Asking For Help

Asking For HelpHe’d surpassed his frustration level. I was working with another group when I glanced over and noticed his head in his hands. He was desperately trying to cover his red face and the tears streaming down his cheeks. We only had a few minutes left in class, and he had been diligently working to map out his group’s reading plan for the next few weeks.

I’d provided a sample plan. We had twice discussed how he could pattern his group’s plan after the sample I’d given them. And yet, he was still confused and couldn’t seem to make it work. His partners weren’t helping much. He had enthusiastically taken the lead on developing the plan, and they had let him do it. Why wouldn’t they? He’s a hard-working student–an extremely “high flyer” in a room full of soaring stars. Having him in their group all but insures they will all do well. However, at this point he’d reached his limit. He couldn’t figure it out and was certainly not going to finish it before the class ended. Crushed and falling apart, he slumped in his seat.

I quickly made my way over to him and threw my arm around him. “Let’s take a walk together,” I stated as I instructed the class to tidy the room before leaving.

When we reached the small office next door, I said, “Talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“I can’t figure it out. I tried and tried, but it doesn’t make sense, and they were counting on me. . . and not really helping,” he admitted.

“Okay,” I said. “Don’t worry about the plan. I’ll be happy to help with it. It is really confusing the first time you do it, and I’m sure the example could have been clearer. We will figure it out, okay?”

“Okay.” He relaxed and immediately appeared relieved.

“Can I ask you something though?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you get the other guys’ attention, tell them you were having trouble, and ask them to help you figure it out?”


“Aren’t they part of your group, too?”


“Isn’t that what partners are for–to help us learn?”

“I guess so,” he reluctantly admitted.

“You have so much to offer your group. You work hard in class and strive to think deeply about our books. And I also appreciate that you want to lead your group, but leading isn’t always doing it yourself, right? Leading is inviting other people to help carry out a task and helping them do their best, too, right?”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“You know asking for help is okay, right?”

“Well. . . I guess so.” He bowed his head as if ashamed to admit he might need help occasionally.

“I know how you feel. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn, too.”

The Threads That Run Through: Making Connections

making connections texts human experienceAn important skill readers use to comprehend a text is to make personal connections to it by accessing their own background knowledge. We link what we are reading to what we already know by making text-to-self, text-to-text (text-to-media), and text-to-world connections.  As I design my 6th grade reading class, I want my students to connect not only to the books we read but also to other people and their experiences. I want them to recognize that reading and writing help us develop empathy for others. Reading and writing deepen our understanding of experiences we might not personally have. When we read and write, we are not only making connections with the text but also making connections to people’s experiences.

To help my students connect with the texts and with the lives of people from different backgrounds I have selected books from around the world that address global issues. We begin making these connections when the boys read the assigned summer text: Andrea Warren’s Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. Surviving Hitler tells the true story of Jack Mandelbaum, a 12-year-old boy taken prisoner during the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.  The story serves as an excellent introduction to the Holocaust and the boys really connect with Jack. The book ties in nicely with the theme of conflict studied in our sixth grade social studies classes.

In the first trimester of the school year, the boys read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars in small group with Mrs. Parker and Anne Holm’s I Am David in small group with me. The characters in these books are easily accessible to 6th graders and the boys make connections with many of the experiences in the stories. After reading each book the boys complete a project where they make stronger, personal connections with the book.  In my class we focus on making strong text-to-self connections while reading I Am David, and our work culminates in an “I Am” project where the boys create a 3-D metaphorical monument that represents their connections to the experiences of David.

For the second trimester all the boys return to my room for core group reading. (Alice teaches small group reading with fifth grade.) We focus our study on human rights reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis and making connections to the South African apartheid novel Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo. With these books we focus on making strong text-to-text connections between, and the boys show an understanding of how global the problems of racism and discrimination are. My students are privileged people, but I’m impressed with how deeply they connect to the struggles of the characters in our books. They also have a strong sense of justice and develop feelings of empathy for those facing injustice. Their compassion is inspiring. Currently, the boys are designing their own project-based learning as they move from connecting with someone’s experience to taking action to help that person in need.

During the last trimester my students will have more choice over what they read and how they approach each book. I have selected several works I think the guys will enjoy including: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Nothing But the Truth by Avi, Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen, and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. (I’m considering adding a few others so please let me know if you have suggestions.) After I introduce each book, the boys will select which book they want to read and organize a “book club” that they will plan and lead. I’ll occasionally sit in on face-to-face book club meetings as a visitor, but also I’ll primarily keep up with their discussions through the Livescribe pencasts they’ll share in Edmodo as they go. A primary goal of their book club discussions will be making text-to-world connections as they read and discuss the novels.

The class design helps students connect to the experiences of others. However, the course needs further development in actually connecting with people beyond our classroom. In the future, I want to use Skype, the Global Read Aloud, and blogging as ways to connect with people around the world. Instead of reading about apartheid-era South Africa, I’d like my students to connect with South Africans living in and striving to overcome the prolonged effects of apartheid. My hope is that someday my students will not only be making connections to our books, but they’ll be making life-changing connections with others.

What’s your opinion on these ideas? What are some more ways that I can help my students better connect with others and better understand the human experience?

This is the third post in a series of reflections on the throughlines for my 6th grade reading class. If interested, you might want to read the overview or my post on thoughtfulness.