Participating in the Heinemann Webinar Let’s Talk About Your Readers with Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, and Penny Kittle was just the nudge I needed to deepen and solidify the work Paulsen’s words had begun.
Friday after school, I met with some colleagues for our weekly staff Write Club. Each week we read a short piece, complete a quick write in response, and share our writing (of course we do much more than that—laugh, cry, vent, grow—but this is the basic structure of our time). This week, I had chosen “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins. Initially, I thought I might write my own piece in response focusing on the passion, knowledge, and dedication I bring to my job, and counter it with the mandates, clipboards, and negative feedback I get in response.
However, I just couldn’t muster up the negative energy (which had come so easily over the past few weeks) to write such a piece. Instead, I found myself focusing on a line of the poem that I hadn’t fully appreciated the first few times I’d read the poem: and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered. This time, with the words of Lehman, Roberts, and Kittle still lingering in my heart, the whispered gift of two clear eyes to read the world tugged at my sleeve, calling to be noticed, hoping to be admired.
I started to think about reading the world—closely reading the world. I started to think about choice and the role it plays. And I wondered why I have been choosing to closely read the parts of the world I have been lately. This reminded me of the words of Ruth Ayres—Life is for celebration, not survival. Why had I been focusing on the parts of my world I feel I have to endure instead of the parts of my world that sustain me?
And you know that part of the Grinch’s story where his heart grows? I felt that happening for me. The black outer layer started to crack away to reveal a pink, fleshy interior, as if someone had finally sprinkled water on the dry, parched ground of my teacher soul.
I whispered a new choice—a choice to focus my two clear eyes to read closely the parts of the world that matter.
I choose to focus on Chris Lehman’s idea that close reading is a particular type of thinking about text, a habit readers can choose to use while reading; it is NOT all of reading, NOT an entire curriculum, NOT a list of text-dependent questions.
I choose to focus on Kate Robert’s thoughts about the purpose for close reading being to raise engagement and joy for reading.
I choose to focus on what Chris Lehman said when he was summarizing Kate Robert’s ideas about close reading being an interaction between a text and reader rather than the act of finding of a truth inside of a text.
I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s practice of closely reading her students, and Chris Lehman’s thoughts about students being our curriculum.
I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s idea that part of our job is to create a love reading, which leads to the development of non-cognitive qualities that are critical to future success (see How Children Succeed by Paul Tough): persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.
I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s words about taking time for what really matters in our classrooms: Without conferring I can’t reach my readers.
I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s declaration that every text is worth reading closely, and students should be making choices about what they are closely reading.
I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s ideas about text complexity needing to start where kids are, that it is okay for students to end the year in different places when it comes to text complexity. This kind of differentiation is good practice, she says.
I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s idea that the more control she gives her students, the more they read.
I choose to focus on Chris Lehamn’s words about the Common Core State Standards: They are all about independence.
I choose to focus on what matters.