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Helping Students Discover the Worlds Awaiting Them in Books

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Today, I got down to the eye level of my fourth-grade students.

I mean this both literally and figuratively. The older I get, the tougher it is to literally lean down to hear the words they are saying, to read the sentences they are writing and to see the work they are doing.

It’s worth the effort though.

The older I get, the easier it is to see that we all need to be heard and seen, we all need someone who is willing to get down to our eye level and try to see and feel and understand the world as we do.

I leaned down and rested my elbows on the end of one of the tables in my classroom and watched an episode of Reading Rainbow with my students. It was the “How Much is a Million” episode.

“How Much is a Million” is an amazing book by David Schwartz and Steven Kellogg, which shows how big a million is.

To have it introduced by LaVar Burton and read aloud on a Promethean panel, a brand of interactive whiteboard, is a wonderful thing.

I laughed along with my students as a little boy said, “A million is the number of times my little sister annoys me each day.”

I marveled along with them as Schwartz wrote, “If one million kids climbed onto one another’s shoulders, they would be … taller than the tallest buildings, higher than the highest mountains and farther up than airplanes can fly.”

I grinned along with them when we learned that a million goldfish would need a fishbowl that could hold a blue whale.

“We know you like that fact,” they said. I did!

My students know I love whales and am trying to become a whale genius. One of them drew and colored a picture of a whale for me at the end of the day.

How humbling that this child from Honduras listened to my life, heard that I love whales, thought “I am going to create a picture of a whale in the ocean for Mr. Barton” and spent the time and effort to make such a beautiful piece, all after listening to a great book with me.

A blue whale’s heart is the size of a Volkswagen.

Such is the heart of this child.

Such are the hearts of my students.

I love sharing literary moments with my students.

Most of them come from economic poverty and have parents who work long hours trying to keep a roof over their families’ heads and food on their tables.

There aren’t many books in their homes or many nights their parents are able to read them to sleep.

By the time they make it to my classroom as 9-year-olds, they haven’t had many experiences with words and books.

I have the privilege of reading good books to them and sharing good books with them.

I have the privilege of watching good books spark an idea in their imaginations and deep feelings in their hearts.

One of the best parts of being a teacher is laughing, marveling and grinning along with my students amid great stories.

Another is watching their minds and hearts grow.

Listen to their lives.

Hear who they are and what they love.

Create something beautiful for them.

They really are one in a million.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of articles this week for International Literacy Day (Sept. 8). Previous articles in the series are:

Literacy: Powerful Weapon Against Inequality if We Use It | Hannah Watson

Christian Agency Brings Education to Syrian Refugee Children | Alia Abboud

Trevor Barton

Trevor Barton teaches fourth grade and is a member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.