Report from the field

Walking into my old elementary school nothing seemed the same. Not only were my memories of the brand new building gone but also so was the shiny appearance it once held. The school has not only changed in the physical sense, the student population has also completely transformed. A school that was once largely upper middle class kids is now filled with students on free or reduced lunch who have no support at home. Even in my mom’s kindergarten classroom it is easy to separate the haves from the have-nots. Kindergarten has not changed much from the constant chaos, but amidst it all learning is much further pushed. As I first run an activity with small groups, the focus was not only on being able to read their worksheet but also to comprehend what was on it in order to answer the questions. While some kids blew threw it answering comparison questions such as “the ice cream is white as ______” (yes we were also giving these children ice cream before their 10:15 lunch period), others could not even distinguish the line that they were to write their names on. This wide range of reading levels came out again later in the day. Reading to larger groups, those who had been able to read and comprehend the worksheet earlier in the morning were more engaged and interested in the small books I read to them while the others got distracted and were disinterested.

 

While I knew I would witness this discrepancy in the schools, I was saddened to see how early the gap starts. These kids are already being funneled into reading level groups, which will allow those with already high levels to escalate quickly while those who are struggling may feed off of each other, and only minimally build on their reading level. It is a sad cycle that creates a widening gap as kids escalate through the grades. Many teachers are working to minimize this. One method that they do at the elementary school where my mom works involves volunteers coming in and reading one on one with kids in the lower reading groups. I was able to get involved with this at the end of the day. By reading with a few of the kids I was able to help them sound out words and work through what they don’t know while also creating a dialogue about what we were reading. Obviously kindergarteners are not reading or having read to them such complex books that there are intense things to be learned. Nonetheless, I believe the personal read along that we did do will help these lower level kids to push through in the future and hopefully continue reaching beyond their reading level in order to lesson the gap between themselves and some of their more well off classmates. 

Polar Express!

I wanted to report about a very fun and exciting annual event held annually here in New England that relates to a story that we discussed briefly, but never read in class. Given the holiday season, I can’t help but get excited about reading The Polar Express as we have done every Christmas Eve. I remember the beautiful drawings and rich language that have touched my brother and sister even as we have grown up. When I was younger, we took a special trip to the North Pole on the Conway railroad in New Hampshire. The attraction is extremely popular, and each year my mom would put in for a drawing to be able to attend the event. One year, we were lucky and got to head to the North Pole. I remember only a few things about the ride, one of which being that the train was beautiful and another being that the hot chocolate was phenomenal. The memories I have of that day are special and heartwarming and truly brought a favorite book to life. This attraction is something that I hope to visit again with my family, and I hope to keep the tradition of reading The Polar Express on Christmas Eve alive. In this way, children’s books can evoke memories and emotions that become unique to the reader. I have come to appreciate the special place that this book has in my heart and I will read the book a little differently this year after this course. 

A link to the attraction’s site:

http://www.polarexpress.org/index.html

Report from the Field

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image credit: http://www.betterworldbooks.com/no-tito-no-no-no-titus-id-0735820759.aspx

My report from the field is about my experience reading with children at St. Andrew’s School in Richmond, VA.  The very first day I went to St. Andrews, I was paired with two young girls–one a second grader, the other a third grader. Both girls were little giggle-boxes and bursting with excitement. I hoped the small loft room we were in could contain all of the energy that seemed to radiate from my group and expand toward the outer walls of the room.  Daylight savings had just ended, so at 5:00pm, it was already fairly dim in the room, so we used flashlights to help us read. I was not sure if the flashlight was really to help us see the pages of the oversized book, that was at least as tall as the second grade girl, or if it was just to add to the magic of the experience. Either way, it worked out great. The girls took turns reading one page each and passing the flashlight between turns.

The book was called No, No, Titus! by Claire Masurel , Shari Halpern , Diego Lasconi.  The story was about a puppy named Titus who arrives on a farm that will be his new home.  However, Titus cannot figure out what it is that he is actually supposed to do on the farm. He tries to go to school with the children, chase mice, lay eggs, milk the cows, and plow the fields–but all he hears is “No, no, Titus! Dogs don’t ______.” Poor Titus is so confused. What IS it that dogs do? His questions are soon answered when one night a fox sneaks on to farm, sure to wreak havoc in the henhouse. Brave little Titus chases away the fox and saves the day. The farmer is so proud. Titus had finally found his purpose on the farm.

However, the funniest part of the whole experience was that whenever the name “Titus” was encountered, one of the girls always pronounced it [tit-uhs]. Despite my multiple corrections to the girl, she still continued to pronounce the name incorrectly. Hearing the name mispronounced was such a distraction to me that I could hardly concentrate on the simple plot of the story.

Then, when we read Feed, by M.T. Anderson, whenever I read the main character’s name, I could not help but pronounce Titus as [tit-uhs] in my head. Every time I read the name, I was reminded of my experience at St. Andrew’s and what a fun and inspirational time it was as I was able to see firsthand the joy that reading brings to children rather than just talking about it  in class.

When I got into the car after volunteering that day, my fiancé was waiting for me. I told him the story about what [Tit-uhs] the dog and how the girl had continuously mispronounced it. As an elementary school physical education teacher, he could definitely relate and see the humor of the situation in which children often mispronounce words. I found the book at a local library and read it to him a couple of days later. We both loved the book and mispronounced Titus’s name throughout the whole story. Now it is an “inside joke” between us. Whenever one of us does something wrong, the other says “No, No, Tit-uhs!” We both laugh and remember not only the joys of learning how to read ourselves, but also the joy of seeing other children LEARN.

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