Hiking Like a Reader
I’m not a hiker. I feel compelled to begin with that statement. I know once, a few years ago my family, (3 sons and my husband) and I hiked down a Grand Canyon trail. We didn’t know what we were doing. No water, no hats, we had on our sneakers, and oh yes, suntan lotion. My sons, husband and I would pass people on their way up and they had a lot of camping and hiking stuff. There were backpacks, water, special hats, thick socks, and hiking boots. Did I mention we had sneakers on? And shorts?
A few years later we were going to hike again. This time our hike included my husband, one son, and myself. We were visiting Tim in North Carolina and the gorgeous Eno River State Park was close by. There are over 28 miles of trails and once again, we said, why not? And off we went. This time though we had sweats on and sneakers, so we were warm.
At this point you might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with anything?” Remember, I hadn’t really ever hiked and I was learning about it by doing. As we started down the trail we noted the descriptive signs as to where we were and where we were going. Walking along the peaceful river as it meandered along, we spoke about whatever came to mind. It was lovely. Then the trail turned and we were closer to the river’s edge, where the current was stronger and the churning water surged over the submerged rocks. The tree roots twisted along the path and I had to begin to pay more attention to where I was placing my feet. My husband, son and I were keeping an eye on each other, making sure we were as sure footed as a hiker, who doesn’t hike, can be.
Along the trail I noticed a yellow paint splotch on one of the trees. I thought, “I wonder if that is telling us how difficult the trail will be. It reminds me of skiing, when we would see different colored diamonds to let us know how difficult a trail would be.” I didn’t think about it again.
As we rambled along, the trail became rocky and we had to carefully traverse from stone to stone, to continue on the path. Some of the rocks were in the water and I stepped carefully over each one. I slowed down my pace and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. What I didn’t notice is that we were on the ‘red’ marked trail. My husband and son saw the paint splotch, I was busy watching my feet. The jutting rocks and boulders became our path. No more tamped down dirt trail. I had to extend my legs from one rock to the other. I would start and stop, rethink my strategy, and try again. (I’m 5 feet 1 inch, my leg and arm extensions are limited.) That’s when my husband simply put his hand out and I took it. I held on as I took my steps, looking where I was going, considering what I had to do to make the climb and get to the same side as my son and husband. Once I had made it my husband let go and we continued our hike.
I, of course, began to think about the teaching of reading and when students are told they are at particular levels. As an emergent hiker I should not have been on the ‘red’ trail, but I didn’t know it. I understand when people say, “Ignorance is bliss.” I didn’t know I shouldn’t have been there, but I tried anyway. I watched what I was doing, as I watched what my husband and son were doing. I took on their moves and followed them. I was an ‘emergent hiker’ and I was ‘mentoring myself’ to more expert ones. When I was a little unsure I slowed down my steps and took my time. I tried different methods until I found one that worked for me and I could safely cross. When the going became a little more treacherous and I knew I was in a place where I would need support, a helping hand was extended and I was able to safely move over the difficult area. I was successful because I didn’t think I couldn’t do it. I knew I was inexperienced. I knew I was a little slower than the others. But, I also knew that with some scaffolded support I could accomplish what I wanted to, in my own time.
Isn’t that what we want for our readers? A belief that they can do it, time to practice without any stress, a supportive hand extended when needed to get them over the difficult landscape?