Love Me Some Lester

lester-2I’ve lived in the South for a very long time now and the phrase “Love me some …” makes my eye twitch.

I guess it’s a Southern thing. I’m from Maine. There you go.

But when it comes to Lester Laminack, no one is more Southern than he. And when I think of Lester and all that he has taught me over the years, without even knowing who I am, the only words that come to mind are, “Love me some Lester!”

Last Saturday, Lester visited with 150 teachers in my school district to talk about the power of the read aloud to children. This was the third Lester event that I’ve attended in the past year. He acknowledged those of us who stalk … I mean, attend his other events and said there would be repetition because he has the same brain, the same mouth, and only knows so much shit.

That’s why I love Lester … he keeps it real.

Because, you know what, teaching can be hard. There’s a lot of pressure. We all feel it. But if we can get back to basics, then maybe it won’t be so hard.

I’m a firm believer in working smarter, not harder. And Lester reminds me of just how to do that in my classroom.

The Power of Picture Books

Come on … let’s be honest. We all love picture books. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we never get tired of reading a beautifully illustrated picture book with words that practically sing off the page. I’m a sucker for them. Seriously, you should see my own kid’s book collection. (I’ll save that for another blog post.)

Let’s remember this love when we’re working with our students.

Many of our kids just don’t have the prior knowledge and vocabulary that we’d like when they arrive to our classroom.

Lester says that picture books give exposure to language and scaffolds by building an image bank that our kids just can’t get if we only read aloud novels to them. They need to see the pictures. So that means even fifth grade through high school students need picture books read aloud to them.

Movie Read

Lester is big on doing a “movie read” the first time a book is read aloud to children. That means we as teachers can’t stop and ask our kids a billion questions about the text. We can’t ask our students to turn & talk. They’re still processing the book the first time, they’re learning the characters, they’re making connections in their head, and they’re letting it all sink in.

He suggests we read the text once through and let it simmer. Let the kids come to their own understanding over the next day or so. We can plant seeds about our own questions, and that will help foster excitement and thoughtfulness about the text within our kids.

Lester reminds us to ponder just who has a right to decide what is important in a book? Let students discover that for themselves.

As for holding them accountable, thus using turn & talk all the time, well it’s sometimes normal for kids to get lost during a read aloud. We learn through experience when to tune in and listen. The act of getting lost, and realizing that one is lost, will teach kids to not get lost next time.

“If you’re teaching for the right answer, you’re teaching wrong.” ~Lester Laminack

If you want them to regurgitate a response, you might as well just tell them the answer.

Art

Reading aloud is an art. We need to be so familiar with the text we’re sharing that we can accurately convey mood and tone, that when we read dialogue it is as if the characters are truly speaking, and we must know when to pause.

Gatekeepers

Probably the most significant thing Lester said, the thing that really struck me, was that as teachers we are the last gatekeepers of print. So much of the world has converted solely to electronic devices for quick entertainment.

Libraries are closing. Book stores all around us are closing.

But we are the keepers of the printed book, and we have the power to keep it alive by what we do with our students. And that will have a ripple effect.

Reading matters. Reading to children matters. One of the greatest gifts, I think, we can give our children is the gift of story through a book. It teaches them to feel, to connect, to compare and contrast, to recognize relationships, to reflect, to wonder, to guess. And let’s not forget, to be able to hear the beauty of language.

An expansive vocabulary will serve a child very well in his or her life. To be able to communicate with that many more people because that child has the gift of words on his or her tongue and can easily access them. What a powerful way to bring people together! To increase understanding and empathy by being able to communicate clearly.

I may not be able to change educational policy, but I can create and foster change within myself. I can keep my focus on my students and what I know good teaching to be.

And I can read to my students—a lot—and often.

Thank you, Lester, for reminding me of the power that I do have.

*If you’re a teacher, I highly encourage you to sign-up the next time Lester is in your town. It’s an experience you will never forget!

If Lester isn’t scheduled to come to your area, then check out his books. My favorites are below:


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