Tuesday, December 29, 2009

They Know the Ending

My sons and I are reading Old Yeller.  The boys are 7, 5 and 2 and they are totally into this book.  Well, the two year old is more into swinging from the bed posts, but the other two -- completely engaged. A couple of times a week, as they wind down for bedtime, I read a chapter or two aloud to them.  And no matter how long I read, they groan when I say it is time for us to stop for the night.

How I wish this was the same reaction I got from the students in my classes!  And lately I have been wondering why it is not.  As a teacher of 13 years, this certainly is not the first time I have pondered this idea.  But this time, I am looking at from a fresh perspective.  Instead of thinking about what is going wrong in the classroom and how that keeps students from being engaged in our reading, I need to think about what is right in the reading situation I have with my boys.

First, I chose a book for the boys that I believed they would be interested in due to the subject matter.  They have been drawn in to the life of this young boy in rural Texas who has responsibilities they can hardly imagine.  He hangs from tree limbs to mark and castrate pigs and I do not even let them use a butter knife!

Second, I made reading more about experiencing the moment than finding out "what happens."  Often, that is all my students want to know, which is why SparkNotes is so tempting. Many of them believe that novels (or plays or even poems) are written to tell the chronological events of a story and to hold the reader in suspense until all is revealed in the end. But for my sons and I, the journey is the part we love.  And because I am reading along with them, it is a shared journey.  This sharing of the road is what drives us, not the destination. In fact, the boys know what happens at the end of the book (we are only three pages away from the tragic scene!), but that hasn't assuaged their interest in hearing the story.  They are more interested in the how and why than they are in the what.

Finally, the story does not stop when we close the book. All of the novels we have read together, from Charlotte's Web to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, have become a part of our family experience.  We bring up characters and conflicts we have encountered in these worlds in our daily discussions. We compare their experiences and responses to our own.  My oldest son wants a dog and we have told him that when we move into a larger home, he can have one.  In the meantime, we read about Travis and Yeller and talk about what is wonderful about loving a pet so much and what is also really hard about it.  I have no doubt that sharing this story together will impact his own dog stories later in life.  

Upon reflection, what makes the reading such a powerful experience for the boys and for me is that we all learn from it, about the characters, the time period, the conflicts and even more, about ourselves.  So, even when the boys know the ending, they know the story never really ends. 

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