I noticed recently that last year I had far more slices about school and kids. When I stopped to think why, it felt like I’ve been in a series of meetings and work sessions for more than a month now. After being immersed in one classroom throughout an entire unit following New Years, I’ve been away from classrooms and even my intervention students for a few weeks.
I missed them.
Today was like re-integration therapy.
Before school I greeted a small group of our Reading Ambassadors as they were dropped off for our workshop. Eight readers in grades three through five spent the better part of an hour creating stop motion videos to promote books. It is painstaking work to capture even a few seconds of video since each frame is only 1/10 of a second. These kiddos have innovated solutions for propping up iPads, for maneuvering the Stik Bots without their hands and arms being seem, crafting speech bubbles to convey meaning. It was like being out on a playground. The room was full of happy noise as small teams of students collaborated on their projects. There will be no grade. When they’re done we’ll find or create an audience for them. And we’ll invite them to become the experts who teach others how to use this new-to-us tool.
Immediately after waving the group off for the start of the school day, I welcomed back one of my intervention students after the interlude between sessions. It feels like I haven’t seen her in a month.
We welcomed author Sarah Albee today (on her book’s birthday, no less!). I sat in as she regaled our kinders and first graders with stories. We laughed together. She shared two interactive read alouds. One of them included a roaring, snorting, sniffling dragon played by a squirmy kindergarten friend. I particularly enjoyed her asides to the kids, “Is that right? Do you believe him? No way!” The other one included some impressive voice acting by Sarah, herself. Then for the grand finale she opened up the floor to questions. “Remember,” she coached, “questions start wit words like what, who, why…Does anyone have a question?” forty-five hands shot in the air. When she called on the first boy, the first words out of his mouth were, “That reminds me. One time I….” She smiled the same smile that I did, and we both shook our heads. Because in kindergarten, we’re still working on what a question is…or at least when they’re eager for a turn to share. We all know that in other situations five year olds are champion questioners.
I helped to shift the library furniture to accommodate our bigger fourth and fifth graders. Then sat in on most of Sarah’s session with them, as well. These bigger kids were treated to stories about the history of sewage and all that goes along with it, as well as the four bugs who’ve caused the most mayhem through history by spreading terrible diseases. Three “doctors” offered diagnoses and treatment advice to poor, unsuspecting, patients suffering from plague, cholera, and yellow fever. The white lab coats were fun. Cholera lead to a discussion of poison and eventually circled around to bizarre wardrobe choices through the ages. It sounds like pieces of completely different puzzles, but she wound it together seamlessly. I kept watching the clock, but was able to stay long enough to see a brave 4th grader dressed in 16th century style complete with the butt bump (I think that’s what Sarah called it…I need to read her book!), the full skirt, AND the ruff collar!
I was sorry to sneak out, but I got to read with my little Boo. Do you know the youngest girl in Despicable Me? That’s her. She bubbles over with joy and a little mischief and reading is really starting to click for her (most days)! Really, you can’t help but smile.
I rounded out the day by joining a fourth grade class for a grand conversation of their first few read aloud books in an informational reading unit focused on the Civil Rights era. I was technically there as support for a conversation that could broach sensitive topics. Not once did the group need to be re-directed. Although they’ve had only a few grand conversations this year, they treated each other with respect. My heart swelled when I heard one boy pipe up to say, “I think we should give some other people a chance to be in the conversation who haven’t said much yet.” He was advocating for those to his left and right who’d been patiently waiting. And as for the issues of race and segregation that arose, every single child took a position of empathy and compassion. It tugged at my heartstrings when they asked earnestly why anyone would want to treat other people the way that African Americans were treated “bac then.” And I was delighted when a few students made their own connections to some other groups who faced discrimination: women, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and even people of different sizes or economic circumstances. Is there more for these children to learn and understand about our society and our world…much. But from today’s conversation I am convinced that they have the hearts to engage openly and fairly with difficult truths.
After I’d complimented the group for being inclusive, for referring to specific parts of the read aloud texts, and even for bringing in other texts familiar to the whole group to make insightful connections, I sent them off to the next part of their afternoon. One boy stayed behind at the carpet and asked, “IS there still slavery in America?” From a comment he’d made during the conversation, I knew he was aware that slavery still existed in some other parts of the world. I took a deep breath and answered, “yes.” He followed up with other questions about how it could still happen. I explained that it has been illegal since the Civil War, but that some terrible people still bring other people into the country and then force them to work in secret. “Is it like blackmail?” he asked. “I heard that in some places people get blackmailed and forced to do things that they wouldn’t do ever except for that.” He referenced vandalism and I was happy to leave it at that. Our conversation continued for another minute as his classmates returned to the carpet for read aloud. I’d heard his curiosity and his concern and met him only as far as he lead.
Today was so renewing.
During the next two weeks I will be away from my own students again, though I’ll be borrowing and meeting some others. For now, it was perfect to get back to my own students big and little.