“This” Population

I’m so sick of hearing teachers say, “That (approach, program, lesson) won’t work for ‘this’ population.”  I get it, guys.  You teach kids who come from poverty.  Kids who don’t have enough to eat.  Who don’t have good home lives.  They might not even have homes.  Kids who might have family members in jail, or in gangs.  Kids whose parents are so busy working, there is no family time.  Kids who probably don’t choose to read on a daily basis.  I get it.  I’ve taught those kids, too.  And I’ve struggled.  I left one school in tears almost every day for a whole year because it was so frustrating.

But that doesn’t mean I dumbed down my instruction.  Or rejected a student-centered approach.  I’ve seen this happen way too many times.  Teachers give students fill-in-the-blank worksheets because “that’s all these kids can handle.” Or they ask kids to all write to the same prompt because “they can’t think of their own topics.”  Or kids spend hours on rote learning because they “don’t know how to do anything else.”  You know, “this” population. It’s all they’re capable of.

No, no and no. “This” population might need more scaffolding.  Or more time to gain trust.  More building of background knowledge.  They certainly don’t need to be turned away from an approach that will make them more independent.  They don’t need cookie-cutter assignments or busy-work.  They need to be challenged.  They need to be taught to set goals and to work in groups and to solve problems.  They need lots of time-on-text to practice reading.  They need to work on self-selected writing pieces.  Just like any other population.

The next time you’re tempted to say your students can’t do it because they’re from “this” population, I want you to think about one thing.  Any principal, any administrator, any staff developer, any educator could say that about you, for whatever reason.  ”Oh, these teachers.  They’re from ‘this’ population. They probably won’t get it.”

And wouldn’t that feel like a giant slap in the face?

What Authors Really Think About

Is it me, or has our teaching of reading become overly analytical?  As I’m writing this, I’m noticing the word ‘anal’ in the word analytical and I’m thinking, yup, that must be where it comes from…  Here’s what I mean.  I’m a writer.  Aside from this blog, I write for kids.  When I write, I’m trying to tell a good story.  I’m hoping to create believable characters.  I want to make you laugh or cry or get goosebumps.  I want you to remember my characters long after you’ve closed the book and to wonder how they are or what they might be up to now.  I want to move you with my words.

It’s kinda funny (and a little pointless) to me when teachers take my books apart and ask kids to interpret them with a “conventional” meaning and a “subversive” meaning.  (I didn’t even know there was such a thing, did you?)  Most writers that I know aren’t thinking about how to impart theme or heavy wisdom to kids, especially kids in elementary school.  Sure, if you learn a lesson, that’s great.  But I’d rather have you fall in love with the people I write about.  I’d be thrilled if you journeyed to another world with me, if only for an afternoon.  I’d be really happy if you found yourself on the pages of one of my books and learned a little more about who you are.

Truthfully?  It doesn’t matter to me one bit if you understand exactly why my character said that thing to her friend as he lay in his hospital bed.  It only matters that you heard and felt the sorrow in her voice.  It doesn’t matter if you get every single joke, cause guess what, teachers?   Some of those are written for the grown-ups reading the story.  So don’t bother taking those apart, and asking kids to provide evidence for why they are (or aren’t) funny. I don’t write so that kids will respond in a notebook, or get points for answering comprehension questions when they finish.

I write to entertain.  I write to touch your heart.  I write hoping you’ll create your own meaning from my words, and maybe even write your own stories.  For me, that’s meaning enough.