I look forward to the times during the day when I read to the students and we discuss the story and talk about things good readers do when they read. Today, near the end of the day, the little ones were gathered around me on the carpet, sitting quietly as I continued with the book we had been reading as we learned about expository text. We had reviewed the "Table of Contents" and I was letting the students choose the parts of the book that sounded most interesting to them to have me read first. They were practicing stopping and asking questions, a skill we use to help with comprehension of both fiction and non-fiction texts. Basically, I read a small section of text to them and they take a few minutes to think about what they heard and write some questions or wonders about the topic. Then the students share some of their thinking and we have some discussions as a group. It's usually a fun way to talk about literature as well as practice good comprehension and listening skills.
It probably would come as no surprise that the first section of the book they wanted to hear was the one titled "Vampire Bats". In about sixty or seventy words, to a riveted audience, I read to them about the vampire bat. Seven or eight hands were in the air before I had even finished reading. I patted my hand in the air, the sign to put their hands down and continued. When I finished I held up the book to give them the visual -- the pictures. A few mouths opened as they looked at the photographs of the vampire bats, up close and personal.
"Now, I know you probably have some questions and wonders," I began. Several hands were in the air. "Let's first think about what you heard and then write down your thinking and we'll share in a minute." The hands grabbed their pencils and hunched over their journals. Some kicked their legs out behind them, checking first to make sure they weren't going to bump anyone. I let them get comfortable, within reason, as we read and work on the back carpet.
After a minute or so, I asked them to share their questions/wonders with their reading partner. Then I chose a few students to share with the class. I wrote questions and wonders on the chart paper as they excitedly asked questions and chattered a bit back and forth about bats. They are a terrific bunch of little thinkers. One little girl asked why, since vampire bats drink blood from mammals like pigs and horses, they don't drink human blood. "We are mammals too!" she explained. A few heads bobbed in agreement.
This elicited lots of other comments and ideas amongst the kids. "Maybe they don't like our blood," guessed one little boy. "I bet it tastes different than cow blood."
"Ewwwww," came the response from a couple of girls.
"Yeah," added another. "I saw cow blood once and it was purple!"
Sometimes, as a teacher, you leave things alone. Cow blood is such a time. I called on another little one and hoped for a change of direction.
The next student suggested we google it because he thought vampire bats actually do drink human blood. The discussion continued with a couple kids remembering that we had read the other day about how scientists sometimes catch bats in nets so they can study them. We had talked back and forth about how difficult it would be to catch a bat. Although we were veering into the "land of off topic", it was an animated and fun discussion, so I let them run with it.
I called on another student, who although many times says off topic or silly things, looked remarkably serious and anxious to join in this "how to catch a bat" discussion.
He cleared his throat. "Well, I know how to catch a vampire bat!" he began with a big smile and a sure voice.
We all looked at him. Everyone was interested in how to catch a bat. Especially a vampire bat.
"You go to a farm and get a pig and tie it up by the barn and you wait. The bat will come," he stated, beaming.
For some reason, this struck me and several other kids as funny. Maybe it was the mental picture of tying up a pig and waiting for a vampire bat to come. We all took a minute or two and enjoyed his suggestion and then we moved on.
Next, I gave them a choice between "Echo-echo-echolocation" or "Hey Baby". It was "Hey Baby" with a majority so I flipped to that section of the book. I asked them what they thought this section would be about and several said, "Babies!" in unison. Like I mentioned before, they are so smart!
We continued on with the reading and stopping to ask questions and discuss our thinking. Although I don't find bats that interesting, when you talk about them with eight and nine year olds, it's a whole new perspective. They all appreciated when I started reading the section called "Echo-echo-location" and repeated every word a few times, like an echo. Some of them couldn't stop laughing.
As I drove home today, I was thinking about reading with kids. I was thinking fondly of the many times I would curl up with my daughter and we would read together and talk about books. I always loved hearing her ideas and connections as we read. I remember laughing hysterically at some books and tearing up when we read other stories together. She's grown up now, but when she's home, she'll pass me holding her Kindle, absorbed in a book. When she's not home, she'll sometimes tell me about a good book she just finished or suggest a book she thinks I would like.
I'm lucky that I get to read to, and with, kids every school day. We read about lumberjack camps, and talking animals, and real life events, and different cultures and places. We read about Michigan and math and tornadoes. We read funny stories, and memoirs, and biographies, and poems. We read our own writing to each other. We read magazines and maps and everything we can get our hands on. All I have to do, at any time of day, is hold up a book and ask them if they'd like to hear a story. They come running and squealing with delight. Or I can just say, "Who wants to read to me?" and before I can finish the sentence, at least six or seven students have zipped across the room, book in hand, anxious and ready to read to me.
I know we're all busy with so much to do every minute of the day. But, If you're fortunate enough to still have little kids at home, find some good books, snuggle up, and read. To kids, any book is a good book if you read it together. Ask questions, read all genres, and talk.
Read with kids. It's time well spent.