Some six, seven years ago I went to a conference at the University of Maine. They had a keynote speaker I had never heard of before. She had written a number of books and was a national teacher of the year. She changed my life. Midway through her keynote, the message centered around reading and the stories behind each book, that is understanding the lives, conflicts, and decisions of the characters. This way, readers could become, not only engaged with reading, but develop a core sense of humanity, thereby developing readers.
After her keynote, I had to ask her “how she did it?” I basically asked, how do you stay true to your values when you are told to “do” so many other things, which at the time, included a significant focus on leveling.
While I have forgotten, verbatim, what she said, the gist this: Always follow your heart. She discussed advocating for students and believing in great teaching.
Sharon Draper is not aggressive. Her message was powerful; inspiring. She was passionate. She was energized to do what was right for students, humanity, and the profession. Sharon Draper recognizes the trials and tribulations of education. She was not fussing or leading war cries, but advocating for students through reading.
Her book Out of My Mind, challenged readers on so many levels, as a teacher and for students. Almost daily, one student is crying. They feel for Melody, not always because of her CP, but because of the way she is treated by teachers and doctors. Sadly, kids empathize. During turn & talk or sharing, my students have readily connected to similar situations where they “lost their voice” or detail how “someone thought for them.”
We read chapter 7, where Melody had to learn ABC's in February of third grade, threw a fit and was sent home. Our read aloud turned into a hootenanny. I began acting out mom's part with the sarcasm and frustration, in addition to playing the besieged Mrs. Billups. Without comprehension question or reading responses, they showed their comprehension the text by yelling out what should happen to the teacher. Other students boasted predictions and little sidebar conversations erupted as students sought a way to express their feelings, including anger, frustration, irritation, and for my CP student, sympathy. As one ed-tech stated afterwards, you could see the kids minds opening.
I can't help but think, this must be exactly what Sharon Draper wanted. Students did not absorb the story passively, rather they recognized the injustice and maltreatment, by voicing their opinions on equality and compassion.
Her message of hope, humanity, empathy, and sympathy with passion, serenity, and patience. In my estimation, all Sharon Draper is asking the world to do is open our eyes and see the world from something other than the “me” first society we have grown accustomed to.
I guess now, the question is, “How does the book change each students life and think about how they treat one another.”
Justin Stygles (@JustinStygles) GR. 5/6 ELA/Humanities teacher, Norway, Maine. Maine Reading Association Executive Board. IRA Advisory Committee of Teachers
Currently Reading: Almost Super (ARC)