Take Turns! by Deb Krygeris
If you grew up with siblings, how many times did you hear your mom or dad say, “Take turns!” when you and your sister (or brother) fought over who got to move first in checkers or whether your or your sib dressed Barbie first in the bride gown (and let’s not forget the fight over which Ken got to be the “boyfriend”) or who chose the flavor of Kool-Aid for the next pitcher? Yes, I grew up with two sisters and I’m sure we’ve repeated those two words, “Take turns” many times to our own children, too.
But in the classroom I have to admit I forgot my mom’s mantra. As a teacher and “wild reader” as defined by Donalyn Miller, I knew my job was to work tirelessly to open and expand my students’ reading world. I did all the right things: weekly book talks, adding carefully selected novels to book stacks on desks, selecting engaging read alouds, dedicating daily time to independent reading, and infusing my curriculum with the best fiction and nonfiction books available. But what I forgot, or maybe just didn’t pay as much attention to as I should have, is to stop and listen to my students and their recommendations AND act on those recommendations. Immediately!
Nerdy book lovers like me feed off the power of matching the perfect book and student and when the student returns the book raving about how fantastic it was, we smile and mentally pat ourselves on the back! Victory!! But, until this past school year, I didn’t realize what was missing was my acting immediately on books recommended by my students. After we finished reading The Giver this year, Tim recommended Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacy series) to me. He described how he’s read all the books in the series so far and couldn’t wait until the final book, The Fate of Ten, is released September 1st. Occasionally as the weeks passed, Tim would ask if I’d started the series yet. I had so many reasons for not starting it, but how do you explain to a sixth grader that it’s May and I just couldn’t fit one more thing into my day! It’s the end of the school year for goodness sakes! After I told him the book I was currently reading and explained that I just hadn’t had a chance to start his book yet, he’d say, “Ok, but please let me know when you do read it so we can talk!” Still, I didn’t move the book to the top of my TBR pile.
June arrives and after reading three or four books for another project, I finally collect I Am Number Four from the library and bring it home to read. I finished it late that very same night, curled on the sofa, my house quiet with sleeping bodies except for mine. Oh, Tim knew me well – he matched me with a perfect book because he knew of my passion for similar books like The Hunger Games and the Divergent series. We’d loved The Giver in class and I’d book talked Teri Hall’s The Line series. Immediately before going to bed, I sent Tim (now my former student) an email thanking him for his recommendation and asking questions about the next book in the series. The next morning before he could reply, his mom replied to thank me for emailing him about the book because he was so excited that I loved it! Tim also responded and refused to answer my questions and just told me to go get the next book. Which of course, I did that very day.
So, why did I feel like a failure? I didn’t take turns. I was so busy doing my job that I failed to allow the “wild readers” already in my classroom to do their job- recommend a book to me. The power of this ongoing conversation with Tim over this summer will not be something I ever forget again. As the summer ends, I’ve caught up and finished the Lorien Legacy series and have pre-ordered the final book. Tim and I have decided to read and talk about the book together via email early in September. So, even though he moves on to 7th grade and a new school, we’ll maintain our reading connection which is the goal I’ve always worked so hard to achieve with my students. Then, I’ll share this post with him so he knows what an important lesson he taught his teacher this past year. “Take turns!”
Debbie Krygeris is a 6th-grade teacher at Whittier School in Downers Grove, IL. She credits her mom and the weekly trips to the public library for transforming her into a “wild reader.” Her students know the way to her heart is to just ask for more independent reading time. Instantly, Mrs. K. will pull her book from her bag and be reading right along with the class. Deb and her class tweet @MrsK6th and personally she’s @DebKrygeris.