by Rita Kenefic
As a child, I relished a visit to Gruber’s Bakery for a “magic cupcake”. What was so special about this chocolate treat? The dab of whipped cream in the center made an already delectable cake something special. These weren’t just ordinary cupcakes. They contained an element of surprise and magic that kept you coming back for more.
So what do these magic cupcakes have to do with teaching? Well, as a reading specialist, I’ve spent the last two weeks assessing students who are potential candidates for small group intervention. Today, my testing is complete and I am armed with information that will drive decisions about the nature of support I can offer. The main advantage, however, is that I have now met personally with over thirty students. Not only do I know their independent reading level, I also know a little about their background, the kinds of books they like to read, and their general attitude towards reading. For me, this knowledge is the magic that will form the core of my future relationship with each student.
On the flip side, each of these students has had an opportunity to meet and converse with me in a non-threatening, informal manner. During our testing time, I’ve been able to answer some of their questions and assure them that participation in small-group intervention will be beneficial and FUN! In any relationship, first impressions are important and the teacher/student relationship is no exception. Like the center of that cupcake, I hope these children were pleasantly surprised by our first interaction and leave my room anxious to come back for more.
The opportunity to meet so many students on an individual basis over the past few weeks, drives home the necessity of establishing positive relationships. No matter our subject area, the fact that we all teach individuals with unique interests, talents, problems, strengths and weaknesses must remain uppermost in our minds. Steven Layne (2009) contends that the four most important words kids need to hear are “I thought of you.” As we get caught up teaching a demanding curriculum, we can easily forget the importance of relationship.
In an effort to improve independent reading this year, I have recently reread two standout books chock full of suggestions to strengthen independent reading. Both The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Igniting the Passion for Reading, by Steven Layne address the importance of learning about your students and using this knowledge to guide their literacy growth. Below, I’ve distilled a few of their suggestions that I hope will work magic in my quest to turn students into lifelong readers:
- Use surveys to learn about your students interests so you can guide their book selections. Use them again at the end of the year to show students how they have grown and changed.
- Establish high expectations. (Donalyn Miller sets a goal of forty books per year for each of her sixth graders).
- Share your own enthusiasm for reading through books talks, displaying and discussing the grade level book you are reading, and even creating a special shelf for books you personally recommend.
- Focus on generating interest and helping students find “just-right” books. Steven Layne suggests that conferences, group discussions, and regularly taking the “Status of the Class” are key ways to accomplish this.
These books have inspired me to prioritize relationships this year. Hopefully, my classes will become the magic cupcake my students crave.
How will you enhance the relationship with your students this year so that they will grow as readers, writers, and people? Please share your ideas.
Rita Kenefic has been an educator for thirty years. She has taught at the elementary, secondary, and college level. Her passion for growing readers and writers is superseded only by her passion for her large family which includes her husband, Mike, their five children and their spouses, and their nine grandchildren.