Meg Siddiqui loves books. She wants her students to love them, too. As the 5th grade language arts teacher, Meg brings her passion to the classroom, sharing the excitement of literature and language with her classes. By exposing students to a variety of texts that address relevant real-world topics, fifth graders connect to content in authentic ways, exploring their identities and experiences through literature. With Meg’s guidance, students learn critical thinking, analysis and key writing skills. Beyond that, they learn to truly appreciate the art of language and the many forms it can take.
On fostering a love of reading:
I share how passionate I am about reading with my students. I talk about how books have had meaning for me; that when I was growing up, my favorite thing was to curl up on a couch with a book. I also share that I’ve picked really special books for them and I ask them what genres they like. Students will often say that they only like a couple genres, but expose them to something new, and they will learn that there is a whole new world out there.
For example, we read Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, written in free verse, and the students were moved by it — they felt happy and sad, and made predictions as we read. When you can find a book like that for them, they will eat it up!
On choosing texts:
I try to choose books that reflect what we see in society through the lens of various genres. The images that students receive from books and the media influence how they see themselves and those around them. It is important for them to be exposed to windows and mirrors — windows provide insight into others’ experiences while mirrors provide reflections of their own and affirm their identity. I want them to know that they matter, and they are visible. I aim to provide an environment that serves as a safe place where students are able to question and discuss the themes raised in the novels.
The most impactful pieces that students connect with are those that touch their lives or their hearts. This year we're reading Blended by Sharon Draper. It discusses race, Black Lives Matter and divorce. It's an intense book, but I wanted to lay some groundwork and tackle these topics that are present in our lives right now. The kids have been really open and accepting. It sparks a lot of conversation.
On student work:
Students work on creative writing, which allows them to have the freedom to explore their own ideas and to express themselves. [Creative writing] can be challenging for some, which students are often surprised by. "I'm done," they will say, but there is so much more to do. Pushing through develops resiliency and a growth mindset. There may be a little struggle, but they learn from it.
I always love to create a book with students. They take pride in putting their [written] pieces into books and creating the cover. Students also work on bookmaking, watercolor or blackout poetry. There are so many opportunities for their work to be combined with art.
They’ll also do work in their cursive workbooks; I think that cursive is really important for brain development and their growth mindset.
On incorporating students’ interests:
Something really wonderful about Calhoun is the flexibility to follow students’ lead when they love something. Last year, we read and analyzed Hamilton lyrics because the 5th graders were singing “My Shot” for Winter Sing. The song moves very quickly, but it tells a story. So I thought, what if we stopped and we used part of our class to discuss the lyrics? The song became so much more for them because they were also learning history; they were learning about the poetry of the song and its rhythm. They had seen the show, but they hadn't really realized how much more there was to [the song] until after they had learned to follow the story and how to break things down, to stop and take a moment. That was really powerful for them.
I also look for opportunities to find books that follow the curriculum of their other subjects. For example, Giovanni [5th grade social studies teacher] and I work closely together in building their writing skills, and I look for ways to incorporate topics they're covering in social studies into work in my class.
On building skills:
I love reading, and I think it's an excellent way for students to start to develop critical thinking skills. I love to break every line down and ask questions: Why did the author write this line? How does the character change from here to there? How does repetition work in this context?
[When students move on to 6th grade] I want them to have strong skills, to have really mastered the appropriate level of spelling, vocabulary and the basic conventions. I want them to feel confident — that when they sit down to write a piece, they know where to begin. And I want them to be lovers of reading, to be open readers no matter the genre.
Adapting to hybrid learning:
There is so much that is accessible to students online, and it’s opened up a world of opportunity. I can send them a link to a video, or to a game that allows them to practice capitalization or vocabulary online. I can send them forms to answer questions for comprehension. There are just so many ways [to enhance learning].
For much of their writing, grammar, conventions and non-fiction articles I use platforms like Seesaw, Google Slides, or Google Docs. Using Google Docs, I can support them by having a conversation with them through the document. I can do reading assessments on Seesaw. Students can submit videos of themselves reading and by listening to the audio, I can assess the speed and accuracy.
For literature, I want students to hold a book in their hands, to curl up on the couch away from technology. I want them to learn to use sticky notes and highlighters to mark up their books as they learn to think deeply about the stories they’re reading.
The most important thing to me at this time is that the students feel that they are in a safe environment where they can experience joy in their learning through engaging material that sparks good conversation and a desire to know more.