Don’t forget to teach

“It’s OK, you don’t need to be an expert!”

“Learn alongside the students”

“The teacher is the facilitator of learning, not the master of knowledge”

We’ve heard it all before – heck, we’ve even used them before. Catch phrases that have led many of us (me included) to forget that we do actually have a responsibility to teach our students. Teach them to read, to write, to speak confidently, to ask questions, to be responsible, to learn…

Today I was reminded of the importance of the idea of explicitly teaching students after a terrifically successful reading session. Our learning focus, or WALT as we call them (We Are Learning To…), was ‘WALT discuss what makes an active reader’.

As we use the workshop model here, I began to think about my introduction lesson. How to engage these Grade 4 students in the idea of being an active reader? Some ideas that came to mind:

  • brainstorm with the kids,
  • think, pair, share: what skills do you use when reading to make sure you are an active reader?
  • chart paper questions – have the students move around and comment on ‘How do you remember what you’re reading?’, ‘What do you do if you don’t understand something in a book?’, etc
  • write about what you do as a reader

All valid ideas, but then I remembered my objective. I want these kids to know, not remember or hope that by some chance one of the kids can read my mind. No, I want them to know! They need to know what makes an active reader. So I did what sometimes comes uncomfortably to some of us… I taught! That’s right, no student input, no questions for them, no asking a friend. Just listen!

To know what an active reader does, they had to see it, so I chose a picture story book (any will do) and shared some of my active reading skills as I read the book to them.

  • I asked questions: “Why are the soldiers in the house?”, “Why do the kids need to hide?”, “What does pendant mean?”
  • I made connections: “Oh, that reminds me of when …”, “That must be where the title of the book comes from – the girl said the same thing right here”.
  • I linked to prior knowledge: “This story of migration is like when many people from China moved to Melbourne during the gold rush”
  • I shared thoughts: “Wow! That must be scary for the kids”

Sure enough, quickly I had kids chirping in ideas, questions, connections – they were being active readers. At this point I read 2 more pages and then invited the kids to share some ‘active reading’ with a partner. Following this, the students headed off to a quiet spot in the room to practice their ‘active reading’ skills using their independent reading books – those that are at the just right level.

For less than a week and a half into our school year, I am thrilled at the number of kids who were able to share with me some of the questions they asked of the book, some of the connections between the ‘Horrible Histories’ events and modern day events (eg. Black Plague to H1N1), and some of the ideas that sprung to mind.

So, while we need to reinforce that learning is a life long process, and that sometimes we don’t have all the answers, we need to keep in mind that much of the time we actually do have the answers. So let’s stop asking the students for the knowledge and skills that we can share with them.

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