Outside of my life as a dad and husband, there are few things I love more than teaching students in our education department at the local college here in town. Most of them are nearing the end of their degree and about to receive their teacher certification when they enroll in the course I teach on social studies and science in early childhood education. They are so energetic and passionate about their upcoming life as a teacher, and the things they learn out there in real classrooms during their field experiences and practicums and student teaching are truly a treasure to all of us in the department.
Among the assignments included in my class is one about learning what children already understand about a particular subject. We ask our students to get out there in real classrooms and talk with young children about a topic and see what they know and what they want to know and what they need to know about that particular topic. This kind of information, a pre-assessment, is very helpful to us as classroom teachers when we go about putting together units and lesson plans for young children today, and it is always eye-opening and one of my favorite assignments to grade because the responses are always different and funny and interesting to hear the honest talk that children so happily and freely give in such assignments.
One of my favorite responses to this assignment occurred just last year. A student read to us her wonderful interview and assessment of the children in an elementary classroom where she was working that semester. Here’s what she wrote, “I asked the children to close their eyes and…imagine not having any electricity, running water, iPods, TV, and transportation. I then talked to them about Laura Ingalls Wilder and gave the class background information about her. I gave the children directions by asking them to draw a picture or write down any things that they found interesting [as I read] an excerpt from Little House On the Prairie. After I finished reading, the children asked me different questions and one [child said], ‘Are you sure this is true?’ I assured them that it was.”
To open up a dialogue as this gifted teacher did and have a child respond, “Are you sure this is true?” – what a conversation starter! I don’t think we could ask for more from a book.
As much as I love reading books to my children that are clearly fiction, this child’s response makes it clear that we need to be reading all kinds of things with them and that includes great historical novels and intriguing non-fiction works from the past and present. For me, the Little House series revolved around Farmer Boy. I loved that book, still do, and I remember my 6th grade teacher, Zola Evans, reading a chapter to us every day just after lunch and recess.
Every good book holds a moment of opportunity for its readers. Whether you are a child or an adult, there will come a subtle minute when you pause in the middle of a great paragraph and look up from the page and wonder – could this really be true? No wonder people like books.