By Stacey Riedmiller, Guest Blogger
Shall I set the scene? Mid May in a fourth-grade classroom of twenty-one readers, writers, thinkers. The students are workshop students, so they know after they have had a nice chunk of time to write, they get a nice chunk of time to share. This is the moment the writers wait for. They go for a laugh often, suspense sometimes and heart always. Nine year olds are full of heart. A writer sits in the chair, the chair that tells his peers that it is time to hear his voice, hear his story. He shares, he finishes. He looks out to his audience and says dramatically, “Wasn’t that so sad?”
Until, another writer decides to speak up. “No.”
Faces turn to face the new speaker, eagerly awaiting his reasoning.
“No, it wasn’t so sad.”
Offended, sharing writers rebuts: “The guy died!”
Commenter is not backing down. “So, who cares? I didn’t care. Your story was so short and rushed that I never had the chance to even get to know him. It’s not like in Pax where we were waiting and waiting and waiting to see if Peter and Pax would find each other. We cared about them because we had the chance to. If you would have given me more time to know who he was, I might have cared that he died.”
“The beginning was a good start, I think it should be longer with more character development. Give me a chance to get to know the guy before you kill him off.”
I can’t make this up folks.
Readers might not always be writers, but good writers are always readers.
This child, commenter, is an avid reader. But I wonder if he is by your standards. This child finished between fifteen and twenty books for the entire school year. So, as I spend many sleepless summer nights wandering through Facebook literacy communities, Instagram posts and blog posts shared on Twitter. I wonder about those teachers I know would not value this reader. I know there are teachers who would not value his reading because I see many posts valuing quantitative measures over qualitative measures.
So often educators and parents place a quantity on reading. I’m here to tell you that we all lose when reading is reduced to numbers. When you reduce reading to numbers, this experience is one you lose out on. This child, this smart, thoughtful, inquisitive child with his comment that almost made his teacher burst into tears, would be reduced to a number in some classrooms, in some homes.
Be mindful that his comment might not have gone over so well with all peers and educators, either. But, here is the deal. That child, who chose to share, learned from his peer’s feedback. It generated a conversation that many of my kids took place in shortly after about books in fourth grade that made us #feelallthefeels. His feedback had value and an immediate response because the environment was set up to nurture talk and growth. The other child was not shamed, though others can view my commenter friend as abrasive at times. The sharing child learned a lesson that day, one that his teacher had been trying to communicate all year. That there is value in the qualitative reader, there is value in all readers.
This qualitative reader savors. He thinks. He feels. He lives within the folded, musty pages of the next volume of Harry Potter. He IS Harry Potter when he reads. He finished the entire series in fourth grade and then began rereading it before the end of the school year. But guess what? He had a teacher who values rereading, because hey. Positive experiences with reading are positive experiences with reading. Period.
This qualitative reader was the one who caught me off guard all year long. With his thoughtful commentary, with his tear filled eyes as Brightbill left the island and his mother Roz to fly south for the winter, this reader who inspired me to gift my first ever book to a child in my classroom, just because.
This writer, who at times described himself as uninspired. This writer who finally found his voice when working through his parents divorce and all of the devastating and doubtful feelings that came along with it. This writer who could challenge his peers and help them grow because he was a reader. Readers who spend time sinking their teeth into stories become writers who keep you turning the pages. The kind of writer that has you up at 3 AM because you have to finish. The kind of writer who makes you cry like you have lost a best friend, one that pulls your heart right out, stomps on it and then has the unbelievable ability to make you forgive them, wanting more.
What opportunities are you giving this qualitative reader? The one who won’t finish forty books for the school year? The one that typically goes unnoticed because you are too consumed with the ones you call struggling and the ones you call high.
What opportunities are you giving all of your readers to be heard? To have a voice that is valued even though it might come across as harsh or negative at times?
All any of our children need is for their voices to be heard, their stories to be told. And who will be the ones to tell those stories? Is it us, talking about the child to other educators and staff members, or will we pass the mic? When we as teachers decide that there is no time or value in sharing and generating conversations about stories and reading experiences, we miss the heart of it all. When we decide that our teacher talk time is more important than children reading books and sharing what they read, we miss the heart of it all. Like Su’ad Abdul Khabeer said “We don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless, just pass the mic.” Pass the mic. Pass it to all of your readers, and then, listen.
Stacey is a fourth grade language arts and social studies teacher from right outside of Cincinnati. You can find her blogging at literacyforbigkids.com and tweeting at @literacybigkids.