I have this really cool kid in my class this year. He is bi-lingual. He is a really engaged learner with a lot of energy to burn and his oral communication skills are effective and honest. He seems like the kind of kid that always plays it straight. I predict that I'll know when things are good and he'll let me know when things aren't. Anyway, today was day two of our #classroombookaday challenge. I didn't feel nearly as much pressure picking out today's book as I did yesterday's. Yesterday's book, Sometimes You Fly, had a perfect first day of school, growth mindset, message. But for the second day, I wanted a book with characters or a story line that were a little more developed. In the end, I chose Riptide, by Frances Ward Weller and illustrated by Robert J. Blake.
I chose it for a few reasons aside from the fact that the plot was nicely developed. I chose it because it was still hot as Hades in the classroom and this was a beach book. It seemed perfect as we were preparing to head into the long weekend. I was returning to the Cape for Labor Day and this book was set just one town over at Nauset Beach. I read the book to a captivated audience. Weller does a beautiful job of allowing the suspense to build slowly before the reader reaches the tension-packed climax. It was no surprise to me that tears were running down my face by the time I closed the book. (I'm one to cry at a sad, or especially happy book - better for the students to see this early on!) I ask only one question when we finish: "So, what did you think?"
The first few students shared that they loved the book or liked the book or thought it was great. Then that active little guy raised his hand and shared that he knew why I chose it. He said that the dog was destined to be a lifeguard (which he was) and that everyone tried to dissuade him and that because he was so determined, and never gave up on himself, his dream came true and that as students, they shouldn't give up on their dreams.
Um, WHOA! I wish I had been that insightful when I selected Riptide. That message certainly was there! This kids response, and while I paraphrased it a little or at least as best I can remember, was remarkable. Not only did it point to a deep comprehension of the text, it illustrated that this kid can make sophisticated connections. I was floored.
Unfortunately, this kid floored me twice today. Over the course of the first week of school, the kids will complete a survey for me. I only ask that they respond to a few questions a day. Their stamina for writing isn't well established at this point so I know that if I asked them to answer all the questions, they'd feel fatigued and write down anything, providing little detail, just to be done. Anyway, I looked at the surveys during lunch. The first question on the survey is: "Tell me three things I should know about you." This same student wrote: "The first thing you should know about me is that I'm not good at reading." WHAT??? It broke my heart. The truth of the matter is that I haven't heard this kid read yet. I'm not sure how accurate or fluent he is. However, goal number one with this guy is to teach him the characteristics of a good reader. He needs to understand that it is ALL about comprehension and meaning-making. This piece is by far the hardest for children to master yet he has shown such promise with meaning-making.
I am of the opinion that elementary teachers put WAY too much emphasis on fluency and accuracy. I get that these are easier things to measure. Timing a kid and counting how many words he or she can read accurately in a minute is easy. More time consuming and challenging is measuring comprehension. I don't think we sit and talk to kids about their comprehension often enough. I get why. I get how hard it is to have a five-minute meaningful conversation with a kid while the rest of the class....BUT, we are doing our kids an injustice when we only measure their success with fluency checks. I feel like we attend to the science of reading but not the art. Honestly, we do the same thing to kids with math facts. We assess the heck out of those and we lead kids who struggle with fact fluency to believe that they are not good at math. I'm not saying that reading fluency and fact fluency are not important. They are incredibly important. What I hope I'm saying loud and clear is that a student who struggles with fluency is not a bad reader or bad at math. As educators, it is our real job to ensure that kids come to understand this too.
Somewhere along the line, my student came to believe that he is not a good reader. This is my problem. I need to figure out specifically what he does well so that we can build on that while working to address any skills that are not as strong. I will only succeed as this little guys reading teacher if at the end of the year he says that he is good at reading. Based on what I'm seeing from him so far. He already is. I just need to work so that he can see it too!