I taught third grade in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time the "teach to the test" trend hadn't infiltrated America's public school classrooms. We gave a standardized test, but it didn't determine who went to fourth grade, didn't enter into my evaluation, and didn't have anything to do with how much money the school got. In fact, "teaching to the test" was considered bad pedagogy and limiting to the scope of the everyday classroom experience. We were, therefore, pressured NOT to "teach to the test."
At that time in my teaching career, I considered my daily read-aloud the most important part of my reading instruction.
Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease lists these five reasons for reading aloud...
I was convinced then, and I still believe, that children who are read to, feel good about reading. Children who feel good about reading are motivated to read to themselves. Children who are motivated to read grow into readers. Trelease explains it this way...
- it builds vocabulary
- it conditions the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
- it creates background knowledge
- it provides a reading role model
- it plants the desire to read
I would keep track of the books I read to my students and at the end of the year, I would rank the stories based on the students' favorites. One year I even had the students illustrate a scene from their favorite book in a line drawing. I gathered them all, made copies for everyone, and presented the students with a coloring book of their peers' drawings from their favorite books of the year.
- The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
- The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.
Without fail, every year three authors would be at the top. They were Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and of course, Beverly Cleary.
RAMONA THE HERO
My third-grade students always loved Kindergarten Ramona in Ramona the Pest. They were close enough in age to their own Kindergarten experiences that they remembered their own Ramona-like fears and mistakes. Ramona Quimby took those fears and mistakes and understood. I always imagined my third-graders thinking, "Here is another little person who understands what it is like to be a child."
After Ramona the Pest, I would often skip right to Ramona Quimby, Age 8 since that was Ramona's "third-grade" book. Ramona was universal. She faced similar problems, made similar mistakes, felt similar feelings, and, for those students in my class who had older siblings, felt the same way about her older sister.
Ramona was sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but never a parody. The characteristics that made Ramona so appealing to my students were the same characteristics that made her seem real. Even though the stories were made up, they were never outside the possibility of what could happen to them. Every child could relate to feelings of embarrassment when they made a mistake. Every child understands the anger at being patronized. Ramona expressed those feelings and made them acceptable.
Once in a while, one of the little girls in my class would be labeled Ramona by the other students. It was never cruel or teasing. Ramona was their hero. It's just that sometimes, one of the students had that same combination of energy, frankness, and off-kilter humor that would remind us all of our friend, Ramona. More often, I would watch the students in their daily lives and think -- of the boys as well as the girls, "There's Ramona."
Cleary was such a popular author that I occasionally included books about Ralph S. Mouse and Henry Huggins in my yearly read-alouds, but Ramona was, without question, the hero to year after year of my third-graders.
BEVERLY CLEARY, APRIL 12, 1916 - MARCH 25, 2021
I wonder if any of my former third-graders, when learning about Beverly Cleary's passing, thought about Ramona.
My hope is that they did...because they read aloud to their children...who read aloud to their children.