Relationships Over Rigor

This week, in teaching about theme, a reader reminded me of a theme in my own life:

“It can be hard to live in a constant state of pressure, but YOU are the one creating that pressure. It is okay to let go of your idea of what this should look like. Just give it your best shot.”

In fourth grade, we teach readers to think deeply about fiction. In the last bend of our first unit, readers are busy analyzing fiction texts to develop theories about theme. Each year, there are readers who are able to articulate one topic or big life issue that the text represents. Each year, there are readers who jot down a common catch phrase they have heard again and again. Each year, we nudge readers to craft their own unique statements — ones that share life lessons that apply to the real world.

A reader sat in his learning station this week, pushing forward in his reading and developing a theory chart. He is a reader who has a newfound love of immigration stories. He is a reader who has been gravitating towards strong female characters. He is a reader who fell in love with Varsha Bajaj’s Count Me In. He was nearing the end of the book and latched onto the idea “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

“Is this right?” he said.

“You’re the kind of reader who has a theory about the theme of a book. What is your next step?” I redirected.

“I’m going to look for evidence,” he replied confidently.

Time to wrap up, I thought. Let him try this next part on his own.

As I began lifting myself from my stool, I reinforced: “That’s right. You’re going to track evidence across the whole story. You might look for a part in the beginning, the middle, and the end that fits with this thinking.”

“But, is this right?” he asked again.

I could have used this conference to help him lift the level of his theme statement. That is not what his heart needed in the moment, though. Instead, I sat back down and leaned in. I shared that I knew he was the kind of learner who puts a lot of pressure on himself to do well. He nodded.

I’m the same way” I whispered. “I want everything to be just right all the time, but how will we learn and grow?” I quickly shared about my new journey as a writer and how I get nervous about sharing my own work. My anecdote was met with repeated nods and a smile hidden behind his mask. “You’re the kind of reader who has an idea and knows what to do next. Right now, you’re just going to try it out. You might find that your thinking changes when you begin to collect your evidence. You can do this!”

I have been thinking about this interaction for several days. It is now an imprint on my heart. I know the feeling of self-induced pressure. I know the anxiety around sharing thinking with others. In teaching about theme, this reader reminded me of a theme in my own life – a lesson that many of our learners may need to be reminded of, too:

“It can be hard to live in a constant state of pressure, but YOU are the one creating that pressure. It is okay to let go of your idea of what this should look like. Just give it your best shot.”

Published by Melissa Quimby

Melissa is a 4th grade teacher in Natick, Massachusetts. She can often be found with an iced coffee and middle grade novel in hand! Connect with her on Twitter & Instagram - @QUIMBYnotRamona.

7 thoughts on “Relationships Over Rigor

  1. Beautiful, Melissa, really beautiful. I’ve bee thinking a lot about the way you write about kids and what makes it so special. I’m coming to believe it is you and the way you value and adore them that allows your stories to be so beautiful. Keep writing. The world needs more of your stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, this was so powerful. I love the way you led this student to trust himself and his abilities to find a good answer, and I love watching students develop into true lifelong learners. It takes moments just like these. Thank you for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Melissa, I am hopping in late, too, and am so glad I read your post. The hardest thing in working with kids is scaling back to let them do and discover what they’re capable of. I’m a kindred spirit for sure, having paralyzing perfectionist tendencies myself… my heart aches, though, for young ones so anxiously wanting to be “right.” They will sometimes go against what they know and their own logic to produce what someone else deems right. Brings to mind last week’s word, “stifle.” You captured this scene so vividly and conveyed the sense so well. Here’s to the freedom others (myself included) will find in your words!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are empowering your students when you allow them to build and test theories and change their theories along the way. I grew up in a school system where there were right answers and all of the students kept trying to figure out what the right answers for the teachers were. You help your students to grow into the independent thinkers. Lucky them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A wonderful lesson for your student and a great reminder for all of us. I enjoyed the way you shared your conversation and whispering your thoughts. I felt like I was drawn in to your conversation and feel lifted, empowered by it.

    Liked by 1 person

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