Reading in the Company of Others Matters

The second day of TCRWP’s Summer Reading Institute pushed me to the work I realized I needed to do on day one: raise the level of my reading. In my small group session with Kathleen Tolan we were put into book groups. My group of grade 3-5 teachers are reading Edward’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan. The session is aiming to teach teachers how to  teach students in small groups, and to do this Kathleen has put us in our student’s  desks.

Our first evening’s homework was to read the first third of the book and come to group with a part that we wanted to read aloud. We decided  to read with a lens for character and symbolism

Next day, back in class, we sat, facing each other. Kathleen urged us to move in close. We looked at each other. Slowly we edged to talk.  Our thoughts were clearly restrained. No one was bursting with thoughts. Man! I thought. This is tough. If I were a student I’d be wanting to abandon this book.

Our responses boiled down to lots of confusion and a discomfort.

Something wasn’t right. Hmm.

Gradually we started to talk around this and bit by bit, little pieces cropped up. PIeces that gave hints at what might be.

Bottom line we six teachers were struggling with our interpretations. Finally we read aloud parts that confused us.

“This part with the tides in and out and references to sea water is intriguing,’ offered one reader.

Yeah that part was important, I thought, but  what could I say about it.

The structure of the text also threw us. Some parts were in italics. The purpose of the italics wasn’t clear. We were clearly put out with this. We didn’t get it,. This was important, we knew this as readers and we knew it was our job to make sense of it.

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Then, thankfully, Kathleen stopped us and asked  us to attempt to identify what level the book was  based on descriptors of text band complexity. We all thought the work required a higher level of work than what it turned out to be. (Edward’s Eyes is a level S.) We then looked closer at the descriptors for this text band, and it did in fact fit with what we were experiencing: “Readers are not suppose to get entirely what is going on.” Yep that was it! Reading on in the description lead to what we needed to do: “…read on expecting things will become clear in the end.”

Our “be like as student” homework assignment for the day fit perfectly. I read on, and yes, it was getting clearer.  Now for my “be a teacher” homework. I want my readers to hold on and read on  Thinking back to what Kathleen was saying the day before,

  • There should be struggle in small groups.
  • The role as a teacher is to find out what readers assigned themselves and help them with their struggles.

Kathleen’s assignment for teachers was to write a book introduction keeping in mind the challenges the reader is facing and what the work requires. This is what I came up with last night:

Readers, you have come so far in your reading work I think you are ready for this next step.

At this level, sometimes books are tricky. And I’ll be honest with you, you might get frustrated trying to puzzle out this story out. You might have trouble figuring out when things are happening because the writer moves back and forth in time. . There will be times when you say huh? And I’m here to tell you, that’s ok. That is what the author is expecting you to feel. And she expects you to hang in there looking for clues, because she’s put them there for you to  find and put together. She trusts you will read on knowing things will become clearer as you read on.

Don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Read on.

Now I’m off to class. Reading in the company of others matters

6 thoughts on “Reading in the Company of Others Matters

  1. Julieanne,
    The talk – either with yourself or with others – is so helpful! Reading is not a solitary effort. And as teachers we need to be aware of when this “works” and when it doesn’t! #TCRWP

  2. Yes, there should be a struggle in small group. It’s about learning to problem solve with others and see where other minds can be helpful in figuring out one’s own thinking. I’m saving this post for later on back in the school year. Very informative and honest.

  3. This is such important work, Julieanne , and I don’t think I do nearly enough of it with my students. I love the way you shared the insights as they occurred – insight into your own shifting thinking as a reader, and as a teacher. ( PS – such fun meeting you at last- now for NCTE!)

  4. This is such a powerful exercise – putting the teacher in the role of the student. It is easy to forget what it is like being a student and to see things from the other side of the desk, as it were. If teachers struggle with these sorts of tasks, how can we expect students to not. The explanatory introduction you have written for sharing with students is a great way of supporting their learning.

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