7.13.2012

"This is Kate. She's a D!"

One of my daily joys as a librarian (and foremost a literacy educator) is to work with a small group of first grade readers. The teachers and I were able to dedicate a 25 minute block during their independent reading time to make it happen. Although our school's official RTI (Response to Intervention) efforts are focused on math, an RTI process prioritizes that the most skilled educators work with the students who need the most expert support.  I appreciated the teachers' confidence in my experience.

My small group varied across the year, with one child experiencing a growth spurt and another needing support after several months away from school. And then one day Kate came along with her classmates. "This is Kate," one of them announced. "She's a D!"

I've written in other posts about the Fountas & Pinnell guided reading levels that currently organize part of reading instruction. One downside of this "leveling" work is that teachers and kids, sometimes even parents, take up the drumbeat and kids begin to label themselves with these levels. (D level texts are what might be expected from beginning first graders.) These kids knew that D was not "adequate" reading in the spring of first grade, and that many of their classmates were reading H, I, J or even P level books. Yes, sigh.

Kate's teacher and I had only moments to talk before she left for a planned leave after spring break. I told the guest teacher that I'd love to talk with Kate's mom if she met her, and just days later Denise came to visit. I'll let her tell the story in her own words, and then fill in the educator side of the story following. In the meantime, here's Kate. She's clearly an A+!

To tell the truth, I'm kind of new to the library

It was quiet in the library when Richard walked in. He looked around and then asked, tentatively, "What kind of books do you have here?"

"What kind of books are you looking for?"

I don't remember the title he mentioned, but our library did have the book and I showed him where he could find it.

In that quiet space he confessed, "To tell the truth, I'm kind of new to the library."

"We're glad you're here."

Richard became a regular. He spent his time in the fiction area and he was such a voracious reader that I seldom saw him with the same book twice.

I maintain a grade-level schedule for lunch and recess breaks so everyone gets a chance to use the computers, work on assignments or visit with friends, but I also let kids know if they're so quiet that I don't even notice them, they can come at any time. This is Richard.

As I revisited these mental images to add to the blog, another bold image came back to me:  The first day of my senior year in high school. My family had just moved to the Pacific NW and I knew no one at the high school apart from my brother. On that first day I walked to the threshold of the lunchroom and paused to look at the 200-300 students all catching up with their friends. I couldn't figure out my part in that space, but then thought, "Aha, the library. I'll spend my lunch break there."

The library was empty and a welcome refuge. The librarian approached. "Are you new here?"

"Yes."

"The library is closed at lunchtime. You'll have to leave."

Sometimes, and perhaps unconsciously, we create the spaces we needed ourselves.  This is true for parents, for leaders in many fields and especially for educators.

A librarian has many roles, and one of them, on no one's list of performance standards, is to create a safe place where you can admit that you're kind of new.