Sunday, September 28, 2014

Overcome Obstacles

I'm reflecting on summer reading through the first quarter.
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Yesterday I got up early and intended to write all morning. I had finished my first cup of coffee, had put in a load of laundry and was just scanning social networks before I got started when I heard the trumpet alert from my cell phone saying I'd gotten a text message. My friend Beth was heading to the American Mud Race. She was meeting up with folks from Camp Gladiator, a boot camp we've done together, but she didn't have a specific race partner.  Sure, when the going get tough, the tough get going, but going it alone is an obstacle not many over come. Knowing the race was near my house at a local track, I called and said I'd join her. Last minute, no plans, just get dressed and go.

The American Mud Race is a three mile course filled with obstacles: mud hills, a swamp swim, climbing walls, tire pits and even fire.
The last third of the course with the slide, fire jump and barbed-wired crawl finish.

Summer reading can be rife with obstacles. Access to books, an obstacle about which many have written (Krashen, Allington and McGill Franzen) is just one obstacle.  At my school we address that obstacle by purchasing books students can check out for the summer. Having more than one-hundred copies for check out, helps. However, if a grade level changes titles too often, our budget for buying books cannot keep pace. Some obstacles you just have to walk around.

I walked around a couple of the obstacles during the mud race. I can't do pull ups. Though my rotator cuff repair has held, my right shoulder is not as strong as it once was. I baby it. I am mindful of my limits. So during yesterday's race I walked around the monkey bars and at least one of the walls. I knew my should could not do it without injury.

Some students feel like they cannot do what we ask them to do for summer reading. More often than not though, they can, they just do not want to. Apathy is wall that is hard to scale. Resistance is too. We see it at all course levels. Even in students' social media streams:

Is it human nature to complain or resist being told what to do? Probably.  Could we turn this around by changing how we approach summer assignments? Yes.

How do we overcome the obstacle? There's got to be a way to support students working through assigned texts and choice texts. During the mud race people helped each other.

One leg of the race was a walk through a swamp. Not being able to see what is under the water can be scary. Some might have been thinking alligators, snakes or amoeba. I know I was thinking bacteria. I figured gators would leave a big crowd alone. I was more worried about my friend's new knee (she had ACL replacement surgery last year) than I was critters. People supported each other by calling out the hidden logs and holes. Strangers offered hands and arms to steady those behind them. We shared strategies--swimming or floating through the rough spots worked well. Encouragement and support got us through that swamp.

Pictures from American Mud Race facebook page.
Next time I'll know to bring to the water camera or Dad's GoPro.

If we are going to assign summer reading I am convince that our support and encouragement must start in May. We've got  to get students ready to do the work on their own. We can't just set them free and say "do it."  Assigning isn't teaching. Assigning will not keep students connected to text. It won't enable students to practice the  academic habits we'd like to exercise during the summer.  When we do that students return results that do not meet our expectations.

We are stronger than we think. Especially when we work together--with each other and with our students.

Beth Scanlon and I after the race.


  1. What a delightful story of triumph --- and spontaneity.

    This! "We are stronger than we think. Especially when we work together."

    This year I have changed positions and am working with readers needing extra support. I hope every day students are willing to work through the obstacles to achieve the greater goal. I'm hoping I can help by walking beside them. Your story is a good reminder of all we can accomplish together --- and the fun we can have along the way.


  2. Excellent Metaphor for reading obstacles.
    One of the problems w/ assigned summer reading is students often only read to complete assignments. When there is no assignment to complete, they think they have no reason to read. We have to give them reasons to read for themselves and not for us. That's a big obstacle to overcome.
    Here's my post for the week: