As I end my third school year in reading aloud to primary students, it is time for observation and reflection.
My final reading selection this spring was Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary, the first in a series of ‘realistic’ fiction by the author. Although my time slot for reading was limited to a 30-minute session, early afternoons on Thursdays, it is what the book inspired that is the subject of this essay.
Part of the story included a description of an impromptu party, thrown by the four-years-old, younger sister, Ramona. Ramona Quimby invited all of her friends to a party, but failed to mention the proposed gathering to her family, including her nine-years-old sister, Beezus. Of course pandemonium ensued when car loads of guest were being dropped off in front of Ramona’s house. In a mad scramble to assemble refreshments for the party, mother opens applesauce (whose origins are described in an earlier chapter) and packages of fig newtons, which comprised the main party fare. To the accompaniment of home-done drums, noise makers and related, all the flag-waving party guests marched through every room in the Quimby house and basement (as part of a party ‘parade’) accompanied with a nonsense phrase, “Bingle-Bongle-By.”
I was surprised, flattered and honored today, by the combined fourth grade classes of my local primary school, when they threw a Beezus and Ramona-themed party for me. When I knocked to enter the darkened classroom at my usual reading time, I received only silence. The room light came on as I entered and then students sprang from behind every piece of classroom furniture and fixture, yelling, “Surprise!” Not content with this sole display of gratitude, students invited me to join a hastily-assembled line of nearly 40 students, who marched around the interior hallways of the school, chanting as loudly as they could: “Bingle-Bongle-By!” Oh, did I mention that each student had constructed a headband with paper rabbit ears, to match Ramona’s favorite head wear?
The classroom teachers at my local school had shared food-service preparation duties, so there was a ‘Beezus-birthday’ cake (yellow cake with white and pink icing along with a baked-in doll head and arms) whose context had been taken from yet another chapter of the book. The classroom teachers graciously served students a slice of cake, with applesauce on the side.
At the start of the party, I was served food first (as the guest of honor); and presented with an ‘autograph journal’ (which had been described in the story) containing the signatures of all the students. I also received at least 10 hand-made ‘thank-you’ cards from students, who said they appreciated my reading with them.
At the end of the classroom celebration, one of the teachers projected a showing of a children’s book which had been described in the Cleary book as the favorite of Ramona, when she routinely imposed on her older sister, Beezus, to read aloud to her.
I thoroughly enjoy using a dramatic-reading style for read-aloud sessions. It forces me to immerse myself in the reading, including differences in character voice and manner. The method also dictates a measured pace, with appropriate pauses for reflection, to better ‘register’ in the ears of listeners. Moreover, I have always loved reading.
Personally, while I have great admiration and respect for classroom teachers, I do not care much for ‘teaching’ in the traditional, public-school-district sense. By that, I mean ‘imparting one’s knowledge’ to students, usually by lecture and rote. An educational-consultant friend calls it the ‘raising bonsai’ method, where students receive metered doses of ‘knowledge’ while being pruned-back, root and branch, to ‘standards’ (and standard expectations).
I much prefer serving a role as a coach/mentor who encourages and enables genuine learning with students. Sometimes, as in the subject case, students easily grasp details and concepts by ‘osmosis’ as they exercise their own craniums while listening to a well-written story, read aloud. I remain astounded by the collective recall displayed by the class members.
While I cannot unequivocally say that every student learned useful things as a product of my reading sessions this school year (or the two prior years), I sincerely believe that they all developed useful, listening and thinking skills, which will remain with them forever. I see writers in the making.
I am honored and privileged to be a small part of that.