When I started my new job last fall, I needed to obtain a second credential in order to meet my students’ needs (well, and California’s…). I took one course on reading instruction, and the professor always emphasized the importance of students being able to “see themselves as readers.”
Day in and day out, I think about that as I encourage my students to read in groups, together as a class, and even when they work together using their various forms of communication to complete a task. Some of them are excellent readers, while others need consistent prompting. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how in the world to get my struggling students to “see themselves as readers” when it takes so much motivation and encouragement to even get them to try to read.
I’ve realized that before they see themselves as readers, they need to see themselves as learners.
I’ve written before about how there are gaps in my students’ learning simply due to how they access curriculum. Computers only scan so quickly, on-screen keyboards and even word-predict programs only type out as fast as the mouse moves, and focusing on material requires a great deal of muscle control. In order to fill in the gaps, I sneak in mini-lessons, develop transition games to at least introduce them to new material, and really try to touch on subjects that may have gotten passed over on the priority list.
While my students have been receptive to these lessons and have retained a lot of the information, the spike in motivation I saw when I started this new daily format has dwindled. I can’t keep changing our schedule around, so I need something else to keep them excited about learning.
So this past week I asked my students what they would learn about if they could choose any topic under the sun. I thought that if I let them take more control over their education, they would be much more engaged and begin to experience how much fun learning can be. We had a class discussion about how many amazing things there are to learn about in the world around us. But I knew I was in trouble when I reminded them that I am still in school; two of them looked at me like I was crazy and another one flat-out said, “What?? Why?!?” — like I had clearly missed the memo that said I could stop now if I wanted to. I don’t think some of my students really understand what it is like to discover something they want to learn about, all on their own.
Anyway, I let one student at random select something she really wanted to learn about, and she chose bugs, particularly ladybugs. I’ve never seen her jump so fast to use her DynaVox; I thought she was going to hit herself in the eye. So, in the spirit of old-fashioned experimentation, I’m planning some lessons and games about bugs this week, and I think I’m required to buy a ladybug habitat too, right? But if that level of excitement is the response I get, then the $14.95 plus shipping and handling will be totally worth it.
I hope that this will kind of be like “show-and-tell” — but instead of looking forward to choosing an item to share with the class, the students will be excited about sharing something they just learned.
Luckily, the state also requires me to take an assessment course, so I’ll simultaneously be tracking the effectiveness of this idea. 🙂