The following text by Timothy O’Keefe is an excerpt from Looking Closely & Listening Carefully: Learning Literacy through Inquiry by Heidi Mills, Timothy O’Keefe, and Louise B. Jennings (NCTE, 2004).
Something else that makes a difference in the lives of students and teachers is for us to be active and sincere learners ourselves.
How can we teach kids the importance of recreational reading if we don’t make space for it in our classrooms and if we are not readers ourselves? How can we teach writing if we don’t write? Don’t you know teachers who teach biology, and during the entire study there isn’t a living organism in the room other than humans? How do we teach astronomy and never look together at the night sky? How do we teach magnetism and not really know (or care) how it works?
I’m not suggesting that we reinvent the wheel every year. You don’t need to start from scratch every time you plan a unit of study. But there does need to be authentic inquiry going on—even for us teachers.
Don’t simply take down your October box or pull out your animal unit file. Try a new experiment, something you really don’t know the outcome to. Try a new field study; invite in a new guest speaker. Be amazed. Don’t underestimate the power of your own amazement and its effect on your students.
During writing workshop, set aside enough time to enjoy what you ask your students to enjoy. Be more than a model—be a writer.
Children develop trust in what we say when we are brave enough to try out what we are having them do. How many of us consider ourselves to be writers? Scientists? Mathematicians? And yet isn’t that what we demand of our students?