The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

The Gasp Heard ‘Round the Room

I’ve had a long-running inner debate with myself when it comes to doing read alouds in my classroom. On the one hand, I love talking about the stories with my students, observing elements of the writer’s craft, discussing interesting phrasing and unfamiliar words, making predictions, and asking students to share their own personal connections, either to actual lived experiences or those that have been read. On the other hand, I have been hearing from a growing number of colleagues about the idea of just reading to enjoy the story as an entire class. I tend to hover in the middle, leaning toward the first approach. I want to just read the story, but there are often just too many juicy bits that I can’t help but point out!

You may recall that I read Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson earlier this year. My class love the story so much that when they learned there was a sequel they begged me to please, please, please read it. I generally don’t read sequels to my class, preferring to expose them to as many different authors and stories and genres as I can. But they were so insistent about it that I decided I couldn’t not read it. So after we finished a couple of other books, I started reading Hattie Ever After a few weeks ago.

We aren’t done yet, but today we had a moment that proved to me that whatever it is I am doing with my read aloud, I am doing it right! There is a part of the story, near the end, where a great mystery is solved and the true colours of one of the main character are suddenly revealed. Ms. Larson had laid plenty of clues along the path for those who were paying close attention, but, for the most part, it comes as a pretty big surprise. We had left off yesterday with a glimpse of this twist, but there was still a slim hope that maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t be true.

All doubts were cast aside today when we got to this very particular moment in the story and, at the same time, I learned that everyone in the room really was paying attention, because, right as I read aloud the part with the big reveal, there was a collective gasp throughout the room, followed quickly by one student calling out, “I was right!!!”

It was a great moment in my room and a great place for me to stop reading to leave my twenty-four fourth graders hanging on the edge of a literary cliff. I told them that we will finish the story next week, but I may draw out the finale until Tuesday by saving the last chapter, which is just a few paragraphs, for the very end. It will really depend on how well the class is listening on Monday and how much time they give me to read.

So even though we aren’t quite done with Hattie Ever After yet, we are close enough that I feel comfortable thanking Ms. Kirby Larson for yet another wonderful story to share with my students. I wish I could keep all of them for a second year just so we can try to arrange for an author Skype visit with her. I wish we could arrange one for this year, but I know how busy Ms. Larson is and we wouldn’t want to impose on her. After all, I know that there are plenty of other classrooms out there that have felt the same wonderful connection to Hattie and her story as my students have.

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