This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Gem of a Book: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Einstein
My first year as a teacher, I had a student, Jonathan, who struggled with reading and writing.  It was surprising to me as a novice teacher who knew very little about learning differences, because I saw so many other strengths in him.  He was great at math and making astute observations in science.  He just hated to write and struggled with reading fluently.  Often he would call himself dumb and other degrading names.  I forbade him from talking negatively about himself.  His frustrations with learning manifested themselves in behavior that landed him in the office often.  He used inappropriate language and was at times aggressive.  I did my best to show Jonathan that he was smart in many ways.  Almost at the end of that school year, I heard a presentation on dyslexia and immediately saw all the symptoms in Jonathan and all of sudden everything made sense.

I wish Jonathan could have read Fish in a Tree back then.  I wish all of my students would read this book.  Jonathan would have seen himself in Ally.  He would have identified with her struggles to read and write, her efforts to cover it up.  He would have understood why Ally's teachers and principals misunderstood her and he would have appreciated Mr. Daniels's efforts to show her her strengths.  The rest of my students would have also learned about the diversity of talents and interests that each and everyone of them brought to our classroom.  Hopefully, they would have learned to look at each other as unique individuals worth knowing, beyond the grades on the report card and beyond the right or wrong answers in the classroom.

I would recommend this book to students that are finding it hard to see strengths in themselves, who are used to measuring their worth by what others think of them.  I would also recommend it to those who don't struggle with the way we do school right now.  It can help build empathy and understanding for all their current and future classmates.  And finally, I would recommend it to teachers.  Mr. Daniels is a great mentor for all new and veteran teachers.

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