I’m not generally one for change, but I do like to mix things up every once in a while with controlled risks. Although I’d never get in the middle of a mosh pit, I do like to stand on the outskirts and enjoy the view while listening to some great music. In the classroom, I try to create opportunities for the students to take safe risks. I also try to keep things interesting. While routine is important for students, I feel that novelty has its benefits.
Normally, during a class read aloud, I read the story aloud to a small group of students as we discuss and analyze the book. We talk about the author’s purpose, character motivation, and other literary features. I ask the students questions and allow the conversation to flow in between reading. While I do manage to read a few pages, we tend to discuss more than we read. However, recently, because we’ve had such lively conversations, my group is falling a bit behind the other group. So, I needed to fix that.
Today, during our class read aloud, I told the students that our group was getting a bit behind and while we usually discuss the book as we read, today I was just going to read. Now, there will be points that might breed conversation and it will be hard to resist, but I will keep reading. During those points, I told the boys, I will hold up a finger and shake it. That way you will read my mind and know what I’m thinking so that no discussion is necessary. The students laughed a bit.
I modeled it on a student. “What am I thinking?” I asked a sixth grader as I waved a finger above my head.
He said, “The book?”
“No, I’m thinking about mustard on my burger at lunch today because your shirt is yellow,” I replied. The students chuckled. So, they understood.
I started reading. We were covering some pretty serious territory in the story today and so parts were tough to read. During the really heavy parts, I waved that finger and looked at the boys. They knew. During one part though, I was so emotionally moved that I had to speak. When Stella dies, they throw her body into a garbage truck. I was outraged. I said, “She was a living organism just like us and they threw her body into the trash. No one seemed to care. What if a human died and we threw his or her dead body into the trash. People would be outraged. We’d be in serious trouble. Why is it okay for them to do that to an elephant? She was alive.” The boys understood the message I was conveying. Their eyes were glued to me. I held their attention. They felt the power. I then moved on and continued reading without any further discussion. When time was up, the boys seemed disappointed that I had to stop reading. They wanted to hear more about Ivan, but we had run out of time in the class.
Were the students so enthralled during today’s read aloud because the story was growing more emotional? Or was it because we didn’t talk a lot and they could just visualize the story while I read? Or, perhaps, they were so engaged because I tried a new technique on them. Maybe they thought the waving finger was funny. Or maybe this trick caused them to pay attention because they knew I wouldn’t be recapping the story. Whatever the reason, the students were far more engaged with today’s read aloud than normal. Usually, they fidget because they can’t sit still, make faces at each other, and have side conversations. Today was completely different. Maybe trying something new really did bring about positive change.