Why I teach

For the last couple of weeks, my students and I have been working very hard on inference.  I say very hard because overall, my students tend to be very literal readers.  Most of them have never even considered that maybe authors don’t say everything directly.  This is the only middle school I’ve ever taught at, so I can’t say if this is a common issue or not.  For example:

In the book Bridge to Terabithia, chapter one shows us Jesse, a young boy who dreams of being the best runner and making his family proud.  At one point, he imagines his sister, May Belle, would “pop her buttons.”  I guarantee that at least 75% of my students read that sentence and get confused that May Belle has so suddenly grown obese enough to start having buttons pop off of her clothing (and 25% of those don’t even think to consider what that could possibly have to do with Jess being the fastest runner).

Anyway, many students are really starting to become pros at inference and are taking flight, so to speak.  Even yet, there are students struggling.  One such student (we’ll call him Alesandro), frequently thinks making inferences just means taking random quotations and reading them out loud.  For serious, folks.  But today, a breakthrough.

We were taking a break (or so I thought) from inference and reading an article together about slave quilts and how they could have served as guides on the Underground Railroad.  One of the things I teach my students when we read non-fiction is to stop every paragraph or so (longer if they paragraphs are super short) and think about what they just read.  Then, they write a quick summary of the main idea in the margin before proceeding.

We had just finished reading one “chunk” (the kids really dig the terminology and they never forget it- that may be because I relate it to “blowing chunks”) and I asked what the main idea was so we could write down our summary of it.  Well, Alesandro raises his hand and I decide to give him a shot.  This is what he said:

“Well, Mrs. Cookie, I was able to infer based on the fact that colors are mentioned in,  like, every sentence, that the main idea for this paragraph is what different colors represented.”  It may not seem that hard for you and me, but, Internet, I tell you.  A marvelous breakthrough.  It’s a good thing I didn’t give in to my urge to hug him because, you know, child abuse.  Instead I lavished him with glorious praise and then observed him paying closer attention in class than I ever have before.

Oh, wondrous day.


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