Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday SOL: What a Wonderful World

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


Something I love about our school, which ranges from preschoolers (Pre K-3) to middle school, is our pairing of each of the younger classrooms with an older classroom. This school year, the Big Cats preschoolers will get together with first graders (the "Double-Headed Rattlesnakes") for partner reading each Friday. These structured pairings allow for the most beautiful and unexpected interactions, providing opportunity for role modeling by older students, with younger students basking in the singular attention of an older student. For our older students, I think there is even a "letting down of the guard" - a chance to be a little more relaxed and confident about their reading skills, as they casually and comfortably read to their younger partner. Sometimes, the pairings result in new friendships, with children happily reconnecting if we see one another in the hallway or elsewhere in the school.

Last year, after our partnering was well underway, one of my preschoolers ('Mary') began to refuse to sit with her partner, and even said to me,
"I don't want to go to the first grade class."

"Why, Mary? Tell me what is wrong. Why are you sad about reading with your partner?"

"Because she always reads to me!"

"She always reads to you?" I echoed, somewhat confused. This is my classic technique, when I fail to grasp something, I simply restate the words that were said...buying myself a little time, hoping they'll say something more that will clarify. I really did not understand.

"Yes. She never lets me read to her."

It's true, every now and again, I do have preschoolers who can read…but this little friend was not one of these. However, she loved our picture books, devoured them daily, imagined stories to go with the pictures, and saw herself as a reader. Imagine how easy it would have been to retort to this three year old - "But, Mary, you do not know how to read." I did not. I was thrilled by her confidence! My preschoolers see themselves as readers! I simply said,

"Oh! You want to read to her, too!?"

I turned to her first grader partner - "Would it be okay if Mary read to you, today?"
and she said, "Oh, sure! That would be fun!"
and off they went happily, to read together.

This past Friday, the Double-Headed Rattlesnakes came down to meet us for the first time this new school year. We introduced the pairings of students. Several first graders have younger siblings in my class, and we purposefully pair these siblings to read together - an extra special connection, in the middle of the school week, to have a little sibling time.

We will read together for thirty minutes each week, but this first Friday was simply to meet one another, to share your name, to talk with one another about your favorite stories. Several three year olds got up to grab books from our bookshelves, sharing some of their favorite books with their new first grade friends. After a little conversation time, getting to know one another, both classes settled in together on our meeting carpet to hear a read-aloud together.

Another special part about this past Friday was its date - September 11th. How to recognize the significance of this day with preschoolers? For me, since 2001, it has been the tradition of reading a special book - What a Wonderful World (illustrated by Ashley Bryan, written by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele) followed by playing the song by Louis Armstrong. This book is a beautiful story song, celebrating children, diversity, love. This year, since my September 11th book reading dovetailed with meeting our first grade reading partners, I read the book to the entire combined group.

This was an incredibly special read-aloud for me. Just three short years ago, many of these first graders were my preschoolers. There I was, reading the words aloud and looking over my audience, seeing these now much bigger first graders with the same faces they had in preschool, sitting snugly and amiably with their new three year old reading partner, happily engaged in the familiar book. Many of the first graders read along with me, recognizing and remembering the words. Everyone was so quiet and focused when we played Louis Armstrong, and I enjoyed their enraptured faces listening to his throaty words. One student noted, "My daddy sings this song to me."

Then, it was time to go. "First graders, it is time to line up. Say goodbye to your Big Cat friend, ask them if they'd like a high five or a hug from you before you leave."

For the siblings, this was hard. Some tears were shed, saying goodbye to the older loved one. One first grader plied his sister with many kisses on her cheeks. But for most of the pairings, they were saying goodbye to someone entirely unfamiliar, not known. I noticed a couple of my preschoolers shook their heads at this offer of a high five or a hug - not yet willing to be friendly with this new big student. This was worthy of a follow up discussion...

When the first graders left, we talked about how hard it can be to meet new people. "Did anyone have a funny feeling in their tummy?" I shared how some say it feels as if you have 'butterflies' in your tummy. A couple of children nodded. I coached, "There is a fluttering, a pulling. It helps me to take deep cleansing breaths. We'll get to know these first graders over time. We will see them each Friday. We will become friends, in time."

It is early in the year. We have just met.

I see friends shaking hands
saying "how do you do?"
they're really saying 
"I love you."


  1. Love this! What a special community of readers you build. And that it incorporates legacy and tradition makes it all the more amazing. Beautiful. :-)

  2. Our buddy relationships at school, no matter the age, are very special. I love that you have this time with the first graders and pre-schoolers. We did not have pre-schoolers, but those who were buddies often return to their 'younger' buddies continuation. Special times.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.