Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers… You get it? We both have layers.
Have you ever tried to teach an onion? Moreover, have you ever tried to teach an onion reading? It is not an easy task. In this classic DreamWorks scene, when Shrek tells Donkey that ogres are like onions, Donkey completely misses the point. If teachers are not focused, they, too, can miss the point because their students also are like onions.
Like Shrek said, onions and ogres both have layers – as do students. Students are complex and unique individuals. They are the way they are for so many different reasons. There is much more to each of them than a stereotype, a last name, a disability, or a test score. In the classroom, the teacher should never just be teaching a subject or a lesson. He or she should teach the whole person and that person could be dealing with abuse, divorce, sickness, poverty, cultural differences, learning disabilities, low self-esteem, bullying, or something as small as a bad hair day.
To some students, coming to school may just be the easiest part of their day. To others, it may be the hardest. They enter the class room with all of their burdens, and we begin throwing sight words, vocabulary, read and responds, storybooks, and standardized tests at them. No wonder they do not want to read. Kimberly Sabatini, author and former special education teacher, found that in her classroom, “Every child that was challenged emotionally and behaviorally also struggled with reading. Not only was reading moderately to extremely difficult for them, but they also lacked a desire to connect with books” (Sabatini, 2011, para. 1).
How, as teachers, do we get our little multi-layered onions interested in reading? First, it starts with the parents. It is a completely different ballgame if the parents are involved. Most parents know their child’s many layers. Parents can show their children how fun reading can really be. When I was young, my cousins and I would put on plays and skits for the family. My uncle would tuck us in with a flashlight puppet show, and my dad would read stories like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings with us. He would even change his voice depending on which character was speaking. He did a pretty decent Gollum impersonation. These aspects of my childhood instilled in me a desire to read.
Second, the teachers have to try to meet each student at his or her own level. This involves establishing trust. In order to do this, the teacher must be willing to peel back a few more layers. Get to know the students. Talk to their parents. Let the students tell you some of their stories. Give them an opportunity to share what they love with you. Then, as the teacher, you can take all their layers and create lessons in which they can thrive. If they are into Star Wars, teach literary devices with Darth Vader. If they love rap music, have them make a rap for Romeo and Juliet. Make the material relatable. This reminds me of the scene in Freedom Writers when Erin Gruwell teaches her students, who are mostly mixed up with gangs and violence, about the most famous gang in history, the Nazis. She took an aspect of history and made it significant to their lives. Give them something to connect to. If you can do that, you have taken a big step toward cultivating the desire to read.
The school where I work does a used book fair. They take donations from the community and sell the books to their students during lunch for whatever amount of money they bring. The woman in charge even told me that students have brought in play money, but she gives them the books anyway. She just wants them to be hooked on reading. What are other ways that we can improve our students or children’s literacy at home and in our communities?
“It is our job as educators and parents to give our students and children the gift of literacy, but it is equally as important and maybe even more necessary that we give them a desire for stories” (Sabatini, 2011, para. 10). To cultivate this desire, we need to peel back the layers of our students and find powerful ways to connect them to stories. If we do this, we will find that these stories have power of their own. They will captivate our students, showing them that they can be the knights in shining armor that go off to face the dragons, even if the dragons are just a bad hair day.
Sabatini, K. (2011, July 7). In other words: Sometimes, reading isn’t about reading at all.
Retrieved from http://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2011/07/07/in-
other-words-sometimes-reading-isn-t-about-reading-at-all on November 20, 2016.