Sunday, February 3, 2013

Just Ask Them

Just ask. 

This week I had a classroom visitor ask me, “Tell me about the reluctant readers.  What did you do to get them so engaged?  What did it look like in September?”

I answered… “We took time to learn rituals and routines, there was lots of modeling, exposure to a wide variety of text, lots of talk about strategies, etc.”  But for some reason, I wasn’t satisfied with my answer.

I remember Don Graves once saying that he loved going into a classroom and asking a student, “What’s that for?”  And he’d take time to listen to children and see how they responded.  So with Don’s wisdom in mind, I was wondering, “What DID it?  What is it about our classroom that ENGAGES readers?”

As I went back to the classroom with the visitor's questions ruminating in my head, I made a decision.  I’d ask my students my questions.   And as usual, I was flabbergasted.  

Here’s a sampling of their responses:
  • You kept bringing in new books.  And you keep bringing them in… there are always new choices. 
  • You don’t say… Just read that book— read it now! (said in raspy, harsh voice).
  • We have the power of choice.  You say tell me what you think… sometimes teachers just want to hear us say the same things over and over.  They want to hear their thinking. 
  • There’s a calm feeling in the room.  It’s never rushed. 
  • We have a choice to have a consultant; someone we can turn to when we need to talk.
  • There are books everywhere; when I first walked in this room I remember my little brother saying, “Is your classroom the lie-berry?"
  • When you walk into the room you see books everywhere and you say to yourself Now THIS is interesting, I’m going to give this a chance.
  • When you stare at baskets and baskets of books what else can you do?  You have to be engaged.  Otherwise you sit and feel kind of guilty because the books seem to call your name.
  • I always felt pressured to read before—I didn’t have the freedom to read—this room gave me freedom.  I am inspired by other readers.
  • You teach us strategies to think and then talk to us about our thinking.
  • You teach us different ways to think through text—I think my reading’s changed because I’m trying new things.
  • I know how to think using different strategies… I’m thinking of things more out of the book. 
  • You’ve given us the experience of yourself as a reader and writer—you know what’s at the heart of being a reader and writer—I’ve never felt that before.
  • You taught us the workshop model—from the first week of school we’ve been using it (opens notebook to his notes).
  • You always return to the learning—day after day—it’s connected.
  • You address us by name—you look into our eyes and address us by name.  That’s important.
  • You teach us to go deeper in conversation and deeper in our hearts.  If you go deep you are a better reader.
So I learned a great lesson.  Engagement comes from wise teaching, of course.  But real engagement comes from providing the essentials of time, choice, opportunity, ownership, response, and environment—authentic reading experiences.  Look into their eyes and call them by name!  When you’re wondering how things are going… just ask!  


  1. I will have to share this with our language arts teachers. Our library is so busy that I don't have the chance to see the children read, but I do try to be patient when asking them what book they feel like TODAY.