Sunday, May 15, 2011

When They Hear Your Voice Outside of School

One morning this week, E. rushed toward me as I stood in the doorway greeting the kids. "Mrs. M.! I can't wait to tell you--you won't believe it!"

I smiled, accepted her harder-than-usual hug and waited.

"Yesterday at the doctor I was waiting and there was a book and I did it all by myself and I got stuck on a word--it was 'pulled over'--and I heard you and Mrs. H. [our interventionist] in my head saying if I don't try I'll never figure it out. And I want to be a reader and I tried and I did it!"
E. beamed and hugged me again. The kids around us looked surprised, then started grinning, and as E. moved off to put away her backpack, they followed her, asking her to tell it again and congratulating her.

First let me say that Mrs. H. and I would never tell a child he/she will never figure something out or never be a reader--but how E. said it isn't nearly as important as what she said. Or what she did.

Learning to read hasn't been easy for E. and she wasn't very confident early in the year. She has tended to be pretty dependent on teacher support and is hesitant to take action on her own. One of the big thing we try to teach our learners is that they know things they can try when they encounter something difficult or unknown, and can do it independently. Our students only have 9 more days of school left this year, and over the past few weeks, we've talked more and more about how all the things we've learned can and should stick with us forever.  One thing I'd really been trying to help them remember is that our focus this year has been on trying and figuring out--and doing so by ourselves.

One day I tried telling them a different way. "When you come to something you aren't sure of, you can remember what we've learned to try--we've learned lots and lots of ways to figure stuff out this year."

"Like strategies and stuff?" asked W.

"Yep," I nodded, "and you know, you don't need me to follow you around reminding you what to try--can you imagine? I just can't follow you for the rest of your life just in case! But you can tell yourself. Inside your head you can ask yourself what to try and then tell yourself."

They laughed a bit at the thought of me tagging along for the rest of their lives, but they were also a little worried. M. spoke up. "Um, what if we forget? Like forget what to tell our brains to do?"

"Well....I guess you could listen really close inside your head and maybe you can hear my voice in there reminding you."

 Twenty-three sets of thoughtful eyes considered this, and we went on with our day. But over the next week or so, kids began telling me that they were hearing me in their heads helping them remember what to try during reading or writing or math. And then E. shared her story--from away from school! For E. and the other kids, this was a very big deal (and it felt pretty big on my end too!). They were realizing that the stuff we've learned about how to go about learning and problem solving extends outside not only our classroom walls, but also outside the walls of school.

For learners of any age, this is a pretty significant realization, and it seems particularly huge coming from such small learners. So maybe my kids are hearing voices....but so far, it's a good thing!


  1. I love that you told this story; it's every teacher's dream, I think, to have the important words stay in the children's heads. I especially like "Inside your head you can ask yourself what to try and then tell yourself." You must have many of those grand conversations with your students.

  2. Love the story! And yes, I sometimes hear your voice in my head too!