Welcome back for the final piece in our little team thought experiment. We started with a simple question of what to do when told, “Independent reading is not appropriate for students with special needs who should be using their time for skills instruction” and morphed into advocacy and tips for next practices that can help students with those needs get the best of both worlds. I feel like balance is key when looking at helping our most struggling readers. Today Kitty and I are going to finish things up.
Kitty Donohoe a thirty-year veteran classroom teacher of primary grades in a public school located in Santa Monica, CA.
I love being a teacher now more than ever and one of my main goals as a teacher is to get children to see themselves as readers and to love books. I am thinking a quote that Roald Dahl wrote on reading may fit this conversation well,
My point is that without the time to foster this love in class under the guidance of a teacher, this love of reading won’t just magically develop in all homes as not all homes are set up to support this. I know from life experience that reading has saved me, at some of my most painful times in life, like at the hospital bed of a loved one soon to die, I had a book in my hand to help me deal with the pain I was facing.
Brent Junior High Language Arts Teacher and The Mr.G in Things Mr.G Says.
When I first read the message from a fellow teacher that they were told (ordered) to stop making time for students with specialized education plans to independently read I was brought back to a time when I was told by an administrator that Independent Reading was not really literacy because I was not “teaching” anything.
This brought back a flood of memories for me. The importance of independent choice reading first being brought to my attention by my idol Kylene Beers. She directed me to The Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller, who lead me to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher and my further journey to better my practice brought me to the inspiring Pernille Ripp. Then there are so many more teachers who inspire me, they have not written books, but they know the importance of children reading them. I am troubled by the notion that not all those who call themselves teachers see that value of books in hands. The value of all students having a voice in what they get to read. I say all students because the ones under attack right now from some voices in the world of literacy are the ones that struggle to be a part of the group much of their school lives. The students that need that little extra help, that assistance to achieve with their peers. The ones that are limited in their choices in other areas of education because they might not be quite ready to move on to new topics. Those students, the vulnerable learners. Those are the ones that some say we should marginalize more, seclude more, limit more by taking away their right to read independently.
Now before we get all crazy (like the proponents against IR) like Mary says, no one is arguing for some kind of sit and read without any prior or ongoing instruction or conferencing. I am arguing for giving students tools and giving them the space to use them. All students. Last year I had students show tremendous growth as they discovered a love of reading. How did that happen? Independent reading and conferencing. Pull out had never worked. The student was in grade 6 at a grade 4 level. The last I taught them they had been in grade 3 at a grade 2 level. Behind but not insurmountable. Then they fell into the land of Soulless intervention. Photocopied readers, rooms of isolation and time away from peers. Growth of any degree halted and a resentment of reading began. In grade 6 I started the year with a question I learned in PD, “Describe yourself as a reader” the answer sticks with me. “I am not a reader, I am behind and have to read those little books.” We talked about what he was interested in and what books might be interesting. We started with articles and worked towards novels. He read alone, checked in with me, we made our own running records and analyzed mistakes then read INDEPENDENTLY some more. He grew as a reader and I grew as a learner. We can’t get better at something without practice. A coach does not limit their players potential by making them do a drill in isolation separate from their team and we should not limit our students potential by telling them they can’t read independently in class until they are better readers. They will become better readers by getting that time. They will build their confidence in both reading and themselves. The best part? They become part of a community that they have been missing from. A community of readers that are proud to share their books. Yes books, not photocopied readers about penguin migration.
We can’t allow the voices that oppose independent reading to control the conversation through their bullying and calls to “get out more” we need to display the power in choice, the power in community. The power in reading free and independent with the tools we have been taught to use.
Think for a moment, you are running behind by no fault of your own. Meeting friends for dinner you are stuck in traffic. You arrive late and your friends have already ordered and have these delicious meals in front of them. You go to order but the waiter says, “Sorry the kitchen is closed, but here are some breadsticks” And you just have to be happy with the breadsticks while your friends are eating steak. NO ONE JUST WANTS BREADSTICKS!
Don’t be the teacher that makes kids eats breadsticks while their friends are eating steak. For heaven’s sake open the kitchen. Books are there for reading, not segregation, kids have enough problems getting access to books outside of school if it is just time, parental influence or poverty. Limiting them access in school, where they should be safe to learn, isn’t just bad practice it is cruel. Independent reading is that time students get to discover themselves as readers, find the books they love, the characters they can’t get enough of. It is the time they need to practice the skills they are developing. It is that practice that we can include all our students in for even 10 minutes a day where everyone feels a part of the community. That is what school should be about. No some stupid program that they have to do that isolates them and puts them on display as “less than” all at the same time.
I appreciate those who joined us this week and my dear friends in the Curiosity Crew for their additions. I hope we can do it again.