I had opportunity to sit with eight middle school teachers this evening who came to a workshop offered by a colleague in my office. She asked me to come give the participants an instructional experience with informational text. I pulled a few copies of the latest Storyworks and asked the teachers to look through it to find an informational article they felt would interest their students. They agreed on one about whether or not sweets should be banned from schools.
I modeled STOP & TALK with this text. The “lesson” primarily considered student’s interests, then gave a simple, replicable way to help them walk through a text with support of a partner and a caring teacher/coach. Here is how it goes:
Today I want to teach you that when you read informational text, you want to read everything on the page. You do this because it helps you understand what you’re reading. One of the ways you can do this is “Stop & Talk”. First you & your partner set yourselves up to read a section at a time by placing a post it at the end of the first paragraph (or section). Next, You read the text and stop when you see the post-it. Third, you think about what you’ve read and talk with your partner about what each of you are thinking. Then you do it again until you finish the article.
I began with them watching me go through the process. I thought out loud in a slightly different tone, and using body language to indicate I was telling them my thoughts. I wanted my thoughts to be authentic. I wanted them to see what was really happening in my mind as I worked to make meaning of this (middle school level) text.
Then I set them up to practice. I listened in to their partnerships and coached a little bit. (I did a little teacher talking about responding as people rather than as teachers as well as how to share the power of the word MAYBE with reluctant student partnerships.)
We need to give teachers permission to teach in to talk. Students need to know their thinking is important and valuable. We need to let them think and talk about their thinking without fear they’ll be corrected. We need to be better listeners. Often times I have had a desired answer or thought line in mind when demonstrating or talking with students. How much richer my classroom became as I began to listen more closely, suspending my own agenda to hear what kids actually said. They say the most brilliant things in beautifully odd, poetic and circuitous ways. We need to be capturing their brilliance, waiting for it, listening for it and writing it down to adorn our classroom walls. It happens every day.
It was truly delightful sitting in conversation with these educators who taught all day for the past three days. Teachers who came after school to consider new ways to help their students. Their students are considered “failing”. The kids have been in the country for years, but have not yet attained enough language to pass the tests that indicate they are fluent in English. They are called “LTELs”. I hate this label. Don’t you?
These are kids; mostly boys are “checked out”, “uninterested”, “disengaged”. These are self-described non-readers. As my mentor, friend, Shana Frazin said, these are learners who have a “fractured relationship with reading”. I would add they have a fractured relationship with school. These kids are in middle school. We have all let them down. They are nearly done with their compulsory schooling. Their situation needs to be considered a social and academic emergency. These are our kids. If not me, then who?
Gratitude for middle school teachers who come out after three long days to put their heads and their hearts together to grow their practice and find a way to help every student grow.