The joy of reading
I believe that there is a certain joy in being read to. Some of my best memories of being a student involved books. There is magic to a good book, and I bet that most adults can remember a book or two that meant a lot to them as a child.
I decided to take a risk and read “Charlotte’s Web” to my class, a book that is longer than usual. I knew it was a gamble because this book would take a long time to read. I also realized that I have mostly male students, and I didn’t know if these boys would be interested in a story without a lot of action to keep their attention (I teach third to fifth graders in a Special Day class, which is a Special Education class). Like I said, it was a risk.
I handed out a copy of “Charlotte’s Web” to each student, telling them that we would be reading the book, and then looked at all of them for a reaction. A couple mentioned that they had seen the movie already. I told the students that a movie does the story telling for you, and with something as special as a book, each of them has the ability to build images in their mind, for themselves.
The students who had never heard of “Charlotte’s Web” seemed very excited. Others may have had the book in another class, but weren’t able to read it independently.
Immediately after I handed out the books, the students started flipping through the pages, wiggling in their seats. I explained to them that first we would look at the cover of the book to try to guess what the story was about. We looked at the illustration, talked about some characters we were going to meet, and I said that we were about to go on a fantastic reading adventure.
As I read the first chapter, I looked up from the book and scanned the room quickly to see who was following along. Most of the students were. Some students didn’t follow along with the words, but it was OK, I could tell they were listening. Other students followed with their finger, or followed along by moving a bookmark slowly down as I read them sentences.
While I read, my fantastic aide, Suzanne Bolli, would make sure the kids weren’t talking, and that they were on the correct page.
I would say, “Next page” and in unison the pages turned.
After each chapter, we would talk about what happened, what they liked about the chapter, and the characters.
Sometimes there was confusion about the page we were on, or how to pronounce “Wilbur.” Some kids forgot that Charlotte was the spider, but I could tell they really cared about the story itself.
Some days I read to them loudly over the air conditioning, other days over the rain, and sometimes over the wiggling noises in our own room.
On the final day of “Charlotte’s Web,” and when we came to the last chapter, I reminded the students that we were nearing the end of the book. The kids all had similar looks on their face; looks of accomplishment, looks suggesting, “We did it! We finished the entire book!”
I read the last chapter, with the students listening intently, and then, finally, read the last two words – “The End.”
We closed our books and I looked up to see a different look on the students’ faces – worry. Not even five seconds after we closed our books, a student raised a hand and asked, “Are we going to read another book?”
That made me smile. It reassured me that one of the best things a teacher can do for a student is read to them.
When I was a child, “Charlotte’s Web” left me with a bittersweet feeling as I closed the book. Now, as a teacher, “Charlotte’s Web” has left me feeling even more bitter-sweet, for different reasons.
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Erica Yurman teaches at Prestwood School.