February 24, 2016

The Universes They Found

We were talking about counter-arguments today in class. More accurately we were talking about how it is important to acknowledge alternative interpretations to your claim and/or your evidence when writing a Literary Essay.

I showed the kids how they could use thinking prompts like, “while some might argue...they forget that in the text it says... or “ Some people might interpret this to mean...But clearly...because...." It was a simple lesson, with a simple example and the kids were quickly ready for independent writing, and I was ready to start my daily rounds of conferences.

I sat with Isabella, one of my better readers and writers, to discuss her thinking about Jack’s leadership qualities from Lord of the Flies. She was easily able to articulate her thinking about how Jack was actually scared from the start of the novel and that is why he needed to control everything- in order to compensate for his own insecurities. It was a solid claim and she had adequate evidence. She told me that she was thinking about alternative interpretations. We used one of the prompts and she was quickly able to see how acknowledging these other ideas actually strengthened her own position. It was a quick and clean conference.

One of the things I have been working on as a teacher is to remember to start or end my conferences with a compliment. So I said, “You know Isabella? I am so proud of the deep thinking you have been doing with this book. And today, your ability to quickly find alternative interpretations to your great claim and use a prompt to get to where you needed to go was pretty impressive. Keep up the great work. You are rocking this essay.”

You should have seen her smile. Although she was sitting down, it felt like she jumped to get back to her work. She was determined to nail her thinking down in words. And as I was walking away, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her actually pump her fists as if she had just scored a goal in soccer. And I think we both knew that she had scored a goal.

Later when the class was back together and on the carpet, I acknowledged her excitement. I reminded the kids that this type of thinking, reading, and writing does not come easily. And when we take the time to build the skills and do the thinking, we will all have those moments when our thinking is clear and our ability to articulate it is even clearer, and when we have these moments we have no choice but to pump our fists and get excited. The mood in class was electric today as twenty-two kids wrestled with their ability to unpack the universes they found in the pages of their books.

Some days, Mondays and Wednesdays in particular, I come home and accomplish my goals. I get all smug and brag a bit about how I ran. I wrote and I read. Well today was not one of those days. After getting home, I laid on the bed to “rest my eyes” just a bit. Seconds after I began my rest, I fell into a deep deep sleep. So much so that when Mairin woke me up ten minutes later to grab some take-out sushi, I had drooled so much that there was a damp patch in my beard. Gross? TMI? Perhaps, but it happened and I thought I should tell you. I actually had to wash my face and beard carefully to make sure all the saliva was gone.

It is safe to say that I did not run after that. I just basked in my own laziness and guilt for veering away from my routine. I also decided that I would not work on my book tonight either as I had some last minute report card comment corrections to make (Don’t ask. It really is over now)

So it was a lazy day or a rest day or a necessary day, I don’t know. I do know that this daily writing thing is not negotiable and this piece is almost done before 9pm, which means I will be in bed and reading my book for a long long time tonight and maybe that is what needs to happen on this Wednesday nigt in late February.

I put Skye to bed and went in to check on Kaia. She was sleep but still awake. This is what I said, “Hey sweety. Just wanted to let you know that I am sorry that I have been a bit distant for the last few days, weeks actually, since I got back from Kenya. I was really tried last week and I had so much work with these reports that I feel that I have been ignoring you a bit and this makes me sad. I miss you so much and I wanted to tell you that I love you so much and I am sorry that we haven't had a chance to really hang-out or talk or bond or anything.”

She was beaming and smiling and looking at me in the eyes. It was as close to magic or heaven as I ever need to get.

“So anyway...let’s make some time this weekend to catch up and hang out and spend quality time together, because that time we spend together is the most important thing to me. I love you. I hope you know that.”

“I love you too daddy. Thank you.”

Just like that. She said thank you. I told my nine year old how I was feeling in the simplest most honest way I could and she acknowledged what I said. She smiled and hugged me and said thank you. It was a beautiful moment.

“Is this any good?” Aditya, not one of my strongest readers, but a kid who is putting in the time and starting to “get” books, asked me holding a copy of Catcher in the Rye.
“Good? It’s a dreary tale of teenage angst and woe. It is the story of every teen age boy I have ever known. Myself included. It is a classic and one of my favourites.”
“Do you think I would like it? Is it challenging?”
“The language is unique and takes a while to get going, but I think you should give it a go. There’s a lot to it and I think you should explore what those ideas are all about.”
“But there’s no blurb.”
“Start from the first page and see where you end up.”

For the rest of the class, I watched him as he was absorbed by Holden’s voice. I am not sure if he will “get it” or even like it, but he was already taking notes on Holden’s “sensitive” nature when reading time was done.

I love my job. Here was this kid about to start a journey that could change his life. Books can do that you know? I am a gate-master to potential life changing experiences for some of these kids. Or he might abandon the thing a few pages in. Who can tell?

I love the challenge of finding the book for the right kid at the right time. It is a kind of magic. A magic I do not take lightly.

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