Tennyson Street School: record

Record: (n) a piece of evidence about the past, especially an account kept in writing; documentation, data, dossier, report, transcript
(n) the sum of the past achievements or actions of a person or organization, their previous conduct or performance; track record, history, reputation
(n) the best performance or most remarkable event of its kind that has been officially measured and noted
(v) set down in writing or other permanent form for later reference, especially officially
(v) convert (as sound or performance) into a reproducible form

The best observation occurs by becoming a shadow on the wall, where your presence is merely a dim corner filled with the soft sound of scribbled notes, and not a true distraction. I had arrived at the nearby middle school to watch and learn as Relay Fellows strutted their superstar stuff, and now I sat in a student chair, notebook in hand, as a program coordinator, their supervisor, had the first at-bat.

Relay Fellows are people with a Bachelor’s degree, typically in Education, who have been accepted into the Master’s in Education program associated with our year of service. These are the Fellowship MVPs. I had red-shirted, walking onto the field determined I’ve got game. Now we’d see, as one of the coaches showed me how it’s done.

With a beaming smile at his student, a girl named Vanetti he greeted by name, Joltin’ Joe let the first pitch go by so smoothly I didn’t even realize it had caused both Vanetti and me to involuntarily smile back. He asked her to read for him in a way that made it sound like she’d be doing him a favor. As she read, he could step in with helpful questions: “Did that make sense as you read it? No? What word was tricky? How would you like to work with that word? Sure, break it into parts, you go girl.”

Never has “you go, girl” sounded so sincerely encouraging. I found my pencil poised in mid-air, simply watching the incredible action on the field, as Vanetti answered TDQ (“text-derived questions”) so Joe could CFU (“check for understanding”), using her book as SRM (“source/ reference material”) like a pro. Her voice became stronger, her answers more confident, just during the 20 minutes she read with Joe. She wrote vocabulary words on her small whiteboard. She argued her point by finding the page that had the sentence she needed, and sliding her finger under the exculpatory evidence contained therein. This was a struggling reader, according to her school records. OMG.

So. Many. Fist bumps. So many base hits…RBIs…so much success. He thanked Vanetti for reading with him today. I felt like cheering from the cheap seats. I felt like throwing my beer on Joe.

Then his Relay Fellow took her turn at bat – with the entire class. Amanda was a big stick in her own right, corralling over 20 kids as they worked on spelling various words with a long “U” sound – cue, menu, few, too. While the words seemed easy, the work by the students was anything but. Nor for Amanda; this is a rigorous student-teaching gig if you get into the Master’s program, a hard-working, low-paying internship right out of the gate, on top of taking the requisite courses. Less than three months in, I’d say Amanda nailed a solid stand-up double.

Oh, Vanetti, thy name is Ms. Barbara. Thoroughly humbled by the seemingly effortless talent of Joe and the obvious hard work and practice of Amanda, I left that day so impressed by the possibilities of hiring talented people and training them in this model, I wanted a fan jersey. On the long drive home, I pondered how much of the program I could actually assimilate and use in my small Lab space. I worried about striking out, over and over, because I took my eye off the ball.

We take our eye off the ball if we’re distracted, or afraid. I told myself my worry was that I was out of my league; in truth, I was so worried about the kids falling behind and giving up hope that I was nervous to even step into the batter’s box. What if I choked?

Soon Joe was back, now at Tennyson Street School. He had come to train Miranda and me in how to complete Reading Records. Having no idea about any of the terminology I came across daily, I was guessing that Reading Records were akin to a gradebook or report card on reading.

Not even close.

We were given copies of a student reading text, the words of each sentence spread out across the page. With seven identical pages before each of us, we watched a video that showed us how to observe a child as they read. Step One was to Listen. Step Two was to make a specialized tally mark over each and every word of the text.

Reading Records were simply observations. The secret was mindfulness. I breathed an audible sigh of relief. Oh thank god; I didn’t have to know anything about improving reading or accelerating learning – just listen carefully, and mark the words.

On the first page, we practiced making a checkmark when the video student read each word correctly. So easy!

On the second page, we practiced writing a substitution, a wrong word, over the written word, and making a checkmark when the video student read each word correctly. Fun!

On the third page, we practiced writing an R next to a word if it was repeated when read, and drawing an arrow back to indicate if a phrase was repeated, and writing a substitution over a word, and making a checkmark when the student read each word correctly. Okay!

On the fourth page, we practiced noting if they self-corrected their substitution, which we still wrote over the wrong word but now added a grid and “sc,” and writing an R next to repeated words, and drawing an arrow back over what was reread, and marking if the “sc” occurred during the first or second or sometimes third repetition, and making a checkmark, and WOW! Deep breath…and…

On the fifth page, we practiced noting omissions and insertions, plus the whole 12 Days of Reading Errors, “and a check-mar-ark if they got it right.”

On the sixth page, we practiced what to write if they suddenly and without warning SPEAK TO US! How…? I’m supposed to answer their question AND make a grid over the word WITH vertical separators WHERE I mark “A” that they asked (but “A” is for “appeal,” because “ask” wasn’t formal enough?) followed by ANOTHER vertical separator where I now give the rote response, “You try it,” and write a “Y” (for “teacher responds with ‘You try it’ I am dead serious) but the “A” goes above the word where the student’s responses all go and the “Y” goes below the word grid line and after the separator after the “A” – and then when the student just sits silently puzzling why I would tell her “You try it” when she clearly asked me what that word is, a final “T” shows that I finally “Told” her the word. Written below the grid and after yet ANOTHER separator.

Sweet Mother of Copy Editing! And at speed, as the student reads! Who copy edits in real time? It felt like court transcription combined with live translation. I felt like Yogi Berra: “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is.”

And yet.

I could see the value in recording exactly what mistakes the students were making. How do you tell a batter how to fix their hitting unless you look at every aspect of their batting – stance, grip, alignment, timing, angle, swing, follow through.

“You can observe a lot just by watching,” according to Berra. You can see ways to improve. And it’s too hard for kids to observe themselves and their reading errors. So we could do it for them. Because “you cannot think and hit at the same time.” They needed to keep their eye on the ball. They needed to just watch each word as it came, with mindfulness. And then knock it out of the park.

I would be their batting coach. And together, we would use their Reading Records to find ways to improve. We would raise their comprehension and testing game. We could frame it like Yogi:

“I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.”