This year, I decided to choose Out of My Mind for our last class read aloud. Here's the goodreads summary in case you're not familiar with this wonderful, thought-provoking book:
Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school - but no one knows it. Most people - her teachers and doctors included - don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write.
Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind - that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.
Student: "Miss Teacher, I noticed something as you were reading..."
Me: "Did you notice I was skipping a word?"
Me: "You're right. I did that because I really don't like that word. It makes me uncomfortable to say."
Student: "What if the kids are confused though later in the book because you skipped it? What if it's important?"
So, since my job as a teacher is about so much more than math and literacy, I decided to use this as a teachable moment. I told the class that I had been skipping a word because it made me uncomfortable. I shared what it was, what it meant, and its unkind connotation. We talked about why the author may have chosen to use this word even though it is unkind--does the author think the word is appropriate? Is there another reason? In the end, it was a powerful, positive conversation that reminded me that so much of the unkindness in the world is due to ignorance. As teachers, one of our jobs is to fight ignorance with knowledge in the hopes that our students grow up with open minds and hearts. It can be hard to find the time to teacher these things in the midst of standardized testing and the Common Core, but I will always find time during read aloud.
Here's how I knew this read aloud was successful: There is a point in the book where the narrator, Melody, is trying out for the school Whiz Kids Quiz Team. Outside of her family and neighbor, no one in a million years thought Melody could even form a coherent thought, much less learn, so when she wants to take the quiz team test, expectations are low to say the least. There is so much build up and anticipation in the chapter where the Quiz Team is announced. As I read the anticipatory pages, I looked out at my third and fourth grade class to find them sitting on the edges of their seats, fingers crossed in eager hope that Melody's name will be announced as a winner. And when it is--they clapped and cheered.
Another reason I knew my goal had succeeded: My students became irate and angry when Melody was treated unfairly by classmates and teachers and when doctors sell her completely short.
And the last reason: On the last day of school when we found ourselves with almost 100 pages left to read, my students begged me to continue reading aloud, even when I gave them the option of playing games instead, and sat in rapt attention until we finally finished the last page, just 5 minutes before the closing bell. While I wished we'd had more time to process the emotional ending, I know that this book will become a favorite for my students, and I hope its message is one that stays with them for a long time!
What were your favorite read alouds this year?