In the first week of teaching, I realized that Fifth Graders do not have a highly developed sense of reading comprehension. Or of reading enjoyment. I wasn’t entirely sure what was a normal level for such things, but I was soon certain that fostering these would be one of my goals for the year.
So, I embarked on a highly controversial method: I read out loud.
Please, contain your shock. Half of the parents complained that I was treating the kids like babies.
Because only babies like good stories, ya know.
I started by reading from The Hobbit. The advent of the movie garnered their attention. And, just so that they would try to remember, I created “Treasure Hunts”: a paper with questions about the chapter on one side, and a place to draw a character and a setting on the other.
By the second quarter, comprehension was improved. And some of the illustrations are priceless! See below:
We finished The Hobbit after Christmas, and since then I have been reading Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Black Ships Before Troy. With unexpected results.
For a group of kids who had to be coaxed into imagining a hobbit, they soon caught the hang of long, complicated epics.
They groan whenever Paris makes an entrance, roll their eyes at the golden apple, and question what the appropriate reaction to Odysseus should be.
They admired Achilles, and with little encouragement they all fell in love with Hector.
Oooh, the portending of tragedy.
Hector’s death caught them all by surprise. There were tears. As a sign of mourning, the class wore black accessories the next day.
But it was Achilles’ actions that horrified them to the core. I found their illustrations that had apparently started out as Achilles, that had been ex-ed out and stabbed with a pen so many times that was impossible to tell for sure. The horror of one hero killing another idol upset them deeply.
The day before Easter break, I announced that on our return we would be reading the chapter entitled “The Death of Achilles”. They cheered so loudly that Fourth Grade called to ask us to be quiet.
And then one student said something which made all the pain, stress, and struggle of first-year-teaching completely worthwhile.
“I can’t wait a whole week! Can’t we come to school over break?”