quote) and reading is no exception. As teachers/librarians, it's unfortunately really easy to take this huge opportunity and completely blow it. A quick, off-the-cuff comment like "I'm busy, come back later" or "Just go look around" can easily lead to a deflated kid who decides that maybe reading is too much work after all.
So what do we do? (Don't go make a Rainbow Loom bracelet, that's for sure. If anyone has an idea that will help make me cool again, please let me know.)
Discussion. Talk about the book the student fell in love with. What did he/she like about it? What was the best part? Not only does this encourage comprehension skills, it shows the student that he/she has a voice, an opinion, and smart, worthwhile thoughts about books.
Application. Invite the student to do something meaningful with this book he/she loved so much. Maybe he/she could talk about it in class, or make a poster/presentation/video to display in the library. Don't force anything, though--the goal is to instill a sense of pride, not send the student running from the library screaming bloody murder.
Celebration. A new love of reading deserves to be celebrated! Before you rush into "OMG now you should read this and this and this AND ALL THE BOOKS FOREVER AND EVER" mode, take a minute to congratulate the student and enjoy the moment.
Reinforcement. Now you can go into "OMG you should read this and this and this and this" mode, but be careful not to overwhelm anyone. (Again, kids running from the library = very very bad). The student has a lifetime of reading ahead, so give him/her one book at a time. Or two books. Okay, fine, five books, but that's it.
Encouragement. A new love of reading doesn't guarantee that the student will love every book from here on out (though wouldn't that be great?) Check in frequently and encourage students to keep reading, even if the next book doesn't spark that Reading-Is-Better-Than-Ice-Cream twinkle in their eyes.
What do you do to make sure that a new reader stays a reader?
I have a kindergarten student who comes into the library before school most days. Sometimes he'll look at books, sometimes he'll go on the computers, sometimes he'll stand right in front of me and be all, "What's that? What's that? What's that?" and I'll be all, "Stapler! Pencil! Don't you have somewhere to be?"
A lot of the time, though, he goes to a table, pulls out a chair, and sits there. When it's time for class, he gets up, grabs his Power Rangers backpack and exclaims, "See ya later, Ms. Cooper!" as though we've been chatting away the whole time rather than sitting in silence.
One day, I asked him why he sits there doing nothing. Personally, I LOVE doing nothing. It's great. But I'm pretty sure I didn't realize that in kindergarten.
He looked up at me, and in his cute little I'm-five-and-I'm-adorable voice, said, "I just want a little bit of peace."
I'll give you a second to digest that.
This is a five-year-old, people. A FIVE-YEAR-OLD.
It should be known that my students generally do not come from what we commonly consider to be chaotic homes. My students are fed three meals a day (plus snacks), have beds (and, as far as I know, use them, though sometimes it's questionable), and have access to all the physical and human resources they need to be happy, healthy, and successful.
And yet. Having our basic needs met unfortunately doesn't guarantee a calm, chaos-free life. Here's this kid, who, from the outside, has everything going for him, but just wants a little bit of peace before the stresses of his kindergarten day at his very nice school in a very nice part of the city.
The thing is, we never really know the intricate details of our student's lives when we're not with them. While this student probably ate a really fantastic dinner last night, maybe he did so in the two minutes he had between after-school activities he doesn't enjoy but has to go to anyway. Maybe his sister yelled at him the whole way home from school, and then somehow got control of the remote control even though she didn't deserve it. (Some people, am I right?) Maybe kindergarten really IS stressful! (For many students, it truly is.)
Whatever this student's reasons are, whatever any student's reasons are . . . if they come to us wanting a little peace, it's our job to provide it.
Even if they don't come to us wanting a little peace, it's still our job to provide it, just in case they haven't realized yet that peace is exactly what they want.
Libraries are becoming more interactive, collaborative, and dynamic than ever before. And this is great, but sometimes kids need to sit at a table for a few minutes--a table surrounded by books and technology and overall awesomeness--and do absolutely nothing but quietly soak it all in. And breathe. And be. Don't all of us need that from time to time?
I always want my school library to be a place where students can come to feel at peace. It's both a challenge and a responsibility to create and maintain a space that blends this sense of calm with a bustling, lively environment. But if anyone can do it, librarians can.