Sunday, March 4, 2012

Epic Fail? Epic Opportunity.

Epic. Fail.
We took three trips up the bunny hill before my youngest proclaimed that he was ready to take the lift up to the top of the mountain.  With experience on the snowboard, he refused to go to ski school this time, and began down the slope with confidence.  Why would skis be any different?  
Nine rescues later, complete with thrown poles and 10 year old cursing (which is not as bad as real cursing, but still...), he proclaimed that "everyone" was laughing at him.  One run.
Quitting.  Failure. 

The day before, I stood in front of almost 200 primary grade students and over a hundred of their parents to do a read-aloud in honor of Read Across America.  Our second grade students had finished a fantastic presentation of "Seussical Junior," and I began my part as the applause died down.  Of course, reading is my favorite thing in the world, so I have the best job in the school.  I get to read ALL DAY.   With practiced ease, I made my way through the Seuss-ified text, tackling the tongue twisters, rhyme, rhythm, and invented words like a pro.  Using my district-supplied iPad, I read the e-book with confidence.  The students were captivated, and read along, "I am I!" on cue.
That darn "Time-Telling Fish."

I am a good reader.  I am a very good reader.  I teach students how to read and monitor their reading every day.  I love to read aloud, too, and I had practiced reading Happy Birthday to You! * three times at home.  I planned where students would read-along with me, and it was going swimmingly well until that darn Fish.
When I realized that I had read the two sets of text backwards on the page, starting with the bottom sentence instead of the top one, I stopped.  I knew it didn't make sense.  With over 300 pairs of eyes on me, I thought, "Did they notice?  Should I just keep going?" Time seemed to stand still as I looked at the crowd, until I met one pair of eyes, wide with horror.  One of my students knew.  She knew I had made a mistake.  Despite my practice, regardless of my reading expertise, I had Failed to read the page correctly.

When teaching my students to self-monitor for understanding, I make "mistakes."  My students quickly catch on as I model metacognitive processes while reading.  They laugh and enjoy the game of "catching" Mrs. B's mistakes.  "All Readers, even Mrs. B, go back and re-read to fix it when it doesn't look right, sound right, or make sense."  My mantra is well known among my students.
This time, though, my mistake was not contrived.  It was real, and my face was burning as I began my self-talk.  In front of "everyone," I confessed that I had made a mistake, and I knew that it didn't make sense.  Backing up, I re-read the page correctly, and continued without folly to the "Birthday Pal-alace" and back home again.  My concluding statements about the joy of reading were met with applause, and many parents thanked me on their way out of the auditorium.  Still, I know that "everyone" had witnessed my moment, including all of my students who struggle with reading every day.  Imagine facing every reading task, knowing that it will involve mistakes, failure, and the perception that "everyone" is laughing.

My son eventually overcame his skiing struggle.  We went right back up and tried it again.  And again.  And again.  And, although he still fell on his last run, he was able to disconnect himself from the notion that he had to be perfect from the start.  He could make mistakes.  He even began to notice "everyone" falling around him as they came down the hill.

My hope is that all of my readers noticed my "epic failure" on Friday.  I want them to come into my room tomorrow and say, "You made a MISTAKE!"  If they do, they will know that it was a real one, not one contrived for the purpose of instruction, and not a game.  I look forward to the conversation that will follow.  I think I will call it an Epic.  Teachable.  Moment.

*Seuss, Theodore.  Happy Birthday To You!  New York: Random House, 1959 Digital edition.

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