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A D.E.A.R. kind of day- Happy Birthday Mrs.Cleary!

Dear KEEN Ones,

Today is April 12th, National Drop Everything and Read day and the birthday of Beverly Cleary, noted children’s author. Her books are some of the best classics – Ramona the Great, Henry Huggins, and the list goes on. I remember reading her books as a little girl, so enthralled by the mayhem her characters got into. They seemed so real, it was as if I could go outside and see the same type of madness in my neighborhood. I would sit in my bathtub and read for hours, until my mom beckoned me to get out or my skin was so wrinkly and cold I couldn’t take it anymore. Reading the Cleary books took me straight to Klickitat Street, and not only was my joy for reading becoming more evident, my vocabulary was growing by leaps and bounds. Mrs. Cleary always used vocabulary that made you use context clues to figure out the meaning. Still, that is a skill I treasure, and I can thank Mrs. Cleary and Judy Blume personally for that.  (Judy Blume is my hero!)

From reading the Cleary books I learned what “sustained silent reading” was.  I included D.E.A.R. as part of my classroom environment when I taught sixth grade. Just like Ramona and her classmates, my students  asked me if they had to write a report  after they read. When I told them no, that’s when I found out who my “Jewels” (that was my nickname for them) really were. Those same students who I fought tooth and nail to read a paragraph aloud or turn in a book report on time had taken themselves to the library to participate in my D.E.A.R. time. Some liked books about cars, all of the girls like the Babysitters club, some of the boys wanted to read Goosebumps. My non-non readers even brought in magazines; nevertheless, they were reading. I was blown away. As I wanted to get in tune with a book myself during our D.E.A.R. time, but  I would just observe how the Jewels, just like me, seemed to be in another world. It didn’t matter if they didn’t know all of the words or had never seen the story in real life. They wanted to read and relate in some way to what was happening in their story. For me, this revealed a vulnerability that I think all people share – how can I relate?  Think about it. Your experiences, your friends, those whom you feel connected to – in some way you can relate to them. As a child, your exposure to people, ideas and things helped to develop this in you- what you like, don’t like and so on. Sometimes, it just takes a good read from a good book to gain that exposure. With authors like Mrs. Cleary, they make the characters  easy to relate to and find what you have in common. As adults, you are much more personable, willing to try new things and seemingly get along better in life. Your perspective on life changes. If things aren’t so good, read about someone who may be facing something worse. That always makes what you go through seem a little bit easier, don’t you think?

As educators, it is very important that we are sensitive to this childlike vulnerability and make sure our classrooms are a place of discovery. From age 2-18 children are impressionable, so it is important to build our learning environments around what they should know, what they want to know and what they may want to know. When we started to do D.E.A.R, I allowed my students to discover a world or people who in their wildest dreams they would have never thought they’d experience, let alone read about. Hold on- let me paint the picture of my students and classroom: inner-city Washington D.C. school, “at-risk”population, 65% labeled Special Education, 10 to 15 student ratio boys to girls, grade 6. Now you tell me- how would you react to seeing a student who sees guns and violence daily reading about a Babysitters club? Better yet, a foster child fascinated by the “choose your own adventure” books (remember those?), giving her the chance to make decisions about something when all her life other people made decisions (not family) on where she will live, how she would manage, how  she should “be” in that situation. For the Jewels, books made life better, calmer and “do-able”.  As their teacher I could only influence their perspectives academically, and D.E.A.R was one way to do that. I think that is innovative learning at it’s best. In fact, once I indirectly got to know my students, I knew the analogies I could use to get them to be more expressive. My journal topics became more personable. For my scary story readers, I would ask them to write about how it feels to watch a scary movie. For my adventure seekers, I would ask them to describe the feeling of driving a Herbie the “lovebug” car.  Because they were exposed to some of this through reading, it was much easier for them to express themselves this way and the journals were not consumed with random doodling anymore. The first step in them developing who they would become was happening, all through 20 minutes of D.E.A.R.

I love to celebrate this day, April 12th, as it marks the day that Beverly Cleary was born and the possibility of D.E.A.R. to exist. In her book, “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” she introduces the concept of D.E.A.R., allowing readers like you and me to follow in the footsteps of Ramona’s teacher.  That’s what Professional Development is really all about- teachers learning from other teachers in an effort to make teaching and learning make sense.  Thanks Mrs. Cleary.

KEEN

— to learn more about Drop Everything and Read, visit their website: www.dropeverthingandread.com

— need some good choices for books? Check out: www.bookadventure.com

— want some info on the best practices to reading? Check out: www.readingonline.com