How to See Reading? #SOL2022 27/31

“It seems that the kind of reader and writer we want young children to be, we have to be. We have to know it-and teach it–by living it.” ~from a 1985 NCTE interview with Paulo Freire

Reading is “a bodily feeling” according to the writer, Kate DiCamillo. When she was young and struggling to read, her mother let her know explicitly she is smart, and implicitly there is always a solution. She made flashcards and helped her memorize. She calls this an “act of seeing”. The Right to Read is open in a tab on my computer, printed and highlighted as I work on “seeing”. How do I teach students to read when the complexity of the process requires relational witnessing, listening, guiding and reflecting, one on one, one by one, one at a time?

Kate DiCamillo has great respect for the wisdom of children; they “know everything about how hard the world is”. She remembers what is was like as a child to be invisible and believes that even in the smallest interaction, you can show that you see their intelligence. The podcast, a sermon, my Sunday morning reflection, asks important questions. “How do we tell the truth and make the truth bearable?” She says that “in order to survive, we have to close down so much of the wonder.” Yet, she says, “Books are the constant reminder to pay attention – wonder and marvel.”

I think our job is to trust our readers.

I think our job is to see and to let ourselves be seen.

This week we used time as a department to talk about books with an Indigenous coach and the one Black English Department Head in my school board joined us along with a colleague. We shared stories about books that harm and how curricular violence is enacted in the classroom, how uniformed, albeit well-meaning, white teachers create oppressive reading environments. How do I help a student select a book that is right for them? How do I bring community into the decision making? I keep returning to the metaphor of seeing them and nurturing their love with wonder.

In “Pathfinding through the Improbable”, Drew Lanham says, “if you can hoard experiences…it helps me find my place in the land and the past and now” and it informs seeing. As an ornithologist, he asks his students to write their own stories of the land. The sounds of birds “bookended” his days and before he thought about the science of the bird, there was a different kind of ornithology. He didn’t need to know the names of birds to appreciate and know the birds. Just as reading narrative and appreciating the craft can be done, can be imitated without knowing the names of craft moves in writing. There was a bodily experience.

“There is so much that appears simple that is complex. Just take the time to get to know the sparrow and you see all the hues – at first glance they appear brown, take the time to delve into what the bird is but who the bird is, the journey, the trials and tribulations, escaping hazards each of us have had these struggles from the nest.”

I decided to focus on the how, because my why seems clear and I’ve been down that path before. Instead, I am noticing how wonderful to see and let ourselves be seen.

9 thoughts on “How to See Reading? #SOL2022 27/31

  1. “I am noticing how wonderful to see and let ourselves be seen” Love your conclusion. I also loved hearing Kate Dicamillo on On Being. Such a wonderful and wise woman.

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  2. Yes! “How wonderful to see and let ourselves be seen” – this is the heart of what we were talking about yesterday, isn’t it? I so appreciate how you weave together thinking from so many spaces and find ways to strengthen the fabric of my own ideas. Honestly, talking with you, reading you, thinking with you, makes me a better teacher all the time. Thank you.

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  3. One word that you use here stands out for me: witnessing. We don’t use it so often in education circles. We observe, assess, evaluate. But to witness requires something different, a letting go of impulses to rush in to fix, adjust, correct. To witness requires letting the student/person under our gaze be who they are without interruption or intervention. To allow ourselves to be authentically seen is the other side of the same coin. How might our classrooms and schools look, feel and sound different with an explicit commitment to ‘relational witnessing’?

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  4. Howdy, loved that in the pod Drew posited that he could hear the joy in bird call. He then countered that joy is not really science, or a component of ornithology, but nonetheless integral to him as a scientist and human being. When I think about how a big human like me can trounce through a forest and disturb that joy into silence, I cannot avoid regrets that I may have had the same impact on my students.

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  5. The testimony/bear witness cycle is prevalent here; this idea, and I feel like I am really talking bell hooks, that we cannot ignore who we our — our body and experiences — and how that prevails in education. This idea that we should know what reading and good reading and how to teach reading looks like, but seriously — I have no idea. I have to watch; listen and determine. i am not always going to determine correctly.

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  6. Your slice is full of deep and meaningful ideas and thoughts to ponder on. I feel I only scratch the surface most of the time, but I love the comparison that an ordinary bird is so much more that it appears to be initially. I am happy I can bring books to my students of any kind as there are no books except textbooks in their world.

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