IRA #1 – This Magic Moment.

A post I started writing yesterday – Wednesday, November 6, 2013.

I feel like when I write about my kids and about school, there is almost always a variation of the word “magic” in there somewhere.

Today I did my first interactive read aloud (affectionately called an IRA) with all three of my classes. I read the book My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits. The story is about a girl named Yoon who moves from Korea to the United States, and she isn’t too fond of her family’s move. She refuses to write her name in English since she likes it more in Korean (it means “Shining Wisdom”), and she feels ostracized and alone in her new school without friends and a teacher who knows and loves her. By the end of the story, she’s made a friend with the girl with the ponytail who sits behind her, and her teacher shows compassion toward her by smiling and constantly encouraging her to write her name in English. These occurrences lead Yoon to believe that America isn’t that bad after all, and so when she returns to school she prints her name in English, knowing that it still means “Shining Wisdom” regardless of the language in which it is written.

It’s a lovely story, and a great book to kick off a series of IRAs that I’ll be doing with my class revolving around race and culture.

(Yes, I teach third grade and we talk about things like race and culture.)

I wasn’t sure how the first IRA would go considering the kids have never really done anything like it before. The whole IRA, which includes reading the book, stopping to answer questions throughout the book, and having a discussion at the end, takes about 75 of my 90 minutes I have with my kids. 75 minutes is a long time for eight-year-olds to sit and listen and talk on a focused topic, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well they did. Most of the kids were engaged and didn’t get too terribly distracted.

If you recall, a few weeks ago I posted something stating that having most of the students engaged isn’t good enough, and I still find that to be true; however, with this being the first time we’ve done an IRA, I was really happy to see how many kids stayed engaged and interested in our story and discussion. Baby steps, y’all.

During my third block of kids, I was observed by the literacy coach. She’s required by the district to do these “coaching cycles” and I’m her guinea pig for this first round (I take this role as a true honor!). She wanted to see how the IRA went and also collected data for me on who is participating in class.

We started the book and at first I wasn’t sure if the kids were going to stick with me. I stopped to do a think aloud or ask a question and couldn’t tell if the kids were still following the story (some more than others). Despite my mental hesitations, this group of kids — one student in particular — pleasantly surprised me.

There’s a girl in this class who doesn’t participate much. Her home situation is very overwhelming, especially for an eight-year-old, and she’s struggling with some emotional setbacks right now. Her first language is Spanish, and though she speaks English, her comprehension is still very low. She usually has a hard time remembering things we went over the day before, and she isn’t normally the first student to raise her hand to try to share.

If you would have been in my classroom that afternoon, you would have never known any of that.

This child raised her hand multiple times and truly contributed to the discussion. I had to help her with speaking in complete sentences the first time or two, guiding her words and giving her a sentence starter, but by her third time sharing with the group, she was using her own complete sentences without even looking at my sentence frames. She made valid points regarding the text, and many students agreed with what she had to say.

When the class cleared as the bell rang, this student came up to me nonchalantly and said “Thank you for class, have a nice day!” and sauntered out of class to get her backpack.

I sat on the carpet stunned for a moment, realizing how incredibly beautiful and empowering literature is for our children.

I don’t know if something from this story clicked with this student, or if something in this child’s life changed in the last two weeks, but whatever happened, this girl got it and she showed the whole class that she had it. She was proud, she spoke up, and she took ownership of her learning.

This is probably one of my favorite moments with a student. I’ve never seen such a turn around in such a short period of time. I asked the kids at the end of the IRA if they liked the activity, and every single student in the circle on the carpet said they were looking forward to our next IRA.

Literature is beautiful. Literature is empowering. Literature is magical.

Let’s start showing our kids that that’s really the truth. Let’s challenge them to think about what they read, and to go beyond the text and find a deeper meaning. Let’s encourage discussion and written response to what is read so that kids can become real problem-solving thinkers. Let’s help them understand the ideas presented in texts so that they can be advocates of their own learning and continue on in being lifelong learners.

Let’s empower our students with the magic that is literature.

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