Sunday, August 9, 2015

Skim, Please.

Without going into the gory details, I will admit that I am over 50, and now required to have a certain screening procedure that requires a 24 hour change in diet, and a lot of private reading time in the smallest room in my house, beginning tomorrow evening.  As a big fan of food, the idea of going on a liquid diet for the next two days is only appealing when I consider the "before" and "after" number that will appear on my scale.  Yet, I am a rule follower, and my doctor told me to do this.

In addition to being a rule follower, I also realized something about my reading habits.  I am a skimmer.  Actually, that is probably not strong enough.  I am a SKIMMER.  As I finally opened the sealed envelope of instructions today -- which arrived a full two weeks ago -- I flipped through the stack of papers, searching for the highlighted section with one question to be answered:

When do I have to stop eating?

 Clearly, I am working backwards, trying to maximize my opportunities.  

Once I found that information, I did my best to answer the multitude of questions from my husband, who went through this very procedure on Friday with a different physician.  Honestly, had he not been asking me very specific questions, I fear I would have stopped reading, and proceeded, feeling informed enough to get through this, with the least amount of actual discussion or thought possible.

Skimming.


Years ago, I was scheduled to be observed for my annual evaluation first thing in the morning on April 1st.  Teachers of the Gifted PRAY, HARD, that April Fool's Day falls on a weekend, fearing the shenanigans of the best and the brightest, who live for showing up their teachers.  Especially intermediate school students in 4th and 5th grade.

One of the benefits of multi-grade pullout gifted programming, is that the actual content is secondary to the teaching of skills.  So on this particular date, I pulled out one of the best tests for skimmers.  A numbered list of activities, with very specific instructions:

Name_____________________________

Place your name where indicated above.   

Read the entire paper before beginning to work.  You may not use an eraser or ask for a new paper.  Carefully consider your responses before writing them down.  You may begin. 

What followed was a list that filled the front and back of the paper, first with questions about likes and dislikes, and then more complicated questions involving math, critical reading, and literature we'd read in previous weeks.  Somewhere around #25 the direction was to

"Stand on your chair and spell your name backwards."

#28 - "Sing the national anthem while hopping on one foot."

and so forth.

Oh, and question  #30?

"Now that you've read through all of the questions, disregard questions 1 - 29.  Make sure your name is on the top of the paper.  Sit back, and watch the show!


I've taught this same lesson many times over the years, and there are always one or two students who read quietly through the entire paper, look at me in disbelief, smile, and respond to my wink.  

On that particular day,  a whoopie cushion was put on my chair, by someone who has yet to fess up to this day. Shannon and Alex both read all the way through, and watched the circus that ensued, from the comfort of their own chairs.  When we were finished, we debriefed, focusing on critical reading, and its importance, as well as explored the history of April Fool's Day.  A successful lesson, observation, and evaluation, with only momentary chagrin for the principal who had unwittingly seated herself on the aforementioned whoopie cushion.

Certainly, TOGs require the ability to skim, a lot, when working with a variety of students with a multitude of personal interests.  Without specific curriculum -- which is exactly the way it should be -- TOGs are forced to be "instant experts," skimming material quickly, and prompting students to be drawn into their research.  

Maybe I don't know the specific formula for a structurally safe roller coaster or how to speak in sign language, although I know which kids can help you to learn something about both of those topics.  What I do know is the importance of teaching kids to learn to think and explore, through strengthening their own understanding of their metacognitive processes.

And thanks to my husband, I know that tomorrow I will not be drinking red or purple Gatorade, as it might cause alarm during Tuesday's adventure.