Living a Life in Verse

So many times, when talking about reading, teachers put an emphasis on decoding and comprehension.  They want to make sure kids are reading accurately and fluently.  They want to make sure they teach their students how to predict,  how to find the main idea, how to infer from the breadcrumb trails the author leaves her readers.  They want to check off all the boxes. And yes, these are all important, but in the midst I think we are losing the importance of the story.  Why is this story important?  How does this story connect to you?  How has it changed you?  What differences has it made in your thinking, in your life?  Isn’t that what reading is all about?  Isn’t that what keeps us reading?  It isn’t my ability to read accurately and fluently; it isn’t my proficiency in finding the main idea or making an inference, it is my love of and connection to the characters in the story.  I want to crawl into their lives for a while and live their experiences.  That way I become more them and less me.  I am able to take on different points of view; I am able to grow in my thinking and being.

Recently, I have been reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson with a sixth-grade student.  She is a proficient and prolific reader and writer.  She loves Percy Jackson novels and all things Greek mythology.  She was in a rut.  Whenever this happens, whenever students gets stuck in their reading, I often turn to poetry novels.  I find that verse creates a space where kids can take more chances.  Verse seems to challenge their thinking, but does so in a gentle, playful way.  By reading Brown Girl Dreaming, Hadley and I are able to step into Ms. Woodson’s reality.  We get to see and feel what a brown girl growing up in the south experienced – parent conflicts, loving grandparents, sibling rivalry, the love of reading – all things we can connect with.  There are also lots of historical and geographical pieces that nudge Hadley’s knowledge and make her curious to want to know more. This is the very essence of reading; this is why we read.

We are almost at the end our journey with Ms. Woodson, so I thought we’d take a break and write using the first line of the title poem of the novel for inspiration.  When I ask students to write, I also write alongside them.  I think this is so important.  We write quietly beside each other and somehow there is such power in this simple act.  Hadley types.  I write long-hand.  She marvels at how fast I can scrawl words across a page.  I find that the act of writing by hand magically connects my mind and fingertips.  Sometimes I wonder what my fingertips are writing. How exactly am I creating? It’s like my fingers have a mind of their own.  Hadley pauses. “I’m stuck,” she says.  Well, I say, “Let’s read it out loud and see what comes to mind.”  She is twelve now.  She does not like hearing her own voice, so I read her poem aloud to her. She reaches for the laptop again, “ I got it now,” she says and continues. I love being within this process with her.  I don’t want it to end, but it does.  She is finished.  She has run out of steam.  She says that she is done.  I do not argue.  I read it one more time aloud to her.  .  I read mine aloud, and we enjoy the fact that Ms. Woodson’s one line could create two different poems. We are satisfied.

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