Today on Twitter I came across a post that asked a simple question ” Educators, If there are students in your building who read “below grade level”, what recommendation would YOU make?” The choices were between, build classroom libraries or purchase programs. I voted thinking it was a no-brainer but much to my horror of the 80 people who had voted 4 voted for programs. 4 teachers voted to put money into programs instead of books…so I got to thinking if I could write them a letter…
Dear, 4 teachers,
I am writing to you now out of concern. I worry that somewhere along the way you were misled. Somewhere someone told you that the best way to help struggling students is to isolate them, to put them in front of some booklet or packet or screen. They told you it was fine because they can’t get much from reading because well they are low after all. They made all these promises like more time to mark or work, easy levelling because who doesn’t like to level students?
Here is the thing, those people, they are wrong. There is a ton of research out there that if we want students to read they need books, not booklets, not workbooks, not readers, not programs. They need books, real books just like their peers, they need to have tons to choose from and they need to be able to talk about them. I am not going to name any programs (if you know me though YOU KNOW) but say a school spends $5000 on a program that promises to both help struggling students with comprehension and accountability and even claims it is fun, if they were to NOT spend money on the program they could get BOOKS, lots and lots of glorious, real books.
I buy a lot of picture books, averaging around $25. I could buy 200 picture books for $5000. 200 real books instead of some photocopied crap, 200 real stories about characters that teach kids actual lessons beyond asking them to just find an answer, 200 full-colour stories that catch their eye and draw them in.
This is just a start, beyond just the better use of money there is a far bigger reason we need to stop with this idea that putting a student into a program because they are “low” rather than intervening with beautiful books. You might not be aware (it is truly the only reason I can think of) but kids know when they are put in the “low” group. You can cutify it as much as you want, put some cute zoo animal clip art or do some creative wordplay to try and hide it but students pushed into a program are students pulled away from their peers. A student that has their access to books limited because “these books are not your level” is a student who does not see themselves as worthy of real books.
I get it that sometimes teachers have no choice, I get it that sometimes some slick salesman convinces those in charge of spending the money to do so on their programs with great promises and that when the “foolproof” program fails (it will) you, the teacher tends to take the blame. I get that there are some really famous people out there that continue to push programs as more important than independent reading and access to libraries (I don’t get why). I get that there are things out of your control. But what I don’t get is why on an anonymous survey you would not stand for your students, with everything out there that says access to books, choice in reading and time to read are the leading factors in improving readers, not programs. The idea that you would still choose to spend imaginary money on programs…
I just don’t get it.
Ok, so I would write something like that.