Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 18 2012

Surprise! Learning!

My mother requested that I write this post, so here goes.

I love being surprised by how much one thing can affect learning. The thing this time is a new whiteboard easel, which I got (amazingly!) from EXTRA money my school had???? Whaaaat??? This never happens.

But anyway. Because I had this whiteboard, I could do something new with my reading group. Every time we got to a word we really liked or a word we didn’t know the definition of, we wrote it on the board and talked about it. On the minus side, our reading went reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaallly slowly as every kid wanted to be the one whose word gets on the board. But the plus side was huge.

We were reading James and the Giant Peach, which is great for this kind of activity because Roald Dahl makes up words on a regular basis, or hyphenates things together, or just generally makes words awesome. I was shocked, once more, by how many words my kids are simply not understanding when we read, but at least we had a chance to talk about them. Kids were suggesting words like “pandemonium,” “toboggan,” “glaring,” “gorgon,” and “squelch.” We had fun just saying the words together. Go ahead. Say it. Say, “squelch.” Talk about onomatopoeia, right?

The best part about all this came when we finished the book. We had our little mini-discussion, talking about what we appreciated or didn’t appreciate about the book. As usual, the kids went right for the literal: “I liked it when James….” or “I didn’t like it when this sad thing happened.” But after we went through that a little, I asked them if they had any opinions about the way the author wrote the book.

And oh, my goodness.

One of my new students, who has only been here two weeks, said, “I liked when Roald Dahl made up words.” Why? “Because it’s a little unusual. Like usually when you read you see the same words, but in his book it makes it unusual and interesting.”

Another student recalled the brilliant comment by my smartypants about one particular sentence: “I liked it when there was that really long sentence about drowning that made you feel like you drowned too. It was like the book was real.”

A third student: “It was a little hard because I didn’t know a lot of words and I didn’t like that, but also we got to learn lots of new words so that was good.”

And finally, “I liked when they sang songs. Then it rhymed and was kind of funny. It was hard to understand, but it was good once we talked about it.”

I love my students. One tiny thing, a whiteboard to note words, makes us pay attention not just to WHAT was written, but HOW it was written. And then we can talk about whether it worked or not, or whether we liked it, or whether it made us confused. This, for all you teacher types, is Evaluation, highest level of Bloom’s, and, full disclosure, it was totally an accident. But we’ll be doing it again.

One Response

  1. catherine wheeler

    Thanks for this! I am always impressed by how positive you are with each kid and each comment, and how creative you are even with simple tools. Mom.

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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