Friday, February 28, 2014

Did you REALLY just say poop??

One of my roles as a Reading Specialist in my school, is to provide direct instruction to small groups of students in our Reading WIN program. The students who are part of the Reading WIN program are most likely the most struggling readers in our school. While I know it is not ideal to pull these students from class, we have to follow the SRBI model put forward by our state and district to make sure all appropriate interventions are put into place before any further evaluation can be done.

Our WIN block happens at the very end of the day. Again- not ideal- but it was the only time in our hectic schedule that students would not be missing any new material in any of the content areas. During this time, I work with a group of four boys who have made it known that they HATE reading. But I want more than anything to change that mindset of these boys. 
Yesterday, one of the boys clearly did not want to be at Reading WIN. His body language was speaking loudly to me. He was rolling his eyes, shrugging his shoulders, and twisting in his chair. And even from time to time, answer questions in a borderline rude tone. 

I asked him to stay after group and talk to me about what was going on. I said, "Bud, what's going on? I really don't think you meant to be rude to me or roll your eyes, but I can tell you are not happy. What's wrong?" And with tears in his eyes and shaking, he exclaims, " All we do is read here! READ READ READ!! WHY? And there are no kids here! It is so much easier to work when there are more kids here! I don't want to read this poem and practice fluency!" At that moment, my heart broke. Here I had been trying everything I could to engage him and the other boys. I thought I had been picking engaging texts- poems about friends sticking tongues out at each other, articles about blizzards, and articles about spiders. 

But I had missed the mark. I needed to change something in my instruction and in the materials I was using. Even though I was incorporating strategies from Falling in Love with Close Reading, videos I had watched on the TCRWP, and connecting it all to fluency work, it still wasn't grabbing the boys. I could be standing on my head, and I still don't think I could help this student, or any of the other boys in my group, to love reading if I wasn't incorporating their interests. 

So, I simply asked him, " Well, what would make you LOVE coming here? What do YOU want to read about?" And he said," Action! I want action. I also want cows. I want to read about cows." 

"Ok, " I said, "When you come here tomorrow I promise I will have stories, or poems about action and cows. Now I can't guarantee that I will be able to find action and cows in the same story, but I will try my hardest. But can you be more specific about what kind of action?"

"Yes! Sports Action!," he stated. I noticed that at this point, the tears had subsided and his body was much more relaxed. He was leaning in and talking to me. His eyes were wide with excitement and almost seemed to be challenging me to find cows and sports action! 

"Alright, bud! You got it- sports action and cows. I am on it!" I declared. On that note, I sent him back to class, but not without a few hershey kisses! 

I had quite the task ahead of me. I searched my bookshelves looking for sport action books and came across Football Genius by Tim Green. I read the first chapter and thought perfect! Action, adventure and football! I then jumped on my computer and googled Cow poems, and pulled a few that I thought were funny, but still gave the boys some interesting facts about cows. I was really going to have to sell the idea of reading about cows to the other boys! Then I thought, what about nonfiction? I love the website Newsela. I logged on and searched cows. As I scrolled through the articles, I kept asking, "What would the boys like? Think like a boy!" And then as if a light was shining down on my computer, up pops an article about turning cow poop into electricity. The first few lines read," Dairy farmer Ron Koetsier's 1,200 cows drop 90 tons of manure every day. That's more than 65 million pounds of poop per year!" BINGO! I had found my article! What boy doesn't like to talk about poop! That's all my 4 year old son talks about! 

As the boys got settled for our reading group today, I turned on my actress skills and said, " Boys, I am so sorry I put you through the torture of reading poems about friends, and articles about blizzards. I can tell you hated them and weren't interested in them." The boys began to feverishly nod their heads. One even said, " Thank god! I did not like that poem!" Being super dramatic I took their poems, the T-chart we made and said, " Well, then we are done with them!" and proceeded to rip them all in half. The boys cheered and said, " So what are we reading?" 

"Well, you have a choice. We have a chapter from Football Genius, poems about cows, article about....Cow POOP!!"

"No way, Mrs. DiBartolo! Did you just say COW POOP! Please let's read that- PUH LEASE!"

And right there, I had them hooked. From there, we easily transitioned into the reading ritual of reading with a word choice lens. My objective is for the boys to recognize the words the author uses to create a tone and then show that tone through their reading. I found this was a great way to incorporate repeated readings and still touch upon strategies that help improve the students comprehension. If students cannot comprehend what they are reading, how can they be expected to read fluently and expressively? 

The boys got right to work. Without much prodding, or redirecting from me (as I sometimes need to do to keep them engaged) the boys actively read and were able to write a basic main idea for the first part of the article. What was even more cool, was the fact that along the way while I was reading out loud, they started highlighting words that created images, clear ideas, and evoked emotions for them. They were ready to share even before I was! 

This lesson speaks volumes to what I firmly believe! You give the students the right materials, the right resources, and a purposeful instructional plan and they will take off! These boys were thrilled to be sharing their thoughts, and wanted to take the article home to read over the weekend. 

That right there is the magic of teaching reading. That is the power and magic in showing the students how much you value them and listen to them. I showed the students how much I loved reading about cow poop and they fed off of that throughout the lesson. 

I am hoping that today my 4 boys fell a little bit more in love with reading. If I need to continue to find articles about poop, slime, guts- I will! I don't care as long as they are reading! 

And there is no harm in saying poop in the classroom! 

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