Sunday, May 11, 2014

How to Avoid Inflicting Atomic Wedgies on Our Students

Dav Pilkey, known for his wildly popular Captain Underpants series, just completed his keynote for day two of the IRA Conference. Over the years,  my students (especially my struggling readers, Ex Ed and ELL) have loved his books. However, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would I find inspiration from the author of these wildly funny books? What could he say that that would help me sharpen my teaching practice?

I received a major reminder about the lasting influence that a teacher can have upon a learner for the rest of their lives. Now, those of you that know me, know that I am a teacher because of one teacher; a teacher whose thoughtless words and negative attitude led me to the realization that no student should ever have to sit in a classroom and feel the way that I was feeling. This is a sensitive area for where I am vigilant in monitoring in my own practice. So, when Dav Pilkey was explaining how his teacher tore up his "silly" comic in elementary school and told him that he should "grow up" and that he could never make a living writing silly books (boy, was she wrong), I began to look inward. Have I inadvertently said or done something that negatively impacted a student and the course of their lives? I sincerely hope that is not the case. This is an area we all need to be consistently conscientious. 

I thought I would share some of the lessons (and reminders) that I gained from hearing about Dav Pilkey's journey in hopes that it would spur some of your thinking as it did mine.
  1. Reading is reading. Pilkey shared that for an individual to be considered an expert, he/she mus
    t put in at least 10,000 hours of practice. That applies to reading. They need to read. Read often; read what interests them...regardless of our perceived value of the text, print or digital. Reading is reading is reading. We want them to become master readers.
  2. Our evaluation of literature doesn't matter. We aren't the ones reading it, they are. They must have a choice. If they want to read comic books, guides to video games, or Mad Magazines, that's okay. They are still reading... learning, thinking, and becoming a stronger reader. They are becoming lifelong readers. Pilkey loved to read, Mad Magazine, Dynamite Magazine, joke books, and comics.  However, the adults in his life took away those books from him because those adults did not deem them as valuable. We can’t do this to our students. That will zap a love of reading faster than Captain Underpants can inflict an atomic wedgie.
  3. Don't judge a book by it's cover. Just because a book has a cartoon superhero clad in underwear does not mean that it will not challenge our students as readers. When was the last time you read a comic, graphic novel, or a Captain Underpants book?The vocabulary is challenging for students. The plots are complex with multilayered, deep, and complicated characters. To comprehend these texts students have to employ a host of higher order reading and reasoning strategies....because they WANT to. Why would we, as teachers, ever want to take that away from our students? 
  4. Don't judge a book by it's cover. When we see a student drawn to books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Bone, the Middle School series, or Captain Underpants series, as their teacher, we need to take clues as to how we can support their learning in a way that is meaningful to them. They have reached for those texts for a reason. Dav Pilkey shared his struggle functioning in school because of learning disabilities partnered with ADHD. Teachers often got frustrated with him and devalued his reading and his writing instead of seeing the enormous amount of inspiration and creativity they could have harnessed to help him become successful in their classroom. Dav Pilkey reminded us of the importance of using creativity to inspire others inspire of challenges. “People with challenges can change the world."
  5. Involve students in designing expectations. Pilkey explained that his criteria for books were things like short chapters (gives students a sense of accomplishment), lots of illustrations (supports understanding of text), and fun characters (mad scientists, superheroes, robots, and monsters) which didn't align with the teachers' expectations. When he began creating books for kids like him, he took the two lists and combined them. By including our students in creating a list of expectations, we are valuing their voice while also empowering them with ownership over their learning.
I can think of no better way to wrap up my reflections than to share his final words. Pilkey ended his presentations with this thought: A reading revolution is happening. We just need to get out of the way!

Isn't that the truth?

No comments:

Post a Comment