The 10 students in Amber Tiedemann’s Title 1 classes joined millions of children worldwide Thursday for a noteworthy event.
The small group at Sterling Elementary School stopped and listened to Not Norman: A Goldfish Story, written by Kelly Bennett and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones at 1:45 p.m., to take part in the tenth Read for the Record anniversary. Every year, one story is chosen for the annual program by Jumpstart, an organization that addresses learning disparities throughout the U.S., that every participant reads at some point on the assigned day.
“Reading out loud and engaging students in books is important because it helps develop their love of the written language and it helps to engage their imagination,” Tiedemann said. “Students start out by learning to read and then they transition to reading to learn.”
Norman is a fish, gifted to a little boy, who isn’t too enthused about the new pet.
The boy brings his fish to Show-And-Tell and to band class all the time hoping someone will take the animal off his hands. He soon plans to head to the store and trade Norman in for something bigger, better, perhaps a dog. The boy slowly discovers Norman is a good listener, and a good singer, and maybe more importantly a good friend. The boy decides to keep the simple but genuine fish, realizing there is much more to Norman than he first assumed.
“Even if you are different, you can still be different, and there are things about you that other people will love,” Tiedemann said. “Even though he didn’t want the fish he found a reason to love the fish”
Some of Tiedemann’s students understood the deeper messages the book taught, but many were also able to enjoy the story itself.
Her student, Liam Bellenger said he liked reading about the fish. Bellenger’s classmate Charlie Schmelzenbach said “the dog is my favorite part,” but he also liked the “goldfish swimming in a fish tank,” and his peer Nathan Harris wholeheartedly agreed.
When Tiedemann finished reading the story, she walked the class through an interactive exercise.
Each student was asked to volunteer their favorite animal that was listed in the book.
“I tried to do a follow up graph just to tie the book in to what the children know,” Tiedemann said. “Each child has an animal and they each prefer one animal over another. Just reinforcing the books message about enjoying what you have and learning to love the things around you.”
Every kid that participated received a copy of the book. Inside the cover is information and suggestions from Jumpstart to help further flesh out the ideas presented by the authors.
“Did you know that during the first years of life, children from low-income communities hear roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers? This disparity is referred to as the ‘word gap’,” according to Jumpstart’s introduction.
The introduction also suggests picking special times and places everyday to spend time reading.
Dr. Christine Ermold, Director of Elementary Education and Professional Development said it is also important to address reading disparities early on.
“A growing body of research indicates that students who struggle to become successful readers by third grade will have a more difficult time in school than their peers who read fluently,” Ermold said. “Fluent reading happens when a child can read quickly and accurately at a level appropriate for their age or grade. Fluent reading is a bridge to comprehension. When a child isn’t stuck in the process of figuring out every single word, he or she can think about the meaning and ideas behind the words being read.”
The better a student can read, the better they can comprehend, learn and for ideas from the reading materials they are given, Ermold said.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said classes at least six schools participated in Read for the Record Thursday.
“It’s a win every time we have an opportunity to engage young people with books and literature, particularly in a fun event like Jumpstart,” Erkeneff said. “When children learn to love stories, they grow a desire to read—this is a plus for learning and success in school.”
Tiedemann said she is already signed up for next year, and she did take an important lesson from her first time participating.
“You don’t necessarily need a book to bring everyone together,” Tiedemann said. “It could be anything. Students are eager to learn everything you have to offer them.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org