african drum 1It’s no surprise to us that different children learn to read at different rates. The problem may be that we sometimes forget just what that means in the minds of our students. I was reminded of how difficult reading can be for students just last week while participating in a drumming circle.

Last week I conducted a graduate class in Learning Through the Creative Arts and on the fourth day, we brought out the drums. There were all sizes and colors. We sat in a circle and after a brief introduction, we began to play. I started with a repeated rhythm and the rest of the people joined in. But there was one woman who was hesitant to tap her drum. She stared at my hands wide-eyed. She looked around the circle as everyone else played, what seemed to her, effortlessly. Every so often she would smile nervously and tap softly on her drum.

When our drum circle came to an end, you could see her relief. And then came the verbalization of her epiphany. In those uncomfortable moments during the drumming circle she felt as if she had been placed in the shoes of her struggling readers: those who can’t decode words and have trouble comprehending what they do read. Being put in that situation where she felt like the “one who didn’t get it” was a very powerful and revealing experience for her. She, becoming very emotional about the whole experience, was thankful for the chance to be put in her students’ shoes for a moment so that she could imagine what it must feel like for them.

It brings up a good point. Struggling readers are doing just that – struggling. We do our best to help them, teach them and guide them as they learn, but we also need to remember what it truly means to struggle at something.

I may not have gone through the experience that woman did, but witnessing it and sharing it has helped me to realize how my attitude and approach to reading instruction can affect a child’s learning. I have the power to motivate my students with good book choices and differentiate for my students with appropriately leveled books. (And isn’t it wonderful how this can be done so easily on Big Universe?) But the most important thing to remember is what is going on inside the child that it learning. Learning to read and write may be uncomfortable and challenging at times (as most good things are), but it should not be frustrating.

So what ended up happening to our shy drummer? Well, after some time she became more confident and ended up leading a drum circle herself – smiling and grooving her way through. But her experience from earlier, she says, will stay with her for a long time and hopefully make her a better teacher.


I originally wrote this post for Big Universe on Aug 3, 2011.