Cory was one of my bouncy, brilliant, and all boy first graders. He took in all he observed and only spoke when he felt it was really important...just like my Dad making it extra easy to really love and care about Cory. He really cared about sports. For Cory, school subjects were still on trial. Like some frisky children full of life and questions, reading was not yet a very favorite activity in his life. It was a bit hard for him and he pushed reading away as quickly and quietly as he could (Only natural when something is hard for any of us.). Over our first weeks together, I tried to guide him to a variety of texts hoping to help Cory find books that would invite him into the world of reading with fire and energy and wonder.
Seeing him squirm and wrestle with our daily ritual of "sitting with books" of our Readers Workshop, I began to rotate Cory into my conferences a bit more often to see if I could get to know him better and find a way to help him feel more confident and compelled. I shared why and how I choose books. I engaged in book club style talk with Cory to bring fun and friendship to his reading. I modeled how I talked to myself as I read. I treasured these times with Cory because I loved hearing his thinking - Something he would almost never offer when we met as a whole group. Still, I wasn't quite sure any of my efforts were working.
But a visit with his Mom gave me a new lens. Cory's Mom, Kay, worked at our school as a high school secretary. I was excited to see her at my door because the full smile on her face told me she was bringing good news. And I was very intrigued.
"Laura, the best thing happened last night!" Kay shared.
"Fantastic! What was it?" I inquired.
Kay went on. 'After I put Cory to bed, I came back upstairs and noticed a flickering shadow of light coming up from underneath his door. I was ready to give my "Back to bed" lecture but, as I open the door, I stopped. And you know what I saw? There was our Cory underneath the covers of his bed with a flashlight - and a book! He was reading! He was reading because he wanted to read! You did it, Laura!"
"No, no - Cory did it! And you did it! Oh, that is the best news, Kay, and you are so sweet to share this with me. You just made my whole week!" I shouted as we both gave each other a big Mama bear hug.
Giving children books, guiding them to authors, inviting them into more of their thinking selves...This is sacred work. So many of the best days of teaching have been those "Ah, ha!" days when a child finishes their first book or realizes they really love mysteries or just zooms through a new chapter book series all by themselves or names their favorite authors. Absolutely thrilling!
Much of my prep work as a teacher is knowing books. In balance with knowing students really well, I give a lot of my time to sitting in book stores, browsing online, and filling myself up with new literacy possibilities for the kids and adults I learn with and from. By being a book person, I am better equipped and more courageous to be one reading and writing mentor in children's lives.
The attached resource offers a few ideas and thoughts about how to guide children to books. These reflect the words of a great thinking mentor in my life - Frank Smith: "A truly literate person not only can read but choses to read." I hope these portraits honor and support your work with your students and staff.
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