#curiositycrew “No Books for you” pt1

I look back at that episode of Seinfeld and the Soup Nazi. That, “if you do this perfectly then you get the soup but one mistake, one thing out of place and NO SOUP FOR YOU” Last week a friend of mine shared an experience where their teaching was questioned by a “higher up” The topic of concern? Independent reading time and if it is appropriate for students classified as special needs. My friend thought it not only appropriate but essential, the higher up thought it a waste of time and malpractice if you can believe that. Can we just take a moment and think about that, A student with educational needs that differ from their classmates already are now limited in the tasks they are allowed to participate in. Not limited because they can’t read A text, limited because surely there is no possible way they could get anything from independent reading. Someone has evaluated them and decided, “No books for you”

I was haunted by this notion that a child who struggles is undeserving of the time to read and enjoy a book of their choice and so my concerns were posted with some of the best minds I know. The Curiosity Crew,  starting with our founder and Chief Officer of Ranting Awesome Dr. Mary Howard. Over the next few days, we will release another post on the topic by other members of our PLN as there is just too much awesome for one post. Please take some time and read what Mary has to say about independent reading.

Mary Howard; Literacy Consultant/Author; RTI from All Sides, Good to Great Teaching

As educators, we have all experienced those intense uncomfortable moments when we watch with sadness as our professional world seems to spin out of control around us and we feel ill-equipped to stop the downward spiral. That sense of helplessness seems to have snowballed in an age where knowledgeable professionals once trusted to make thoughtful choices that are responsive to the needs of children have been replaced by dictatorial mandates far removed from the powerful student-centered decision-making process that beckoned us all to teaching.

Independent reading has been a recent popular victim in that out-of-control professional spiral. In spite of decades of research to support the dramatic role that reading volume plays both in and out of school, voices are imploring educators to summarily ignore the research and refute the time, resources and opportunities that would bring volume to life. Unfortunately, asking us to turn a blind eye to volume and independent reading is often grounded in the belief that a far better expenditure of time would be an expensive investment in one-size-fits-all boxes crippling with mind-numbing compliance pushing educators ever closer toward professional submission.

To make this situation even worse, certain student populations have been deemed unworthy of our research-based commitment to volume as independent reading is slowly being slashed to nonexistent in some classrooms. The tragic side-effect of this questionable proposition has long been true for many children who have been identified for instructional support within the higher tiers of RTI (Response to Intervention) or any framework designed to offer additional support within or beyond a general education setting.

While we are concerned about the potential negative impact this can have on all children, we are specifically calling to task our failed responsibility to those students identified for special education services. Although an exclusionary perspective is not a new problem, a strained atmosphere in education has exacerbated a disturbing trend in recent years. Many teachers are being told that increasing the volume of reading through meaningful authentic engagement in choice reading is a waste of time for special education students. In fact, some educators have even been warned that their jobs are at risk if they have the audacity to allow those students to engage in independent reading of any kind. Yes, you read that right.

Each of us have read the research on the significant impact of increasing reading volume and we are collectively committed to independent reading. We have savored the words of brilliant minds who are passionate about joyful daily reading for all children like Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Teri Lesesne, Debbie Miller, Regie Routman, Stephanie Harvey, Ellin Keene, Lester Laminack and researchers who are dedicated to this topic such as Dick Allington, Stephen Krashen, John Guthrie, Linda Gambrell, and Peter Johnston. These great thinkers fuel our unwavering allegiance to independent reading and inspire us to turn our back on critics who wish that we would abandon practices that they consider frivolous at best.

We would like to emphasize that we are not talking about simply doling out books to relegate students to a corner of the room so that we can seek respite behind the teacher’s desk for a quiet moment of solitude. Rather we are talking about intentional modeling, guided support and repeated opportunities to apply learning over time, gradually fading that support as we observe, confer, support and gently nudge students to collaborative conversations revolving around books. We are referring to knowledgeable professionals making thoughtful instructional choices responsive to the needs of our children; teachers who use these experiences to inform their professional choice to immerse students in books they can read and want to read – and yes to intentionally teach.  

Imagine this for just a moment. You are well aware of the research on reading volume and believe deeply in the independent reading practices we are describing here. You have made room in every learning day for these practices and students eagerly await the dedicated blocks of time you have lovingly placed into each day and have gathered a wide array of the best text options. You know that these opportunities to read and discuss their way to new meaning launches students on a journey leading closer to the readerly lives they deserve, both in and beyond the school day. Can you envision students joining together in a community of readers?

Okay, now imagine that you have just been told that membership to this community of readers is by invitation only and is restricted to less proficient readers. Oddly enough, the very children who should receive a golden ticket into the reading community door are prohibited from these experiences. Instead, they are removed from those opportunities to travel to another room, too often a place where voluminous reading is replaced by isolated skill and drill that is anything but authentic and joyful. Or worse, some are prohibited from participating in these experiences altogether based solely on the ill-conceived advice of uninformed others.

Sadly, this scenario does not reside in our imaginations. It is a reality for a growing number of teachers and their unfortunate would-be readers. Such absurd mandates as this are happening in schools everywhere with increasing prevalence. Those mandates are coming from people with a financial or professional agenda or from those who have no knowledge of the research that drives our determination to increase voluminous reading. The impact of these questionable choices is clear and lingering: we are losing some of our readers before we can even initiate that joyful journey in the first place. We believe that this is misguided and utterly counterintuitive to the research findings.

And we are cheating the children at the center of these mandates in every sense of the word.

Thanks for reading. Tomorrow We will get the wonderful thoughts of Susan Vincent and Roman Nowak. If you want to follow along in the conversation the posts will also be shared via Twitter and maybe even a little Twitter chat will be in our future.

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