“I’m kinda dumb sometimes, so just bear with me.”
“I’m a really slow learner.”
“I suck at reading and I’m even worse at writing.”
“I don’t like to read because I don’t ever figure out the right things.”
These were all real responses I received from students during the first week of school. I prompted them to tell me a few things about themselves on an index card. At the end of their writing, they had free reign to tell me anything about how they learn.
While not all the responses were like this, enough of them were to strike a chord with me. I teach Juniors and Seniors, and the extent of their negative self-talk makes me wonder, With so little experience with learning, someone must have said these words to them at some point, right?
We all have a tape of negativity that runs through our minds. Even though it seems like the words appear from nowhere, the truth is that we’ve plucked things from what people have told us over the years, and we’ve formed them into all the reasons why we can’t do something, be someone, achieve the impossible–or even the possible, for that matter.
The first few weeks of workshop tend to be a whole lot of un-teaching. As teachers of older students, we often have to deconstruct students’ conceptualizations of reading and writing before we can ever hope to hook them.
As Scholastic indicates, a few of the reasons kids develop less than a love for reading is because they fear the quizzes, are ashamed of being too slow, are disinterested in required reading, etc. This fear and shame begins at a very young age, but it also begins to shape students’ ideas of the point of reading in general.
The Seniors I have this year see reading as a “gotcha,” yet another boring requirement followed by a test that does not make sense in helping with their future.
The AP Juniors I have this year see school reading as a distraction from what they actually want to read or are passionate about.
Many of these students have been slapped on the wrist for missing a three-pointer before they’ve ever even stepped out on the court!
We started reading in class almost immediately. I demonstrated one way that is NOT okay to read, and that’s when you’re actually sleeping. The students asked:
“So we can lay our heads down sideways on our desks to read?”
“Can we sit on the floor?”
“Can I move to the corner?”
One student walked in from the long weekend and APOLOGIZED for finishing her book.
“Mrs. Paxson, it was just so good. I can keep it if we are going to do some lessons with it, while I read another one.”
After picking my jaw up from the floor, I explained to her that she was the FIRST to finish a book this year, and that is never something to apologize for! I walked her to the bookshelf to choose another book–always the best kind of conferring–and she smiled as I asked to take a picture with her before she left today.
The main thing I’m teaching at the beginning of this year–more than thesis statements, characterization, rhetorical analysis, or comprehension–is that there is not a wrong way to read.
You are not doing it wrong, my dear ones. Now let’s keep reading.
Do you find that you have to break your students of anything at the beginning of the year, specifically in workshop?
Jessica Paxson is an English teacher English IV, AP Lang, and Creative Writing in Arlington, TX. She runs on coffee and exaggeration. Her husband keeps her sane with his good looks and even-keeled nature. She spends her time reading everything she can, writing about real life and all it’s messiness (Jessica Jordana), and attempting to inspire students to be the best version of themselves. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @jessjordana to follow along with her many adventures!
I love this post! Just met with my Workshop PLT after school today to talk about how it’s going for everyone. This is our first attempt at full Reading/Writing Workshop in high school grades 10, 11,and 12, inclusion to honors to AP. Several teachers were discussing this very thing–lack of confidence undermining students’ attempts at change. We talked about baby steps and ensuring that students got the right books in their hands. First experiences can really impact a student’s progress. Thanks for validating our experiences and encouraging us to keep at it!
I’m so glad it was encouraging for you! I’m envious of your campus making the move together. Don’t lose heart! It is SO WORTH IT.
Smacking their head on the desk, rocking back and forth, saying, “I’m stupid! I’m retarded!”
Oh my goodness! They definitely need you to tell them what is not okay. Keep up the good work.