My first spring break as a first year teacher is coming to a close. I have enjoyed it thoroughly, having the opportunity to bring my home back up to speed, travel with my family, and read, read, read.
Sometimes,honestly, I wish I could turn my brain off! But, I love teaching, and when you love something, you just can’t help yourself. That being said, the focus for my readings lately have been “reading.” My goal is to learn strategies that I can use in my classroom in order to get my students engaged in books and become life long readers.
I will say, I do not have the answers, all I have at this point is information. However, in this reflection, I would like to take the information that I have read, and put it together so that I can find the focus that I need for my teaching.
First, I will recognize that reading is fundamental to success in life. For students to succeed in any subject they must first be able to read and also comprehend what they are reading. The book, 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It, states, “Reading opens the door to virtually all other learning. You have to be able to read to learn mathematics, science, history, engineering, mechanics, political science, not to mention to surf the Web or figure out how to operate that new DVD player. Basically, you have to be able to read to succeed.” Students must be able to read and comprehend to succeed in life.
So, what happens to students who fail to become successful readers? Well, according to the research, the outlook does not look good. “Poor literacy leads to unemployment, poverty, and crime, with 70 percent of prison inmates falling into the lowest levels of reading proficiency.” (Zimmermann 4).
Additionally, poor readers may become labeled as ADD or ADHD, and as a result be given heavy doses of drugs like Ritalin, Benzadrine, Dexedrine, and Adderall, which have very harmful possible side effects such as growth suppression in all parts of a child’s body including head size, brain size, and height (Stein 23). Furthermore, the use of these drugs can cause another side effect called cognitive toxicity. “The drugs improve learning for the simpler skills like addition or subtraction but impair more complex cognitive skills like understanding a scientific concept, a poem, or writing a meangingful essay” (Stein 24). As a English Language Arts educator the concept of cognitive toxicity is alarming to me. I need my students to do more complex tasks, not simpler ones!
O.K., so now, the evidence is clear: students must be successful readers to succeed in the classroom and progress toward a brighter future, but how do we, as teachers seeking excellence get them there?
To be sure, it first begins in the home. Our children should be read to from birth, and there should be a large library of all kinds of books in the home. I believe for those parents that value reading and literature this will not be a problem. However, our society, in general, seems to be watching way too much, as my dad calls it, “the boob tube”, which is drastically affecting our values. David Stein, the author of Ritalin Is Not The Answer, calls it the “disease” of modern society. “We, as adults, may be failing our children; we may actually be the carriers of the ADD-ADHD epidemic. Perhaps we are failing to teach, nurture, and instill a strong set of values that are essential for children to be goal-oriented, love learning, respect adults, love the quiet of enjoyable reading, and be thoughtful and reflective” (Stein 40). Stein’s recommendation for parents is to make sure they eat together every night at the dinner table sans the television. Next, he recommends an hour of reading together as a family, and include discussion. Finally, the family may watch one hour of television only. Now, this may be a tall order for many hurried families, but I believe his point is to slow down, and not be in such a hurry. Reading as a family, going to the library together, or sitting in a bookstore will instill the value of reading to our children.
Now… as a teacher, how can I help with this? My personal thoughts are to find ways to partner with the local libraries. Why not have them come out to a parent’s night and sign students up for a library card or tell the parents the library happenings. Most libraries are more than happy to help get students excited about reading. Also, I love the strategies presented in the book, 7 Keys to Comprehension. the seven keys including sensory images, background knowledge, questioning, drawing inferences, synthesizing, and fix-up strategies all offer homework suggestions on how to incorporate a parent into the reading discussion. I believe that it might also be important to send quick updates via e-mail or phone call to parents encouraging them to be apart of the activity. In the face of today’s economy, many parents can get overwhelmed, as teachers, we must stay vigilant and positive to parents as well as students.
So, we now have some ideas about creating a love of reading between parents and children, but what about teachers within the classroom. After reading several books on reading, I want to shout, “Where’s the Beef?” I want solid strategies that I can use right now, not so much theory or research.
Well, to find it I had to dig a little further, and I have high hopes that I may have stumbled upon something that will work well for 6th grade ELA with a little tweaking by next school year. It is called the reader’s notebook.
Check it out!
The Reader’s Notebook
Another link I found helpful to clarify the standards was a video on the Teaching channel.
This video discusses the importance of knowing what texts to put in front of our students, and the importance of the balance of knowing our students as well as things like their Lexile scores.
The journey to making our students into life long readers is not an easy one. It is one based on us, as teachers knowing the content, knowing our students, and finding ways to collaborate and help parents. It is really an effort on all sides, but a journey worth taking!