Not Assessable (Or Is it?) by Patrick Andrus
As I sit on my porch reflecting on the last 172 days, I seem to be “stuck” in thought about the state of education and where we currently are in the realm of assessment.
In my district, the “focus” seems to be the MCA (Minnesota Comprehension Assessment) and other district testing. We are data and score driven. I often find myself stressed, focused, and consumed by how my readers will perform on the “TEST”.
My readers have grown by measures that are not assessable. I don’t have a score, data point, or graph to prove this; but I know in my mind, and heart; that my students have become life-long passionate readers.
The read aloud year began with Nine, Ten, A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin. We took our time. We read slowly. We talked. We thought. Nora’s story was written so that ten-year olds could comprehend. Logan went home and talked about the book with his family. His parents shared with him that a family member had been in the tower that day. The story became all the more real to Logan. He not only made a personal connection to the book, but had the opportunity to speak with Nora and share his story. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
For our first “Breakfast with Books” book club, the talented and personable Erin Soderberg joined us to chat about The Quirks: Welcome to Normal. The readers were getting the chance to meet and talk with a “real live” author. At first they seemed a bit nervous. Erin put them at ease. The girls loved her “funky” style. We loved listening to her talk about her life, kids, and of course the book. Erin made a joke about the juice in the cups that the students were placing on the floor. It wasn’t more than a few minutes later and we had the first spill. She told Sophia that she earned the award for first “spill” of the year. We laughed. I knew Sophia, along with other members, was validated as a person, a reader, and above all; a human. Each following book club, the “spill” was mentioned. My biggest learning: have readers bring in juice boxes. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Our second book club selection was Maxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde. When I announced the selection, Isabella stated “I’m not reading if the dog dies.” She shared she couldn’t handle those stories. She stayed with her belief for a week, but as kids started reading and sharing; she came up to me and said; “I think I would like to try it.” Isabella shared it was one of her favorite books and was glad that Lynn told the reader on page one that Maxi would die. It helped her prepare. Isabella took a risk as a reader and grew. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Abby Cooper visited after we finished our second read aloud Sticks and Stones. As we chatted with Abby, I could tell students were in awe. Here was a young author that had worked her tail off. She shared the message of hard work and not ever giving up. I could see in the eyes that they “got it”.
Abby left us her ARC called Bubbles (released this summer). She read us the first chapter. Bubbles went on to become our favorite read aloud of the year. We were thrilled when Abby made a return visit. Even though it was only two occasions, I could tell fourth graders were making a REAL connection to Abby. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
We mixed things up a bit for the third “Breakfast with Books” and invited Phil Bildner, author of A Whole New Ballgame to join us. I knew I had reached female readers, but this time around it was about two boys in particular. They both had started earlier books, but didn’t finish. When I introduced this novel, they were all over it. They read the story together. Their trailer included a recreated “Boo Ya” handshake. When Phil appeared on screen; the boys were meeting a “book” star. The novel hooked them for the rest of the book clubs. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan joined us when the book club read Save Me A Seat. We enjoyed listening to how they were able to write together. It was the first time my students learned that a story can be written by two. Eliana and Kaitlyn decided they were going to write a story together. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Sally, a thoughtful reader, was able to share with Barbara O’Connor, author of Wish, how she related to Charlie. Sally told Barbara that she also gets angry like Charlie. It was one of the most personal moments I have witnessed between author and reader. Barbara was kind, patient, and engaging. This was the “moment” when I knew the book club was providing my readers more than I could ever imagine. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
After sharing Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz, we were able to have a wonderful discussion about personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. One boy struggles with issues similar to OCD, and connected to Molly’s story. He shared his story with Elly; while she validated him. Elly had a personality that jumped off the screen. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart was our number one “Breakfast with Books” selection. Readers were mesmerized. They ate up the suspense, mystery, and intrigue. Readers read the story faster and couldn’t put it down. We discussed about how this is a sign of a “great” book. This time around it wasn’t so much about the “plot”, but the experience of reading. It was an exciting and palpable month of reading. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
We “captured” Lauren Wolk during her work day while she sat outside her office. We finished Wolf Hollow during our historical fiction unit. The readers got a kick out of the fact that Lauren had to move locations because of construction. We were learning that authors are real people with real lives. Lauren was incredible because on several occasions, she turned the question back on the student. I could see in their faces; they were honored to be asked. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Ali Standish, author of The Ethan I Was Before, gave us a heart-felt story about friendship and loss. It was a difficult story for students to read. They were able to ask important questions about “loss”. The book changed the readers and brought them to a new level. We matured because of Ethan. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
The “author of the year” has to be Nora Raleigh Baskin. Not only did we Skype with her in the fall and chat in person when she made a surprise visit; but we had a second Skype after we finished Anything But Typical. Nora remembered many of the children and treated them with the utmost respect. She shared a personal story while sharing her heart. Nora changed readers for the better. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
We spent time with funny, personable, and energetic author; John David Anderson, author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. The class was enthralled with his advice for life, love of salted caramels, and life experiences. A couple readers had tough questions. I know they were surprised by his honesty and truth. It was a side of authors we normally hadn’t seen. Aneira had a great interaction about some of the choices he made as an author and how she responded as a reader. It was rewarding to see her have the courage to ask these questions. I could see the “light bulb” shining bright. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
The book club wrapped up with Holly M. McGhee, author of Matylda, Bright & Tender. We were the first class she Skyped with. After the Q & A, Holly shared her gecko. The enthralled kids crowded around the screen. Combine an author, gecko and group of fourth graders and you have a unique experience. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
I’m not sure where the state of education will go, but one thing I do know for sure is that these authors have had a profound impact on young readers. These experiences may be measured on a state and/or district assessment, but will have a far lasting reach that will carry students through the rest of their lives as life-long, passionate readers.
Patrick Andrus is a fourth grade teacher in Eden Prairie, MN. His number one goal for his students is to create an internal passion for reading and books. He makes it a daily habit of visiting the Nerdy Book Club Site. Patrick is beyond thrilled to have this be his ninth post on the site. He will be attending #NerdCampMI for the second time this summer. You can find his blog by visiting http://readwonder.blogspot.com. He is also an active member on Twitter as @patrickontwit.