Yesterday, Jan discovered that her thirteen-year-old’s shower routine consisted of getting in the shower, turning on the water, letting it run over him for a while, turning off the water, and toweling off. When asked if he has taken a shower, he always responds affirmatively. However, he ran out of soap (apparently months ago) and never bothered to get more. Jan had to explain to him that, while getting wet creates the “gist” of cleanliness, a shower without soap is not really a shower.
Interestingly, we have found an unlikely parallel between showering without soap and many of the children we encounter in our work in schools. Very often, when we go into classrooms, we pull up alongside children and invite them to read aloud and talk with us about their reading. Too often, they will offer a “gist” statement about what they are reading, rather than really thinking about it deeply. For example, one fifth-grader shared his thinking about the paragraph below from Holes by Louis Sachar:
Stanley dug his shovel into the ground. His hole was about three and a half feet deep in the center. He grunted as he pried up some dirt, then flung it off to the side. The sun was almost directly overhead. (p. 114)
He summarized the paragraph by simply stating, “He’s digging a hole.” But summarizing the sentences above as “digging a hole” is like taking a shower without soap. It offers the gist of the passage, but much is missed.
We want readers to understand that writers put each sentence into their books for a reason. The excerpt from Holes, above, offers readers insight into just how hard the ground was, how tired the main character was, and just how hot it was, all subtleties overlooked by the reader. Like showering, reading is more than letting the words wash over you. It is an investment of time and energy, and it takes a bit of intention.
Many, many thanks to the thoughtful educators at Two Writing Teachers for giving us a community for sharing and exploring ideas.