Things I Know 79 of 365: My students are readers

Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.

-William Hazlitt

As my students amassed this afternoon, I met them outside my classroom with the door closed and waited for the last stragglers to, well, straggle.

“Partner up with the person in class who you think is the best researcher,” I said, “When you have a partner, you may enter the room.”

As they partnered and entered, I told each partnership that one of them should open a blank Word doc.

“I’m going to ask you a series of questions,” I said.

For each question, the partners needed to sniff out the answer, document their source and, if the source was a PDF, document the number. Answers needed to be in complete sentences, preferably restating the question as a statement.

Before I began with the questions, I told the class about running into a friend this weekend at the coffee shop near my house.

A fellow educator who knows the belief structure of SLA, with a smile in her voice she asked, “So, have you guys just been drilling and killing?”

We both laughed.

“Not so much,” I said, “I did bring it up last week. I figured, if they’re going to take the test, we should probably talk about it.”

It’s true.

That’s what I said to her and how I brought it up with my students.

Tomorrow, my G11 students will take the first two sections of this year’s standardized tests.

Today, we prepared.

Rather than prepare a slidedeck explaining the inane nuances of the test, those same inanities became the questions for our research today.

“How many sections of reading are their on the G11 Reading PSSA?”

“How many of each type of question is in each section?”

“What are the possible genres of reading passages on the test?”

And they searched and found and filled in the holes. Some were frustrated, others downright competitive.

The moment that struck me and the moment that let me know we were doing the right thing was when one of my students offered up, “It feels like we’re searching for classified information.”

I flashed to David Perkins and Making Learning Whole and everything he had to say about learning the hidden game.

I know Perkins was talking about the hidden game in real, worthwhile learning and not standardized tests. In the eyes of the state, sadly, the next few weeks represent the realest of real learning my students will be doing this year.

The grant project and the building history project will mean nothing, nor will the multiple books the kids have blazed through and the conversations they’ve had as readers.

Perkins talks about the hidden game as the pieces of learning that are unspoken and unknown except to those who know how to play well. They might not even been understood by those who play well – they just are.

I suppose, aside from some practice in researching, that was the other goal of today’s exercise. I wanted them to know they will find 22 multiple-choice and 2 open-ended questions tomorrow before they sat down so they don’t need to worry about the rules. All they’ll need to worry about tomorrow is reading.

They can do that.

They can read, question and converse better than many undergrads and grads I’ve known. They know what they look for in a book and can tell you. They can tell you why a book is boring and why it’s exciting. And, they’re working on learning to read more closely than most people I know.

They are readers.

I told them that.

I told them that, and I told them to slow the frak down tomorrow.

It’s the best way to play the game.

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