Last week, I was working with one of my students on a rather tricky element of reading comprehension–the difference between fact and opinion. As my colleagues at the We Are Teachers blog note , this is a skill that goes from kindergarten to the presidential debates, and can trip you up at any level.
Juan Carlos has been in my program since 1st grade–as such, he’s been present every year during the week or so that his grade-level peers devote, in the spiraling language arts curriculum, to the difference between fact and opinion. He’s learned from some of the best teachers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, participating in some of the best lessons I’ve ever seen taught. Juan Carlos still, in fourth grade, has, alas, no bloody clue what an “opinion” is, and what about an opinion differs from a fact.
As I worked through the reading comprehension exercise with him, I realized that I myself have given very little thought to how one teaches this difference. I’ve always just seen it as an obvious distinction–you know it when you see it, kind of like pornography. For Juan Carlos’ sake, though, I clearly had to think more.
We made, together, a little post-it note defining the categories of “fact” and “opinion”–Juan Carlos listened politely, but was clearly not feeling it.
Only during snack did the lesson sink in. Over the course of the past three years, I have probably fed this child at least 30 pounds of cheesy Goldfish crackers–it is, to Juan Carlos, the most important part of our instructional bond. Snack is the reinforcement he earns for on-task behavior, the hook I use to bring general education kids into the therapy session, the downtime he enjoys while I scribble down the data. I taught this child “persuasive writing” by pretending I wasn’t sure if I ought to buy more Goldfish; we discuss the question of appropriate teacher compensation in terms of whether or not I can get him the big box. For Juan Carlos, cheesy Goldfish is the definition of unchanging Fact.
“You know, Juan Carlos, I have an opinion about cheesy Goldfish.”
“Yup. You see, my friend, I actually hate them. I buy them for you, and for the other kids, because I know kids like them. But the truth is, I personally think cheesy Goldfish are disgusting.”
Juan Carlos looked at me as though I’d eaten the class pet. “That’s not true!”
“You’re right. It’s not true. It’s not a fact. But I still think it. When I say, “Cheesy Goldfish are disgusting”, that’s my opinion. It’s something I think, and different people can think differently. I have an opinion about cheesy Goldfish.”
I’m under no illusion that Juan Carlos has fully come to grips with the difference between fact and opinion, but I do think we’re on a more solid path now. The power, always the power, of the personal connection.