Stuck in the Middle: I am a Soul Man!
My wife, Alisa, a grade 3/4 teacher, and I were having a conversation the other night about reading and reading comprehension for students. She talked about how students have to read not just with the brain but also with their hearts. Reading that touches your senses is often easier to remember and more impactful on your learning than information read that does not dive deep into your soul.
Now Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi might have argued that I am not a classical "Soul Man," but the thought of encouraging students to not only read for information and content but to read for passion with material that touches your heart resonated with this wannabe Blues Brother.
Last week, a couple of young ladies at NSMS presented a piece at our Monday assembly about Martin Luther King Jr. and his message about civil rights and acceptance and coming together as people. It reminded me of a story I had read in Sports Illustrated six years ago. It was an article I thought I could share with all our grade 8 students because I remembered the story making a positive impression on me. I dug up my old SI issue to see if it might be that magic piece of writing that I wanted to share with students.
I am a big proponent of continuing to read aloud even as students enter the higher grades, so I thought this was a perfect time for me to share and lead by example. Reading aloud to young people is important for language development, vocabulary, fluency and reading confidence. That doesn't mean it still doesn't make me a little nervous when I have to be the one reading. When I was in middle school, I was very reluctant to read aloud. I was self-conscious that I was not very smooth and made lots of pronunciation mistakes. I avoided and even skipped words I didn't know. That was my strategy. Skip the word, and the teacher would tell me I missed that word and then I could read it after hearing how they pronounced it.
I now know better. Becoming better at anything in life is about learning from your mistakes.
I entered my first classroom with my article. I sat at the front of the room on a raised stool and moved the front row back so that I could take off my mask to read. I was a little anxious, which is a good sign because being nervous is always an indication that I care about what I am about to do. Even today, I don't want to embarrass myself in front of the class. The story is about George Raveling, a Hall of Fame College Basketball coach, and his connection to Martin Luther King Junior and his powerful speech at the March on Washington in 1963. The article is eight pages long, but I only planned on reading a short passage to get my point across to the students.
I started to read. Although I had read it six years ago and reread it in preparation for sharing it with students, I still ran into a word I did not recognize in the first paragraph. "Dang! I had never heard of 'Tchotchkes.'" I wasn't sure how to pronounce it or what it meant, so I skipped it. Old habits are hard to break.
As I read, I tried to glance up to see if students were engaged. The room was silent, so I was worried I had put everyone to sleep. I was pleasantly surprised to see people listening and interested. I stopped at the end of the passage and said, "do you want me to continue reading or stop? I am OK either way."
Heads nodded approval, and one person said, "yes, please" and another "of course". I was happy to keep telling Coach Raveling's story. As I continued to read, I gained confidence, and my delivery became smoother and more fluent. I could feel that students remained engaged. The story took us through a piece of history that this group of young students is just learning about in class. It truly is a powerful story with a message worth sharing. It is unique and not widely known, but North Saanich grade 8 students were being exposed to how it affected people.
My other objective was to demonstrate that reading aloud is still essential in middle school and beyond and that being read to is still enjoyable if the story is well written and engaging. If a story or reading passage touches your soul, then it is worth sharing.
At North Saanich Middle School, we still read to students aloud. It is helpful for their reading and comprehension development and hopefully also good for their soul. I know that I felt nervous before reading to them but incredibly supported by them after.
If you have time to read and be read to by your children, I would highly recommend it even as they get older. It is a great way to spend some quality time together and improve your children's literacy skills.
So this is what I think Elwood Blues (Dan Akroyd) from the Blues Brothers would say about reading to your kids, "And remember, people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there're still some things that make us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody." We can all enjoy and remember a good story read to us if it touches our brains and hearts!
Link to Sports Illustrated Article - Pioneering coach George Raveling's surprising connection to MLK -https://www.si.com/college/2015/01/09/george-raveling#:~:text=Pioneering%20coach%20George%20Raveling's%20surprising,and%20his%20memory%20is%20lousy.
Book I was talking about with my wife - Disrupting Thinking - Why How We Read Matters, Kylene Beers & Robert E. Prost - Chapter 6 - Book, Head, Heart Framework