I’m presently reading My Beloved World, the memoir by Sonia Sotomayor. It’s wonderful! There are so many places in the book where I feel she is speaking directly to me, as a teacher, or as a parent and grandparent. At other times, I can see her message loud and clear for kids, especially those who are trying hard to break the cycle of poverty in their families by getting a good education.
Sonia had a big aha moment in fifth grade. She was an extremely avid reader as a child, but realized that a handful of students (not her) always got the top marks. She finally got up the nerve to ask a top student how she studied.
“Donna Renella looked surprised, maybe even flattered. In any case, she generously divulged her technique: how, while she was reading, she underlined important facts and took notes to condense information into smaller bits that were easier to remember; how, the night before a test, she would reread the relevant chapter. Obvious things once you’ve learned them, but at the time deriving them on my own would have been like trying to invent the wheel.”
This made me think of how important explicit modeling and gradual release of responsibility is when teaching our students. I’ve often said that struggling readers do not realize what goes on inside the heads of proficient readers as they read. Hopefully teachers are sharing this knowledge as they teach FOR strategies— teaching in ways that the child sees how the strategy could help him, takes the strategy on, and uses it when independently reading. Teaching inferring or questioning or visualizing or making connections, and so on, is only useful if the child actually makes use of it when he/she is stuck on a word, phrase, or passage.
As Sonia Sotomayor continues this story she realizes what an important life lesson this was for her. I wish all teachers would find a way to share it with their students.
“But the more critical lesson I learned that day is still one too many kids never figure out: don’t be shy about making a teacher of any willing party who knows what he or she is doing. In retrospect, I can see how important that pattern would become for me: how readily I’ve sought out mentors, asking guidance from professors or colleagues, and in every friendship soaking up eagerly whatever that friend could teach me.” (p. 72)
What a wonderful way to live your life… learning from every person you come in contact with! And, at the same time, being humble and respectful enough of others to realize that everyone has something to teach you.
How have you encouraged your students to learn from each other? Are you the only teacher in the room?