A short tale of grit and resilience

As a teacher-librarian who still has one foot deeply immersed in academia I spend a considerable time wondering if the things we do are the “right” things. And that’s before I’ve opened any social media related to the profession where people are posting articles about the wrongs of everything from levelled reading to literature circles, reading competitions, to accelerated reading programs, to not ‘over’ encouraging reading, even down to whether we’ve really considered academic honesty properly.

So sure, we probably do somethings wrong. In fact daily I’m deeply aware that I’m failing some students some of the days, and a small number of students all of the time. And yet.  There are moments when I do think things come together and they allow our students to shine – and those are the tales of grit and resilience that the popular educational press love. And so too, at the danger of following the bandwagon, I’ll add my tales too.

Yesterday, our school had their trials to select the students who would form the teams for the “Readers’ Cup” competition.  We’ve been meeting weekly preparing for this competition, students have busily been reading the 6 books in their category, creating questions, quizzing each other and re-reading the books. We had about 40 students and could only choose 4 teams of 6.  At which point some educators would be crying “foul” and “no fair”. But hear me out, and the tales of 3 students.

The first is an ELL (English Language Learner) student – been learning English for about 2 years. Nervous about joining at all initially, bolstered by a friend who was also taking part. Enters the library to take part in the competition yesterday with a little notebook which is promptly removed by me. Look of dismay. I explain that we only allow a pencil and the iPad for the multiple choice round.  The competition ends. She’s a solid contender, right there in the middle of the pack. She’s in!  While tidying up, we find the notebook we’d put aside. Extensive notes on each and every book… *

The next, a student who decides to join the competition just before the Spring break. She’s read none of the books, but I tell her she’s welcome to try anyway, and the library is open all holiday.  From time-to-time in the vacation I get a little email to say she’s finished another book and I congratulate her. Then on Saturday the blow falls – she’d been reading the books in the wrong (higher) category and had only actually read two books at the right level… I write back to her and tell her not to panic, she still has 4 days, and I suggest a schedule whereby she reads the longest most challenging books first and leaves the picture book for last, and say if necessary I’ll come into the library over the weekend to open it for her, and she can come and read in the library every recess and lunch time (usually the times are staggered by grade). She says it’s OK, she’ll manage. And manage she does. Not only does she finish all 6 books by the deadline, but she’s the highest scorer in her category.

The third are two sisters. One a very strong reader, one a little less so, and younger. The older student is constantly encouraging the younger to keep reading. Spends time both at home and at school quizzing her on the books she’s completed. Keeps me updated on their progress.  Both sisters are selected in their categories, both top scorers. But I’m pretty sure the younger student would not have done as well without the home support and encouragement.

Invariably there are disappointments. We selected two “back-up” students per category, and after attrition from conflicts with other activities and last minute dropping out for various reasons, each category had 3 students who wouldn’t take part. Of the 6 students, 5 had not finished all the books, didn’t take it perhaps as seriously as they could have if they’d truly wanted to take part. Didn’t attend meetings or make questions or really try. But one I feel responsible for, he’s a good reader. A voracious reader. He’d wanted to take part in they younger category, but I convinced him to try for the older, but it was apparently too much for him. A misjudgement on my part. And I’m not sure what I should do now. Certainly in the future I’ll trust a students’ own judgement more and not try to convince them otherwise.

* She was not the only student who had an ELL background, for a large percentage of our students English is a second language, but she’s still in the ELL program, whereas the rest have ‘graduated’ over the years.

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