From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please help me welcome today’s guest blogger Gigi McAllister. Gigi is a fourth grade teacher in Gorham, Maine. She was a reading “late bloomer” and is passionate about creating lifelong readers. You can visit Gigi at The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog, on Facebook and Twitter.

If someone asked me about my teaching “philosophy” 20 years ago I would have rattled off some version of how every child should be valued for their unique gifts and everyone can learn. Of course I still believe these things to be true. However, if asked today, I would say good teaching comes down to strong relationships and connections.

Building relationships with my students is THE most important thing I do. I listen to their stories and share parts of my life with them. They trust me and know I care deeply for each of them. Because of these relationships, I am far better able to connect them with books they will love.

Take Steve. He loves sports. He has a tendency to rush through things in school and can sometimes get “in trouble” on the playground. He is intimidated by longer books and has a tendency to jump from book to book without finishing. Because of what I know about Steve, I was able to steer him toward graphic novels about sports and short sports biographies. He read a book about Roberto Clemente and came to school each day eager to share something new he learned about the ballplayer with me.

Then there is Donna. She is what some might call a “Tomboy”. She does not fit the typical girly mold.  Almost all of her friends are boys, but she doesn’t have a best buddy. She loves books by Kate DiCamillo and has read Because of Winn Dixie several times. She seems to identify with female characters who also don’t seem to fit society’s norms.  Because of this I was able to recommend books like This Journal Belongs to Ratchet and Hattie Big Sky both of which she loved.  

Finally, we have Cam. He is an extremely bright boy who loves math and being competitive. He is a bit of a “class clown” and always wants to be two steps ahead of me. He sometimes seems torn between being cool and being smart and has yet to discover that the two traits can exist harmoniously together in one person. Although reading comes very easily to him, he was content to read short, funny books for most of the first half of the year.  Although he enjoyed them well enough, he didn’t really love them and they didn’t get him excited about reading. I knew Cam would love the Harry Potter series, but he was reluctant to give them a try. He loves a challenge so I challenged him to read just one chapter. He was fully prepared to prove me wrong, but he agreed to read the first chapter of the first book. That was over a month ago and now he is on the fourth book.

Investing time in getting to know my students as people is essential to a successful year together. I cherish these relationships that, in some cases, last long after they leave me.

Thank you Gigi for sharing how getting to know your students can give an important boost when connecting students to books. And tell Steve that my husband and I drove the backwards down a one way street (long story) so we could see the Roberto Clemente memorial in Puerto Rico. A special memory of ours of a special man.