June 29, 2013

Expectations Vs. Reality: Tip My Hat to Donalyn Miller and Nancie Atwell

You know, as a first year teacher, I had high expectations.

I really wanted my students to fall in love with reading. Then of course reality kicked me in the gut. Teachers wondered what I was doing. The administration didn't believe in what I was doing. 

Standards of Learning was all I was taught. Standards of Learning was all I heard. Scores, scores, scores.

But where did this leave our students?

My students weren't stupid. They knew a lot more than I gave them credit for. They knew the push for scores. They knew that what I was doing int he classroom was completely out of their comfort zone. 

Out of their realm of expectations.

To read? With no tests tacked on? With no quizzes? With no boundaries?

You have to be kidding me?!

We're being forced to read for fifteen minutes everyday? Any book that we choose?

My answer: Absolutely.

They fought me tooth and nail. They talked during the reading, they laughed, they pulled me aside and tried to talk me out of it. Parents didn't understand. Other teachers gave me the eyebrow: Is she really trying to get these students to read? What is she trying to accomplish?

These students were low score readers. Most of them didn't pass the SOL tests last year FOR reading.

What was I trying to do?

The impossible.

Make my students CARE about reading.

But God gave me strength and the courage to see: All things are possible to those who believe.

To God be the glory for the great things he has done.

I kept hearing his words over and over again as people would see homework: Read for 15 minutes and laugh. This year is focused on writing for the state test.

Why have the students read?

Then the impossible happened: My students read.

After a full two months of struggle to get them to see what I see: That reading can be FUN! They actually start complaining when the time would end. I was actually smiling. It worked. The impossible worked! 

Until one day, the reading ended and they all groaned. One student raised their hands and asked, "Could we have a longer time to read?"

Then the popular jock student, Kevin, raised his hand, "Could we extend it to like twenty minutes?"
Everybody murmured their agreement. twenty minutes sounded good to them. They were asking me what they swore would never happen: More time to enjoy reading.

Of course I told them, "I'll think about it." Little did they know I expanded it to twenty minutes already, so they got their wish.

What does this all have to do with reading?

As a teacher, I was never given support to introduce reading as fun. I was told to stick to tradition. Open the large textbook, have students read a literature selection outloud, ask questions ad nasuem, and test then on their knowledge.

Expectation versus reality.

The reality that people didn't understand: Our students need both types of reading. They need to learn reading to access knowledge, and the other one to just have fun.

Where has tradition brought us, as far as reading literature only in the classroom?

Where has "Read then test" really brought us?


All I ever wanted to do was introduce my students to a new world: Reading can be fun.

And I get shut down, and told by a former reading specialist, "Reading like that doesn't belong in the classroom."

And then people wonder why students don't like to read. Because we as educators or parents fail to introduce our youth to fun reading. We need to introduce them to the library as a fun place to explore different voices, experiences in life.

Instead we stick to tradition. 

Where will this lead us as a nation?
Expectations versus reality.

We expect our youth to know how to read. Instead we push them as far away as possible by giving them literature that is far beyond their level. 

The more we do this, the more we take money out of education, the more we undervalue reading, the more we will have students who cannot read past the kindergarten reading level who will drop out in high school.

It's time for a change. And hopefully, next year, I will able to make this change.
Will you?

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