Mindful Literacy: Breathe, Lean in, and Listen!

    Fall is here and for me September and October, mean it’s time for ELA assessments. The teachers, specialists, and I gear up to assess the reading, phonics, spelling, and writing skills of students to help support their learning throughout the year. It is an intensive rush to provide the best instruction possible. This year, as I began to assess third, fourth, and fifth grade students’ reading, I felt the usual pressure to get the assessments completed quickly and efficiently. Then I remembered the Zen principle of being present. Instead of thinking of all the things I needed to do as I listened to a student read about early railroads, I stopped myself. I took a deep breath, leaned in and truly began to listen. As I listened, I asked myself, “ What strategies is this student using to help her understand the story?” I marveled at how young readers naturally “talk back” to the text, questioning what they’ve read and re-reading to fully consider the information. Of course, I’ve been reading some of these same passages for several years, but it never fails to amaze me how each reader brings something new to the reading. The students’ beginner minds allow them to be open to the text and to create understanding together with the author. I had some fantastic conversations about steam-powered railroads, the process of respiration, and an author’s travels to Japan. The most important outcome of these assessments was the time I spent with young readers listening to them construct meaning. I call this process Mindful Literacy, finding joy in the reading moment.
    In the rush of everyday life, when dinner has to be put on the table and clothes need to be washed – I urge you instead to take a deep breath, lean in, and listen to your child the read. You will discover the strategies she is learning to decode new words and to understand complex text. As she reads, her words will transport you to new worlds. She will ask questions, you may have no answers for and together you can ponder the possibilities. You may, in turn, want to read to her and then it is her turn to breathe, lean in, and listen with her full imagination. Mindful Literacy cannot only slow us down and help us to attend to what’s important, it can also help us to love texts and the subjects we know through them. This deep engagement with books can inspire in us a reverence for word and deed and for one another. It just takes a small space in the evening to connect with your young reader and share a magical reading moment.

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