As a bonus blog post this week, I’d like to share a lesson that I learned from a 4th grader. It helped to solidify everything that we’ve covered in the first two chapters of Book Love, as well as all the principles taught in Dr. Ellington’s class, Theory of Teaching Writing.
At least once a week, I coach two girls: one in sixth and her younger sister in fourth grade. Both girls are voracious readers. They love it! And learning this gave me so much hope for their future. I was reminded of how much joy I found in reading at their age, before the fun was sucked out of it around eighth grade.
However, I think that the processes introduced by Penny Kittle in the first couple chapters of her book are going to allow these girls to be confident enough in their reading to actually learn from the classics when they get to that age. Let me explain.
The fourth grader, a very spunky and hilarious girl, struck up a conversation with me about a book that she had just read. She described Night Horse to me in detail. Some of those details were out of order, as is natural for an excited child, but I got a pretty good synopsis of the story. It included some heavy themes like alcoholism, separated families, and animal abuse.
I learned two things in this moment: (1) I had just gotten a “book talk” from a nine-year-old, and (2) students are far more capable of learning on their own terms than we give them credit for. If a fourth grader can handle learning about the dark themes in this book, why don’t we trust high schoolers with the same freedom? And I am guilty of thinking this way, too. We underplay students’ intelligence and responsibility, when we should be setting the bar higher for them. Students will rise to our expectations. This was such an excellent reminder for me in terms of the power of book talks and the power of our own students.
And my lesson didn’t end there! The fourth grader, now passionately talking about her reading hobby, told me that she was reading Dickinson with her tutor. I made her repeat that statement. She said, “I am reading Emily Dickinson poems with my tutor.”
If this doesn’t serve as an example of Penny Kittle’s process of scaffolding students into reading more difficult materials, I don’t know what is. By giving this student choice in reading, allowing her time to read (her parents encourage all the kids to read in the car vs. having an iPad), and guiding her to more difficult texts, the people surrounding this intelligent young lady have created the confidence she needs to move forward with the classics. And she enjoys them!
As a final, personal lesson for me, I must always remember that I can learn just as much from my students as they do from me. I hope I’ll never forget this piece of wisdom. The conversation I just described totally blew me away, and gave me more faith in the processes that we are learning in this class.