Today I volunteered in Zoe’s first-grade classroom for the first time. Her teacher had asked if I would come in and read with kids. When I arrived, she handed me an index card with five kids’ names on it. I read about the life cycle of frogs, about goats (I learned there are more than 600 kinds), about how monsters make their meals (lots of metal junk), about Teeny Tiny Tina, about a tricky Grandpa, and about Elephant and Piggie dealing with a bird who makes himself at home on Elephant’s head.
Zoe’s teacher has signs posted all over the room about how to read–strategies for sounding out words, techniques for reading with partners, questions to ask yourself to help you understand what you’re reading. I’d attended a reading celebration in the classroom already so I was familiar with the techniques. I’ve loved learning about how first grade works now because it seems completely different than it was in 1981 when I was in it. The options for reading with partners include choral reading (reading in unison), taking turns page by page, or echoing. With every book I read with every student, I asked how he or she wanted to read that one. When L. and I were going to read There Is a Bird on Your Head he chose echoing. L. is a fairly fluent reader, and I thought echoing was really for kids who are still trying to sound out words, but it was his choice. And, although it took a long time, echo reading with him–especially that book–was fun. He read with enthusiasm and expression, and I echoed. I realized I could simply mirror his expression or interpret the lines (which are short) in a slightly different way with different inflection. I could see the benefit to echo reading for a young reader to hear another way of doing it even as he’s exploring his way.
A few kids saw me carrying my card and wanted to know whose names were on it. One boy who is a friend of Zoe’s asked if I was going to read with him. When I said not today, he said he hoped I would read with him next time.
As I was leaving, the teacher thanked me and said I was welcome to read with the kids anytime, and asked if I would be willing to read to them aloud–as if this would be a significant and daring feat to accomplish. I said yes. She also said she appreciated me coming in because some of the kids don’t have anyone to read with them at home. Somehow I was startled by this. I realize there’s a wide socioeconomic spectrum in Zoe’s class, and probably some parents work multiple jobs. But the idea that no one would be reading to these kids at home was heartbreaking to me. Zoe has probably spent thousands and thousands of hours reading and being read to over the past six years–by parents, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, and whoever else was willing. All this good book time has made her the reader she is today. Thinking that some of these kids don’t get to enjoy that time and attention at home makes me want to go back soon and read with all of them. By the end of the year I will know everything there is to know about goats.