Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Baseball Analogies and Revaluing a Reader

Insights from a reading interview

“I can’t understand the book half the time. I also can’t read and have fun.”

When I conducted a reading interview with Issehiah, a struggling 5th grade reader, I asked him if he thought he was a good reader. He said no. He felt he was missing out on the fun in reading. He explained that good readers, people like Ms. Ortman and his sister, read stories and enjoyed the experience. He struggled. He knew this because reading just wasn’t fun. Interestingly, he made a baseball analogy in response to the same question.

“My baseball coach says that if you practice a lot at things, you’ll do better.”

Issehiah had a workmanlike attitude toward reading. He accepted that he had to practice and wanted to trust that the practice would pay off in a more enjoyable reading experiences. Despite attempt at a positive attitude, I knew he wasn’t looking forward to our sessions. Reading with the 7th grade teacher was not going to be fun like baseball practice.

When Issehiah said he couldn’t “understand the book half the time,” I heard a frustration with himself and with practice. It framed the work we would do together because I knew that I had to change his view of the our "practice."

I thought more about his analogy because I love sports and sometimes thinking about the learning we do outside of school can help reflect and plan for purposeful work in school. If he had been talking about baseball instead of reading, his complaint would sound more like this:
“I can barely hit and I can’t really catch. I see other kids enjoying baseball and I know I should enjoy it.”

Since I'm a sucker for a sports analogy anyway, I kept thinking along those lines when I planned to work with him. I would have to help build his skills, but I also would have to recognize that this boy sounded pretty dejected about himself and the game of baseball. As a coach, I have to know that I can’t fix the loop in his swing until I change his experience with practice. We have to find the fun in shagging flies or fielding grounders for us to establish effective practice routines.

So, in order to help Issehiah with his reading, I needed him to get excited about reading practice. His analogy reminded me that our first focus was revaluing. I needed to make practice fun and successful. Here was a reader all too aware of his failures at the plate and the times he’d been hit by the ball.

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