I did both. Since I have the luxury of writing my own curriculum I taught what I needed to, and I got to teach my kids.
We are talking about what makes a good reader and what they can do to be better readers. So, I need to know why they think they are “bad” readers to begin with or why they don’t like to read. Every semester I ask this question and every semester I hear the same things. AR, they picked books that were boring, I didn’t understand and they told me to read it again. This one size fits all model we have for classrooms doesn’t work. Even the one size fits all model we have for some special education classes doesn’t work.
Why? Let me break this down. You have a classroom. What is the first thing some of those kids need to have in order to be successful? I am going to bet that lots of answers are things like pencils, chairs, books, paper, and other things along those lines. Now unless you are teaching in an area I have never been too, you are dead wrong. They do need those things, but they also need some other things. Food, water, clean clothes, love, understanding, and they need you to love them.
Most of all they need you to love them. Ask my kids, I loved them, even when they didn’t love themselves. Some of those kids don’t know what love is. They have never seen it. They damn sure know what hate looks like though. They see hate, violence, disrespect, and we can only guess what else on a daily basis.
This is so true. If you could glimpse into the lives of some of your students, you would sob. I teach in the mid-west and I know what many of my students saw because I heard about it. I was their safe place. I embrace that even to this day.
So back to your classroom and mine. Today we were talking about reading and why it is so hard to teach comprehension to kids who struggle. I told them it is hard because there is no one cause. There can be so many reasons. It can be an ADD/ADHD thing, dyslexia, some other learning disability, or it could be they were forced at an early age to read stuff they hated and stopped reading. That right there. If you force a child to hate to read in the early primary grades you are going to cause a problem in high school and college.
Students who are forced to stay inside a box that a teacher sets for them in terms of reading and writing are going to shut down. Yes, you have to be able to spell and write correct sentences. Yes, you have to be able to find the topic, main idea, and supporting details. Guess what? Those things can be taught in the context of a class. All while you, as a teacher, let students choose books that are interesting to them.
What about reading and lexile levels? Well, has any student ever been harmed by challenging themselves intellectually? No, I don’t think so. If anything it is going to do them good. Encourage that. Do you really think my first grade teacher thought I could read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Probably not. Thank you Mrs. Bonowitz for believing in me and letting me. Those levels are just that, a label. We all know how much I love those. If we think about that, To Kill a Mockingbird has a reading level of about 4.9. I don’t really think any of us are going to hand that novel to a fourth or fifth grader.
As we were talking about this, my class asked lots of really great questions. I have two that want to be teachers. It was a great class and very eye opening for all of us. Most of all, we talked about how they had to make learning personal. It is not a one size fits all. It never will be. I can give them all sorts of tools and tricks. Things that have worked for me, for my own children, for others I have taught. In the end, they are going to have to use trial and error to find what works for them. I did tell them, the best way to become a better reader is to simply read. And that all the English teachers that told them they had to get the same things out of literature that everyone else did were full of it. Sometimes it is just a bunny along the path…it doesn’t have any meaning.