All posts by Linda Carney-Goodrich

My Reading Buddy: Part 2

When I met with my reading buddy the following week, she seemed eager to be read to and learn more about what would happen next in the story. In the story the main character receives an anonymous gift. It is a tie with porcupines on it. I saw a questioning look on my mentee’s face and I asked her if she had ever seen a porcupine. She shook her head. I described a porcupine to her and I could see that she was confused.

I can remember feeling confused in school as a child. I had not been read to much and when I heard unfamiliar words or terms that other children seemed to miraculously understand, I felt stupid and a little angry. It was a startling revelation to me that there were breeds of cats and dogs and that there were different kinds of fabric. I so often did not know what other people were talking about. Much later in life, while preparing for graduate school, I read Howard Gardner’s, The Unschooled Mind. In his book, Gardner writes about the gap between the intuitive learning that we all do as children and the often contradictory learning that we encounter at school. His contention is that young children have “scripts” about how the world works and why. These scripts are largely affected by the socializing forces of the environment in which a child is raised. There can often be a great conflict for children when the intuitive script they have for the world is vastly different than the reality presented at school. This reminds me of my oldest son, who is autistic. When he was learning language around the age of four, he had so much frustration with me when I tried to teach him colors and the names of things. One day I pointed to the wall and said, “That’s white.”

In response, he banged his head and screamed, “Green!”

I tried to tell him again that it was white and his reply was the same. This lasted about five minutes. I showed him a variety of white objects and then pointed to the wall and repeated. “White.”

The poor child was sobbing. He put his finger on a spot on the wall and asked in a questioning voice, “Green?”

Sure enough that spot was green. This wasn’t limited to colors. As his ability to communicate improved, I learned that the table was the floor, as they appeared to be connected by the leg of the table. The huge iron fence around a church he took classes at was clearly train tracks to him. In order for us to communicate, we had to crack each other’s code.

So when I saw my mentee’s confusion about the porcupine, I broke one of my own rules and took out my iPhone during our session. I searched for images of porcupines. My mentee laughed out loud, when she saw them.

I asked her, “Is this what you thought a porcupine would look like?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “I never saw anything with those….what are they called?”

“Quills,” I said. “You wouldn’t want to sit next to him on the bus.”

We then went back to the reading. Yes, I took a few minutes away from our “work” time. I wanted my mentee to become activated by unfamiliar or unclear terms. I wanted her to be engaged with curiosity when she wasn’t sure of something. For some children, learning has been or can be scary. I love to reassure students that in order to really learn something, you have to not know it first. Not knowing is not only okay, it is essential. Language is a tricky thing. Maybe her parents use different words for this animal. Maybe she wasn’t familiar with the word because she is a city kid. If I hadn’t asked her, I wouldn’t have known. This is another confirmation of something I have learned in teaching. You and your student can be using the same words and talking about very different things.

To be continued…


Try This!

Have your child compare and contrast Emily Dickinson’s poem, Hope is the thing with feathers with Langston Hughes’ poem DreamsWhat similarities do they notice? (Hint: notice the bird metaphor.) Teach them about the backgrounds of both writers (Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson)

Have them write a poem in the style of either poet. Have them write a poem about their own hopes and dreams. Older children might like to research more about either poet and write a poem or monologue in the voice of that poet. They could memorize these and perform for the family.

My Reading Buddy: Part 1

Her light brown cheeks flushed with pink. Her brown eyes scanned the floor and seemed to focus on my shoes. She dared a glance at my face and quickly averted her eyes when they met mine. It was as if she did not want me to see her. This was my first day mentoring a sixth grader at a Boston Public School in Roxbury.
Right away I knew that all the ice breakers I had prepared were not going to work today. I was instantly grateful that the organization I volunteer with had encouraged the mentors to read aloud to their mentees during their time together. This was something that would help ease anxiety.

“You, nervous?” I asked as we walked out of the cafeteria to the room that we would share with the other reading buddies.

She dared another glance at me and said, “Yeah.” She quickly looked away, but not before I noticed that her eyes were wet. There were tears.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I’m a mom. I have a daughter your age. I’m also a teacher. We are going to have fun.”

I saw a little smile. Her eyes looked at me again. Uncertain.
The reading and mentoring were to happen during lunch. My reading buddy had a chocolate milk, a forlorn looking orange, a sandwich that was wrapped like a pop tart on her school lunch tray. We sat at the table. I could feel the nervous energy coming from her. This was not the day to ask too many questions. Other than sharing our names, we spoke very little on that first meeting. I told her a bit about myself and why I was there. I showed her a picture of my dog. Tessie, my white Lab was on her back in the photo. She had a zany smile and was begging for belly rubs. Tessie’s image worked like a charm. The girl laughed. I pulled out a myriad of books including classics, poetry, graphic novels, books with female protagonists, mysteries, etc. Yes, I admit I went to my twelve year old daughter’s book shelves and borrowed some of her absolute faves. The books she visits like friends. Star Girl, The Giver, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Fault in our Stars, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land to name a few. I told my mentee the premise of some of the books.

“Which would you like me to read today?”
She touched all of the books. “So many books. How do you have them?”
I told her that our family loves to read and that my daughter in particular likes to read the same books over and over again. I asked her if she reads at home and she told me that she does not.

“We don’t have books at home,” she said.
She chose a book for me to read and we got started. I pride myself on being an entertaining reader and I did my best to knock her socks off. I saw her relax in her chair, smile and laugh at the funny parts. Her eyes widened with surprise and curiosity as the main character of the book explained about his life. Our time together ended much too quickly.

“You are coming back?” She asked in a way that told me that maybe some people in her life had not.
“Yes,” I said. “Every week for the rest of the school year. We will read more of this book next week.”
To be continued….