As the year is rolling (rapidly) to an end, I have taken time to reflect and really analyze how this year’s movement and progress has been different then years past. Besides following the footsteps of the amazing Penny Kittle; borrowing sky writing from the vivacious Shana Karnes; bouncing ideas off of the astounding Amy Rasmussen; and being inspired by the wall-to-wall library of the ever-evolving Emily Kim…I realized that this year, I am talking differently.
In posts pasts, I’ve mentioned a full on effort of instilling calm in my teaching, but most importantly within myself. I’ve talked about strategies and tactics to support our lovely readers and writers. I’ve discussed the power of revision. I’ve done a lot of talking. Yet, I haven’t reflected as much on how I’m talking. And, just the other day, as I was standing in the middle of my classroom admiring the soft buzz surrounding me, I realized what was happening. Students no longer depend on me. They are depending on themselves and their peers. They are listening intently, supporting one another, and using language that I (at that moment) realized reflected what I’ve been saying all year.
I’ve always made a conscious effort to refer to the individuals I educate as students or young adults; both in speaking with them and with others about them. Kids? Children? Never. To me it’s important to afford them that respect. Yes, they are and always will be their parents’ and guardians’ children, but to me, they are the evolving, growing, and inspiring young adults who show up (as often as they can) serious about their education.
Interestingly, this year one student decided that he is no longer a student, but a scholar. Well, aren’t I the lucky educator exploring and learning among scholars? Yes, this is now the norm. They are sitting up straighter, not because I am that educator who demands upright students, but more simply because they are feeling important as they use this term to describe one another. They own their importance. And how beautiful and distinguished they look doing so.
Now that I’m among scholarly greatness, when it comes to literature, “What book are you reading?” has pretty much become extinct in our learning community. We talk about books as pieces or literature. It’s amazing how synonyms prompt different levels of affluence. There’s an air of ownership and pride when students are discussing literature. Whether it be a review of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, the graphic novel of Anne Frank, Hill Harper’s Letters to an Incarcerated Brother, Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X, John Steinback’s Of Mice and Men, Dr. John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and so many others…students are examining them with wonder, inquisition, and esteem.
While reading these pieces, we are no longer just looking up words in the dictionary. We are researching. We are finding what we need in order to fully understand what is before us. We are using our resources to enhance that understanding. We are not only completely comfortable with the extra step of flipping through Webster to explore our options, but we are embracing it because it’s now just part of who we are as learners. Yes, we are researchers.
And, we are not flawless. We find definitions that don’t always make sense. So, we find partners who can help us grasp the concept of this idea in the context of our individual reading. We are active. We support each other. Students and I have made a pact; when they do not know a word they take to research. However, when they do not know how to pronounce that word, I become their resource. See, there’s a huge difference between the two. Students are no longer relying on me for a definition, just the initial step of knowing what the word sounds like so they can productively use it on their own, and in context, once they are comfortable with its meaning.
Above and beyond all of the communal support we provide for each other, there are those times that we are just plain “stuck”. When students approach me with this, I no longer ask, “Why?” Instead, I ask, “What is the reason?” or “Let’s identify what’s happening here.” Even in those moments when we’re not sure we even know why we are stuck, I’m asking students to own, articulate, and start problem solving their moment of frustration to alleviate the feeling of intensity. Once I started probing, students realize there’s a reason they are at a standstill. As we move through the recognition and pinpoint the issue, we are off and running (again).
Hearing students playing with language, context, and dialogue is magical. A lot has shifted this year. Students are continually showing me what they need from me to support them in their growth. Whether it’s asking a scholar what piece of literature he will be embarking on next or setting dictionaries on every group of desks for easy access to research; students are asking me to support them in their launch. As we continue to progress together, I am looking forward to recognizing what else needs to be said differently because, wow, what a difference a word makes!
What language do you use that propels your students? What shifts have you made to support higher levels of learning and engagement?