Saturday, October 3, 2015

Like Riding a Bike

Every quarter I start my new reading class by posing a question to the sixth graders: How is reading like riding a bicycle? I hand out index cards and tell them there are no wrong answers, then collect the cards and share their ideas anonymously with the class. Of course some of the responses are prosaic, Once you learn, you never forget! or They both are fun! Others are more poetic, They both take you places! and When you fall off your bike it hurts and when you come to the end of a really good book it hurts, too.

My point is that they are both complex actions comprised of discrete skills that, once mastered, are combined and implemented unconsciously. It becomes important to know the skills, though, when confronted by a challenge. On a bike it's nice to know how to shift the gears, or stand on the pedals, when going up a big hill. While reading, it's helpful to ask questions, make connections, or analyze a tough text.

As an introduction to this conversation I usually ask who knows how to ride a bike. Even now, thirteen quarters in, I am constantly surprised when kids don't raise their hands. When I think about it, though, I understand that kids spend less unsupervised time outside nowadays. There are also a lot of neighborhoods in our school district that may be a little too urban for young bikers. Still, I think it's a loss. Bike riding has been one of the joys of my life since the first time I was able to keep my balance after my mom let go of the seat when I was 8.

In our county we teach every third grader to swim as a matter of safety and life-long fitness. I heard a piece on the radio this morning about how Washington DC public schools won a grant to buy 1,000 bicycles and then added bike riding to the second grade PE curriculum. The theory is that biking is healthy and good for the environment. Sounds good to me!

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