Kende looked at me in disbelief. "Why would that happen?" he asked. "There are some schools that just don't have enough books. There are others where teachers don't think their kids are smart enough to choose what to read. And there are others where kids aren't allowed to read books; they just do worksheets for homework!" Kende rolled his eyes, thinking I was telling stories!
I actually was telling a story. It's the same story that's been told for years. Heroically by teachers who offer their students choice, because they know that's such an important part in creating lifelong readers. Famously by Donalyn Miller and the authors of The Teacher You Want to Be, who remind us that authentic choice leads to engagement in reading. Infamously by our generation of students who grew up without choice, and who didn't identify with being readers. We only read books that would turn into book reports. We only identified with the color level of our SRA tests. Fortunately, this story has a much happier ending for many of our kids today!
He found this site, which explained that although tigers are apex predators, hunters at the top of the food chain, even they are killed sometimes when their territories overlap with those of other animals. He read on that sometimes their habitats overlap with the territories of hyenas, which can attack them. "Wait a second...hyenas and tigers? They don't live together."
"What words should we use to find out?" I asked. "Hyena...habitats." Sure enough, right here, he found that hyenas' habitats include forests and mountains, where there might be tigers! When their territories overlap, tigers might get eaten.
"Huh! What does that make you think, Kende?" I asked. Kind of puzzled, he wasn't sure what to say. "It seems like territory is important here," I told him. "Use that word and talk about this."
"It's like whoever's territory it is wins and can kill each other. The crocodile kills the tiger at the water. The tiger kills the crocodile on land." Yes! Kende synthesized this important information and used text evidence to support his thinking! He grew a new idea about the world of animals. Then he pushed the thought some more. "That doesn't make sense!" I asked him to explain.
He pulled up this video, which he had watched another day, in which a jaguar attacks a caiman right in the water, seemingly not the jaguar's territory, at least not as much as the caiman's. We grew the idea some more through conversation to arrive at the greater idea that maybe we have to redefine what the territory of the jaguar is, or maybe this is one big difference between the tiger and the jaguar. Now, neither of us is a zoologist, so our ideas might be debatable, but we are synthesizing, reading with our minds on fire! How many of our students are reading this actively in nonfiction...in 1st Grade much less? How could we create such engagement without partners to talk to, or without choice?
Thank you Mrs. Stanton and everyone at Lakeview for honoring student choice in reading! Thank you Kende, for having ideas about something you love, tigers, that push your dad to grow new ideas about something he loves, teaching! And thank you all for taking the time to read this!