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Slice of Life 8: Two Questions

Participating in the “Slice of Life” challenge for the first time this month reminded of how important it is to keep the creative well going.

It also reminded me of two questions that serve as useful reminders for what matters. 

What are you reading?

A few years ago, a student came into class one morning and stood by my desk. “So, Mrs. Ebarvia,” he began, “I finished reading that book over the weekend.”

“Oh, yeah?” I looked up, “Which one?”

“The DaVinci Code,” and then added, “It was actually pretty good!” He went on to tell me how much he hated the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. “It was so frustrating!”

After a little more back and forth, he added, “Anyway, I thought you’d want to know since you keep asking.”

“What do you mean I keep asking?”

“Every day. You always ask us what we’re reading. So today I have an answer.”

It wasn’t until this conversation that realized how often I was asking students about their reading. To me, asking someone “what are you reading?” was akin to asking “how are you?”

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that asking that one question can be a small, but powerful teaching tool. Lifelong readers always have a book at hand, if not two or three. Right now, I’m working my way through three books, with several dozen awaiting. Asking students what they’re reading on a regular basis sets expectations. Asking assumes that they are reading something (or that they should be). And most of all, asking invites opportunities to talk with students about their reading lives.

[As an aside… After reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love last year, as part of our independent reading program, I started to have my students keep an “on deck” list in their notebooks as well as on Goodreads. I’ve found that keeping an “on deck” list is especially valuable for students who don’t read regularly on their own. While many of us could easily rattle of two, three, or four titles we’re interested in reading, students who don’t read often aren’t in the habit of keeping track of interesting books. The “on deck” list helps student move seamlessly from one book to the next.]

What are you working on?

Last February, during a district language arts meeting, my colleague Ben Smith shared his song writing process. In addition to teaching English next door to me (we share a wall), Ben is also a talented musician (shameless plug: bensmithsongs.com). As a group, the language arts committee has been looking at all various types of literacy, and Ben generously offered to share his own experiences writing outside the classroom.

During his presentation, he shared that among his fellow musicians, they often ask each other what they’re currently working on.

And when you think about it, that’s what creative people do—professional or not. Most creative people are always working on something: a musician may experiment with a new arrangement, a song writer feels the tug of a line humming, a writer keeps a notebook of observations, insights, sometimes just phrases or words. And just like the question, “What are you reading?” the question “What are you working on?” sets expectations. Asking assumes our students are creative individuals, opening up additional opportunities to talk about their writing.


slice of lifeThis post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 200 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

9 Comments

  1. Two very simple, yet powerful questions. Thank you for the reminder. Often times it is the casual conversations with the simple questions that connect us more deeply to our students. I enjoyed reading your post.

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  2. What wonderful questions. Each leads one right into the heart of creativity in the moment! I will take this idea and try it with myself and my students. Thanks so for sharing it!

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    • Ha, good question! 🙂 Aside from wondering what I’m going write for my remaining slices this month, I’m working on a piece on Why I Read YA, and in particular, why it’s important for me to read YA as a teacher. In the classroom, I’m working on figuring out how to allow more opportunities for independent reading as well as more authentic writing, but it’s tough. Curricular demands and such. Maybe I can pick your brain one of these days. 🙂

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  3. janiceewing

    I love these questions, in part because they’re the same questions we would ask adults, as opposed to school-only questions. Also, you’re asking because you’re interested, not to look for the right answer. I’m also reminded of Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. Like Kittle, she says that avid readers always have a reading plan (what’s on deck).
    Janice

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  4. “And just like the question, “What are you reading?”, the question “What are you working on?” sets expectations. Asking assumes our students are creative individuals, opening up additional opportunities to talk about their writing.”

    So powerful – and you are exactly right. What we say to our kids has meaning.

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  5. Pingback: Check out these Slicers! | write.share.connect

  6. Tricia,
    I love that you acknowledge that your students are already readers, writers, thinkers, makers, and doers with your questions — that their insights, opinions, and suggestions matter. You are interested!
    While all of us are always in the process of becoming — we are in the midst of it too– the questions empower, validate . . . Thank you so much for sharing!
    Mary

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