In that magic year of 1990, when the Boston Red Sox were in the World Series, my 7th grade Reading Workshop students had little else on their minds. That was the year I had seven boys and three girls—all sports fans. Though I knew the basics of baseball, I was otherwise sports illiterate and didn’t have much to add to my students’ lively conversations about the Series. Being an understanding teacher, however, I’d let the kids talk sports at the beginning of my class, before I started urging them into reading an O. Henry story.
But the World Series proved stiff competition for the great authors, so I looked for a way to capitalize on the children’s present interests. First, I made a trip to our school library to check out a stack of sports books and then casually displayed them in my classroom. Of course, I never thought to read them myself, but, to my delight, these books worked like magnets.
“I’m taking this one out!” Carlos shouted.
“I get it after you.”
“Hey, check this one out. Bo Jackson!”
There is nothing like seeing a class of reluctant readers running toward books to raise a teacher’s spirits.
Then came an amusing remark from one of my students that catapulted me in another direction. Alex sat at his desk, engrossed in a sports record book. Then he looked across the room at me with a quizzical expression.
“Hey, Ms. Krieger, I didn’t think you were interested in sports.”
“No?” I said, smiling. “What did you imagine I’d be interested in?”
Alex shrugged. “Opera, or something like that.”
I knew then and there that it was time for me to “get with it.” My heroes were the great authors, but my students’ heroes were great sports figures. Perhaps I needed to make room for them in my classroom.
So began my homework. Assignment number one: reading The Boston Globe sports section, which I had regularly neglected. This endeavor wasn’t so simple. Surprisingly, not everything made sense to me, and most of the players I’d never heard of before. I appeared to be lacking three essential things: interest, background knowledge, and sports vocabulary. Hmm...not unlike my students’ problems with literature. So I made a list of questions and consulted the experts.
My Reading Workshop students were thrilled to play teacher. That’s how my brilliant idea for Sports Month evolved. Half of each class would be spent on my literature study and the other half on sports reading. The kids gave it the thumbs up.
Each day, we read and discussed a sports article from the Boston papers. This was not busy work. Some of the articles were quite challenging to read. Consider this humdinger: “You can add another bizarre chapter to the Red Sox woes in this house of horrors, a gruesome litany that already ranged from Roger Clemens’ tirade against Terry Cooney to Mike Greenwell and Ellis Burks colliding like Moe and Larry in left-center field two years ago.” Whew!
But being serious sports fans, most of my students were willing to plow through these whopper sentences.
I, too, continued to read the daily sports page, committed to my goal of becoming sports literate. I must admit, though, that this reading was not always done with great enthusiasm. There was usually something else I wanted to read or do first. How many times had my students felt this way while struggling through a short story assignment? But I was determined to practice what I always preached: “The more you read, the more you know.” And it wasn’t long before I was rattling off baseball statistics, commenting on each player’s performance, keeping score, and recounting the plays.
I developed a new respect for sportswriters, too, for, I must confess, I didn’t think I’d find such high quality writing and colorful language on the sports pages. What a rich source of idioms, puns, alliteration, metaphors, similes, and cliches! This neglected section became a terrific springboard for reading and writing activities.
To help them understand the main idea of a story, I had the kids give possible headlines after just listening to a brief article. Once Alex guessed the exact headline. Mellisa was suspicious.
“Hey Alex, you probably already read that article last night.”
I looked at Alex and winked. What a beautiful possibility, I thought, considering most of my students never pick up a book unless they have to.
Sports Month was a good motivator for writing, another task my students tried to avoid at all costs. They began writing articles about our school sports activities. They wrote fan letters, reviews of the games, and rule books. They wrote sports poems and rap songs. Even reviewing the parts of speech became less painful through reading the sports page. The kids worked in pairs to see which team could find the most vivacious verbs in a single paragraph.
So that was the beginning of a new season in the game of school: Reading, writing, and the Red Sox. I still teach Reading Workshop, and my shelf of sports books continues to grow.
Sports Month taught me that I have much to learn from my students, and I think they now see me more as their advocate, someone who thinks their interests, ideas, and questions are as important as studying O. Henry.
You may recall that the Red Sox lost that World Series. My class mourned, but Sports Month seemed to revive them. That spring one of my students and his brother skipped school and took off for the opening day of the Red Sox season. The boy was given an in-school suspension. When he returned to my class, I did not have a moment to speak my mind. He changed it by greeting me with a smile—and a written summary of the game.
A version of this article appeared in the September 04, 1985 edition of Education Week as Reading, Writing, and the Red Sox