Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Catching the Sun", oil on board, by Joe Mancuso

Teaching Journal

Day 84, Thursday, January 29, 2009

At the start of each class, we do a bit of silent reading. The students come in quietly, settle down with their books, and the room becomes, for a few minutes, a peaceful sanctuary for readers. It’s just a brief period of time each day, hardly enough to read more than a few pages, and someone might wonder what benefit it has, seeing that no direct instruction is involved. (Indeed, I also read, so I’m not available for teaching during that time.) A visitor might wonder what’s the point of having students spend valuable minutes in the classroom reading a book. They can do that at home, for heavens sake. The best response I could give to that statement would be to invite the person to visit my class during the reading time. What he or she would see is a group of children thoroughly engaged, together, in perfecting the single most important skill a student of English must learn – the ability to read with attention and dedication. English is not, first and foremost, about grammar or spelling or vocabulary or even writing essays. Above all, it’s about learning to read with all the brainpower a student has – with utter focus, with the kind of compelling passion that only devoted readers have. If my students can learn to read like their minds are on fire to learn, like their brains are magnifying lenses that light up each word in the text, like the book is all there is in the world for them – if they can do that, they will be assured of being fairly successful students in the years to come. It’s what really counts in English education – and it’s what happens in my classroom for about six minutes at the start of each class. It’s a time of both quiet ease and concentrated effort, a time of the most essential skill building in all of the English curriculum. It's a silent time, but I'll swear I can hear the learning happening.   

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