Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You Should Struggle with the Almighty!

[The quote in this title is from Angels in America by Tony Kushner, one of my favorite plays.]

I was having a reading conference with ShaSha a few days ago that wasn't going so well. ShaSha is an average student by almost any measure. She's sweet and funny and likeable, but in terms of her schoolwork, she's pretty much the middle of the road. I think she has the ability to be a better reader, and I've been trying to challenge her in that direction. But our reading conference wasn't off to a good start.

"I'm having a hard time reading this book you gave me," she said.

"What's hard about it?" I asked.

"I don't know. The story is confusing."

"Well, can you tell me what you've read so far?"

She retold the story accurately.

"Okay," I said, "that sounds about right."

"Yeah," ShaSha said, "But I don't get why she [the author] keeps switching back and forth between the two settings."

"Which settings?"

She named them correctly.

"And you noticed that she tends to concentrate on those two different settings and switch back and forth."

"Well, yeah."

"Why do you think she does that?"

She thought for a minute. "I guess to show how the character is different, like, in the two settings," ShaSha said. "Like, people treat her differently and she feels different based on where she is."

"I think you're right," I said to her. "So I have to ask you, ShaSha, what's hard about this book, then? Because you seem to understand it pretty well."

"Well, I understand it NOW," she said. "Like talking to you and to my group."

"Right," I said. "It's a little above your reading level. That's why you're reading it with your group and having conferences with me about it."

"Okay," she said, doubtfully.

"So when you read by yourself," I said, "it should be a little hard. That challenge is what's going to stretch you to your next reading level."

Then she seemed to get it. "Oh, right," she said. "I see."

ShaSha felt better after that. After the period ended, I walked with her to her next class and thanked her for sharing her struggles with me--we teachers aren't mind readers, after all, and her honesty helped me help her that day. And it reminded me that, as teachers, we sometimes need to gently remind our students that learning is supposed to be hard. It shouldn't come instantly or easily. If it did, it wouldn't be called learning--it would be watching or consuming, but not learning.