This last week we have had off school. A provincial holiday kicked the week off followed by a board appointed holiday and then finally our area Teachers Convention. Lots of different thoughts have come to mind and so here are a few topics I have been pondering.
This week I have had the opportunity to partake in a lot of discussions and twitter chats around books access, what types of books we are using in the classroom and how we decide what books hit those shelves. The fact is, books cost a lot of money when you are looking for quality. Beautiful picture books and hardcovers are 20+ dollars or more and so as you build your library it is important to be purposeful. It is also important to know that not every book in your library needs to be a hardcover. I have started to follow conversations around increasing diversity in my classroom. It started years ago really as I noticed that I did not have a lot of books with strong female characters. I added books like Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu and Monsterous by Marcy Kate Connolly and the amazing Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand. All books with strong female characters that have received a lot of love in my classroom. Both Monsterous and Some Kind of Happiness have been read so many times the covers are falling off. But it makes me so happy I can’t replace them until they disintegrate. I started to fill gaps that I had unknowingly created by looking for books with underrepresented groups and now have a great start in a collection including popular titles like The Crossover, The Hate you Give, All American Boys and Miles Morales: Spider-Man. My newest addition to my classroom library is filling another gap that I acknowledge I have created with The Whispers. A beautiful story that will have an audience in my room. I am fully aware not everyone is in the position I choose to be in as I buy books with almost reckless abandon. But we can all be in the position to slowly build up classroom libraries that reflect our classroom, that reflect our neighbourhoods and reflect our world. Followed by allowing our students to have time to read them and discover the books they love, the characters they want to learn more about as they turn the final pages and not worry about some test to prove they read it. Which brings me back to my arch-nemesis.
“Accelerated Reader is liked by kids”…Nope
Can we please just consider the wise words of Maury Povich, “The test determined that was a lie.” Teachers will often hold on to the idea that kids like AR and that AR creates readers despite the figurative mountains of evidence and in-class observations and accounts of students complete and utter disdain for this program. Between the students who tell me they don’t want to read because they are not interested in books at their “level” to parents who have discussed while they like that it recognized their children for reading because of the parties it also was limiting them because their children were reading books only for points and not because they passionately enjoyed a book. They would fail the STUPID tests purposefully so their teachers would not force them in grade 6 to read Pride and Prejudice that was their level. They would watch movies of books to squeak by on the tests to get their cardboard-esque piece of pizza or 5 cent eraser topper. I have had students, year after year, as they leave elementary and those who cling to AR like it is some miracle cure to kids not reading recall all the ways they trick the system, the fake reading and movie watching, the reading ten low-level books and taking the tests to make that last 5 points for the party, the telling friends the quiz answers. They all cheer when I tell them AR is not happening in my class, we discuss why they dislike reading at the start of the year and before my position on AR is made clear the comments that AR is the main reason they dislike reading is made clear as day. It is just not true that students are motivated to read because of AR, they are motivated by prizes because they are 8 years old and like bouncy balls and doughnut parties but the damage that is being done to their future reading lives needs to be acknowledged so please enough with “but kids love AR” It is not the kids you are thinking about.
Yesterday I was in a session at teachers convention that discussed innovation and how we need to change the way we are teaching to help students realize their true potential. I loved the message the presenter set out and how we as teachers need to be innovators to allow our students to see it is important. Points around the idea that failure is ok because it is just a point in the journey and that creativity and innovation are the product of passion and purpose were very motivating. I did get hung up for a moment on one point, however. The presenter mentioned that teachers need barriers removed FOR them so that they can be innovative so that they can change the way they teach. I disagree that this should be on others to do for us. I think if we want to change the way teaching is done we need to be that change. It doesn’t have to be fast and I know I am speaking from a point of privilege. I work in a great school with great admin that trust me to try new things. But the fact remains I had to be brave enough to ask, I had to take those first steps and I have not always worked in supportive places and had to take the steps and show the evidence of why it works when barriers come up. Things like financial barriers will always be there so we need to look at changes that can be made without a cheque book when nothing can be done about money access. Student Voice and Choice costs nothing, cutting AR SAVES money. Working with real books over textbook teaching is joyful and cost-effective, students pursuing their passions in learning is FREE and FUN. If we want change we need to take a leap and try it. If we fail we dust ourselves off and try something else. A year does not rest on one success or failure, but a students passion for learning does rest on if we can help them find their passion and purpose.
Have a great weekend.