It occurred to me recently as I was urging my dog on for a brisk, calorie-burning walk that she had no desire to burn any calories. Her purpose, utterly opposed to mine, was to meander along in a general forward direction, stopping whenever she felt like it to examine and savor a scent left behind by some creature. As I had this thought, I also realized that if I continued to pull her along, I would spoil a glorious morning by rushing through it. So I let Lucy wander along and sniff, pausing while she was rooting around in a particularly delectable odor. During these breaks in the action, so to speak, I began to think that what she was doing was exactly what I want my students to do: become so thoroughly engaged in the text that they lose sight of everything around them, that they focus on one word, one well-turned phrase, and examine it closely, as if peering through a kaleidoscope; turning it this way and that, looking for shifts in perspective and meaning.
Unfortunately, I often feel the same frustration in the classroom that I felt at the start of our walk. “Come on, we’ve got a lot to do, much to learn, let’s pick up the pace.” I’m embarrassed to think how many times I’ve said such things to my students. However, I’ve learned that this approach is just as counterproductive with students as it is with dogs.
So what to do?
The best solution, I think, is to strike a balance. Reading workshop provides the framework for exactly this kind of balance. Quick-paced mini-lessons to introduce or review strategies and skills that are followed by lots of time to practice. In order for this to work, I have to lay the groundwork and establish routines that provide the flexibility to keep a lively pace when appropriate and slow down when necessary. Without this structure, we would accomplish little. Like Lucy without her leash, we’d be off in a field, running around in circles, getting caught in brambles, or worse.
I want all of my students to approach reading with the same joy Lucy brings to our walks. By being part of a reading workshop, they will have an opportunity to develop the skills and vocabulary they’ll need when they encounter complex texts on their own. They’ll be able to read widely about topics that interest them. Most importantly, they’ll know when to stop and bask in the sunshine of a glorious spring morning.
Today’s assignment at Teachers Write! was to write for two minutes describing a very specific place. I thought about a number of places I might want to write about, but got busy with my day without making a decision. (Or writing anything, for that matter!) Then, on my way home, I heard a story on NPR that gave me my writing topic for today.
I love NPR’s quirky stories that bring tears to your eyes. This afternoon, I listened to “Remembering Mom and Dad’s Record Collection” as Mike Huckabee talked about how much his mother loved Glenn Miller. His comments got me thinking about the soundtrack of my childhood. We had a small portable record player on a metal stand in the dining room. My parents had different tastes in music, but there was no question that they both loved it. My mother was a Glenn Miller fan, too, and she played his records when she cooked and cleaned. She listened to other big bands and singers from the forties, but Glenn was definitely her favorite. She also loved soundtracks, especially “The Sound of Music.” My father, on the other hand, was a country and western fan.
So did any of these tunes have a lasting impact on my life? Absolutely. I still love harmonies and ballads. When I first heard She & Him (on NPR, of course!), tears came to my eyes. Their retro sound automatically brought me back to that sun-drenched dining room of the 60s, listening to that little blue record player. I don’t think I could ever choose just one song as my favorite or one that had a huge influence on my life. But, of all the songs my parents shared with me, and that I shared with my children, there is one that sums up my wish for them as they make their way in the world.
Thank you, Mom & Dad, for enriching my life with music.
Clearly something I haven’t been very good at over the past several months. But that’s all in the past. Thanks to Kate Messner and her incredibly generous writing camp, Teachers Write!, I’m inspired to turn off the TV, sit down and make some plans. School isn’t over for two more weeks, and I have a week of curriculum work after that, so until the end of June, my plan is to get up half an hour earlier than usual and write for 30 minutes. I’ll be at my desk in my small office. My husband won’t be up for another hour, but Lucy, my 7-year old beagle, will be snoring in her bed nearby to keep me company. You all are the first to find out about these plans. Everyone at work is busy thinking about report cards, packing up classrooms (did I mention I’m moving to a new classroom?), etc., and I didn’t really have a chance to talk to anyone else today. Once school is over, my writing time will shift to later in the morning, after walking, eating, and reading the paper.
I recently finished reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck. In it, she talks about the importance of having a growth mindset, or “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” (p. 7). Here’s to cultivating our writing through our efforts. I look forward to the learning and growing with all of you.