So after two weeks of orientation…the kids come tomorrow! First day of school! I have been sharpening my pencils, organizing my notes, smelling all of my books, and reveling in the slightly colder weather. I am also nervously fidgeting and starting to have stressful dreams about saving children from zombies (not sure what the symbolism is there). Apparently first day of school jitters never quite go away, especially when you are on the opposite side of the classroom. But to say a little bit more about what I am doing (since I am not exactly a classroom teacher, nor am I an after-school tutor), I am working for a charter school called Match Next, which is a chapter of the larger organization Match Education that has four schools (elementary, 5th/6th grade, middle school, high school) and also does some really great work coaching kids to get into college, producing some ground breaking research on education, and teaching people how to be amazingly effective teachers at Sposato Grad School. I am overwhelmingly excited about everything – my team, my students, my new community. But two things really stood out to me about Match Next when I applied and both speak to the administrative team’s genuine desire to dig deep into education reform and fix the heart of what isn’t working.
The first thing is the structure of the school. At Match Next there is no classroom with 25 students being taught by one teacher. Instead, there are 9 tutors working with small groups of students as a master teacher circulates throughout the room to oversee the learning being done. Lesson plans are designed by the lead teachers and implemented on a small group level by the tutors – young people from all walks of life who are passionate about working with kids and constantly receiving feedback from their master teachers to improve as educators. The question is: how does this trade off work? Ultimately, is the sacrifice of more experienced personnel worth it if it means you can create a more intimate learning environment where – literally – each child gets individualized instruction every single day of their academic school year? The answer is: I guess we’ll see.
The second thing is the emphasis on reading. In the morning there is a group reading session where tutors read higher level books out-loud to students as they follow along. Ten years old is certainly not too old to be read to and it gives kids a chance to dive into a book they might not be able to read on their own and see how an experienced reader uses inflection. Then they have two hour-long blocks of literacy class, which I learned means ‘anything with words’. Some social studies, some science, some English….you name it. And again, there is no lecturing. Students are no longer learning to read, they are reading to learn. They read a handout on Columbus (and how awful he was) and answer guided reading questions with the help of their tutor. We discussed close reading a fair amount during orientation and I fell in love.
One connection to the written word can be as deep as a love affair. Think of those books, the one you memorized every line of when you were young…think of the young adult novel you came to know so well that you wanted to rewrite the ending….Love brings us in close, leads us to study the details of a thing, and asks us to return again and again…We argue that teaching readers to look at texts closely – by showing them how one word, one scene, or one idea matters – is an opportunity to extend a love affair with reading. It is also a chance to carry close reading habits beyond the page, to remind students that their lives are rich with significance, ready to be examined, reflected upon, and appreciated. -Falling in Love with Close Reading
So this year we will be inspecting the words.
And getting lost in them.
And letting them take us to new places.
Have you read The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore? You should. BUT, there is something missing. What is the best way to get better at reading? READ MORE! Its not enough to read smarter. Reading has to be enjoyable. Which brings me to what is going to be my favorite part of the day, Independent Reading. This is a 45 minute chunk of time where students can read whatever they want. Comic books? Those have words. Anything is fair game as long as students are engrossed in a series of words on a page (or a Kindle screen) and my job during that time is to help students find a book that will inspire them to read. Towards the end of my time in India I decided my dream job would be to be a personal librarian for kids. I would get to know each and every child at a particular school and pick books specifically for them – sparking love affairs left and right and sending kids off into worlds of wonder and excitement.
The Shanti Bhavan kids cherished books more than any other students I’ve met. They pored over books, re-reading their favorites again and again, and would run to my office when I told them I picked up some new books in the city. I didn’t have enough money or hands to bring them all of the books I wanted to give them, but the precious moments of handing new books into loving hands and then fantasizing together about Oxford libraries and handsome vampires….there are no words. There are no words to describe the feeling when a student thanks you for letting her explore the world she loves – the world of vampires, angels, and magic. The world that so often gets shoved aside with homework and age. Every book is an individual adventure. Into the book and into yourself. I cannot wait to see what adventures my students discover this year and I am so excited to be a part of it.