Mining the Magic


Papers rustle as students take their assigned spots. A boy pulls a well-worn sports novel from his backpack, his destiny as a “Crutcher, de la Peña, Dueker” fan sealed within the next few pages. Others see the book, shush their neighbors, and repeat the dig for their own novels within their backpacks. Within a matter of minutes, seventeen sophomores sit, confined to a desk, but lost in a world outside of Room 320. This is my life. This is the magic I have the privilege to witness five times per day, five days a week.

I doubted that this style of teaching which worked so well in my 8th grade ELA classroom for so many years would work in the confines of the high school English II and PreAP English II setting. I had a block schedule with my 8th graders, seeing them twice a day. Conversely, I would see my sophomores once per day, most of them, with the exception of one class, only four days per week.

Was there time to confer about reading? Would there be time to discuss their writing individually? I questioned other seasoned high school teachers. While I consistently heard, “Yes! You can make reading/writing workshop work,” I continued to doubt. Would high schoolers even respond to this type of teaching? Would they expect more direct instruction? Would I have to figure out how to be the “sage on the stage” again?

School started two weeks ago. Tomorrow will be the second full week. A Friday, thank goodness! Yes, I’m exhausted, but, more importantly, reading/writing workshop shows promise. One girl finished her book today, and, as we walked down the hallway together, she said, “I’m really not a reader, but this book just hooked me.” Yes, dear, and you are now a reader. I said nothing, but I know different. That book will be her warm fire in the dead of winter, her watermelon of the dog days of summer, her favorite worn blanket from her childhood. That book will be the book that more books will stand upon in this coming year. It wasn’t a classic. It’s not on the AP Reading List. It’s not written by a Newbery-Winning author. It’s a simple book with a story that pushed this girl off the edge, and, now, she IS a reader. Nothing is different between 8th graders and sophomores when it comes to that one book that snags them: that individual book soon holds all the promise in the world for that child.

Next week we’ll set new reading goals. We’ll begin a new piece of writing. We’ll read a short story. In the midst of all of this, if I listen closely, I’ll hear the magical sound of books summoning my sophomores, pulling them into the pages, making them readers for life.


About Katrina Gonzales

Having taught almost 30 years, I have a wealth of knowledge to share about the field of education---some good knowledge, some not-so-good knowledge, and some knowledge that might just blow your mind, or not. I decided to name this blog "Mining the Magic" as a tribute to those magical moments that surface often unexpectedly in the classroom. After this much time in education, however, I realized that those magical moments are never random; lots of planning, hard work, and the establishment of a community of learners precludes these extraordinary, and seemingly magical, times in the classroom. Currently, I "mine" the "magic" in Room 320 at Sonora High School. In the past 29 years, I've been known to teach Early Childhood Handicapped, 8th Grade ELA, self-contained elementary, and even adults as a consultant at Education Service Center XV. While I am turned into a claustrophobic mess at the thought of actually spelunking in a natural cavern, the lovely formations that occur in the classroom fascinate me. It's with this eye for a "jewel" with a student that I set out to explain how to "mine the magic."

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