Reading Lessons Learned by Carrie Rodusky
I am a lifelong reader. I have always listed reading as a favorite hobby and would choose to sit with a good book over anything else. I was the kid who rode her bike in the summer to the library and sat in the aisles for hours. Once, in the third grade I saw my school librarian in the grocery store and reacted as if she were a celebrity, because, in fact she was my favorite person in the school.
My students know this about me and it would not surprise me if they also thought (insert eye roll) “here she goes again” when I share a new book I have read with them during class. I take my job seriously as an ELA teacher in upper elementary. I follow the standards, make sure I get in that all-important grammar lesson with vocabulary, but my real passion is with the stories and authors we read.
I teach strategies and skills; and that is necessary. However, I love sharing books I find at the library, through blogs, or through collaborating with others. The kids seem to like it too, because a few have come to school to tell me they could not wait to get to the library over the weekend to check out Blended or Louisiana’s Way Home and what can we say about Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick and how so many of my fourth graders told me they saw The Marvels in the bookstore but just kept walking by with the hopes I will choose it as my next read aloud in class? That is progress.
Why is this important? You see, I teach at a school where many of the students come from non-reading homes. They are not encouraged to read outside of school and many only read during the time they are with me. I try to create an environment that celebrates reading and all that books can do for your life. Did anyone watch “The Great American Read” this past fall on PBS? As a book nerd, I was glued. I showed some of the portions to my fifth graders. I showed them clips with Jason Reynolds and they got emotional when watching George Lopez tear up as he talked about how Charlotte’s Web impacted him so. I know I cannot make someone a reader, but I can try. There are days I feel discouraged for sure. I wonder if anyone is getting anything I am saying. Yet, in the midst of that doubt, right before break, I was reminded why I teach reading.
A fifth grade student of mine knows I love all things figurative language and you will often hear students yelling out, “I found onomatopoeia!” as they are reading around the room. During their time to independently read, this student was nose deep in her book and raised her hand to let me know that she was finding all kinds of personification. At the end of class, she followed me out and told me how this story “made the house come alive.“ I took a peek at the cover, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand was the book. I asked her to bring it back. The next day she eagerly raised her hand again. “Can I read this to the class?” she asked.
“Behind Victoria the house yawned and creaked.” “Yep! Definitely making the house seem human.” She continued, “A tiny ripple raced along the front side of the house, like the bricks were skin and the ripple was the blood underneath.”
I could hardly contain my excitement. She continued to tell me about her favorite character and what she thought of the story so far. I read the back cover and skimmed a few pages and was hooked. I brought my laptop over and showed her how I was checking out the book from my public library to hopefully read over break. Now the murmurs started and other students were asking which book and what part was that and would I really read it over break. Well, I am happy to say I read it over break. In two days. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls was creepy and spooky and there was sadness but also strength and a leading female protagonist that made me root for her while being annoyed with her at the same time. It was full of beautiful personification and descriptive language that I could teach for days. I could see why my student wanted Victoria to go away and then ultimately regret that decision.
I did not want the story to end. But, now I get to talk about it in class with that student. I get to connect with her about a book and we can tie in emotions and opinions and compare it to other texts. We can find a book to read next that would compliment this story and with any luck, we can have others in the class join our enthusiasm. Books are meant to be shared and talked about. I can give you a ton of ideas and recommendations, but I can also say this: Are you looking for a good read? Ask a student. I can’t wait to hear.
Carrie Rodusky has been teaching since 1996. She is currently the fourth and fifth grade language arts teacher and 4th grade social studies in a Catholic school outside of Cleveland, Ohio. She loves all things reading and can be found out under the trees on a summer day with book in hand. She hopes all kids will identify themselves as readers and still tries with her own teenagers. She will read “Wild” and “The Secret Life of Bees” every year without fail.