Students Need To Choose What They Read.

I  remember falling in love with my first book.  My mom used to take me to the library Image result for tamora pierce alannaonce a week so she could study.  I  would hang in the kids section browsing books, generally bored. I  had the choice of any book in a large children’s section and I  made a lot of choices. One day I  found a book I  loved. It was Alanna by Tamora Pierce. I loved it because of the setting (specifically the time period-medieval times), the magic and the female empowerment. So I  read more by this author because many of her books have these elements.  Then I  searched out similarly written books- books of the same genre or with similar settings. I  was off to the races. I  was no longer in love with one book- I  was in love with reading.  I  wonder who I  would be today if I  hadn’t had the choice to explore whatever books I  liked until I  fell in love?  I  think all of our students deserve this opportunity.

Why is it important to give students choice in their reading?

Because giving them choice provides a better opportunity for engagement with the text. They have to choose to engage.  Take my own life as for example.  I  am a self-professed bibliophile. I  love books.  I  collect them, surround myself by them, immerse myself in them. I also put a lot of them down- without reading them. If I  can’t get into the book, It’s not worth my time to read. That doesn’t mean I’ll never read it; it means I  won’t read it right now.  When I  pick it up another time I  might dive right in.  I  need   to be open to whatever the author is giving me in order to fall into the book.  So do students.  They become open through background knowledge, a sales pitch from the teacher- better yet another student, or the challenge of an intriguing assignment that gives them a sense of agency and accomplishment.  Nobody is open to receive what an author has to give just because some disconnected body chose to put it in an anthology, or because somebody outside of the classroom decided it had to be read. In these situations the teacher better have a great elevator pitch, an intriguing assignment, or some way to make the mundane seem fun, because if the kids don’t check into the reading they are going to check out of the lesson and possible school itself.  When students are allowed to pick their own reading, they are more likely to engage and by engaging have a better chance of falling in love with reading.  And if they aren’t yet ready to fall in love- they can at least choose which books to date until they do.

What if students aren’t yet ready to choose?  

Then the teacher needs to- for the purposes direct instruction. But how? By knowing the students’ interest, the grade level content, by sharing a beloved piece of text, and most importantly by finding texts that will capture the students’ attention and modeling how to interact with them. The teacher than has a multitude of choices, from open source, adopted materials, library shelves, blogs and  online articles, or a clip from this morning’s newspaper. We should not be limited to the abridged versions curriculum publishers have been able to get their hands on.  After modeling carefully selected texts teachers need to allow students the time and space to explore texts not only to practice what they are learning but so they can make their own choices. Students should not be limited (not in 2017) we aren’t in one-room schoolhouses anymore with a short supply of reading material.  We are in the 21st century it’s no longer about access to reading material but how to select what’s worth our time reading. It is our job as teachers to help them learn how to do this.  Help them to notice why.  Why did they choose that book? Why is not a good fit at this time? What could be a good fit at this time? What obstacle is in the way and what can we do to break through that obstacle?  And when they find something they love- why do they love it?

When teachers know their students by taking an interest in them and their likes and dislikes than students begin to trust the teachers. A recommendation from a trusted teacher means something.  When a teacher allows students to follow their interests the students learn to follow their interests. And isn’t that what we want? Students following their interests?  I  understand many of us have to contend with pacing guides and you may consider me to be a bit up in the clouds of dreamland thinking it can be otherwise.  I  maintain that both can happen.  I  argue that teachers can, engage students, cover the grade level standards, be guided by (very different from chained to) the pacing guide and still offer choice, still let students follow their interest and help students fall in love with reading.  We need to give students the choice.

What’s wrong with education today. .

Do you know what’s wrong with education today?  Yeah that too, but I’m referring to testing.  To be clear I do not mean assessing whether or not something that you have taught and the students have sufficiently practiced has been mastered or not.  I mean publisher tests.  The ones that go with the curriculum we are forced to teach with written by people who have obviously bitten off more than they can chew.  To add to the mediocrity of prewritten/scripted curriculum is the added pressure of a data driven bureaucracy.  You see once the scores are in the judgment begins.  Not necessarily administrative judgment, but peer judgement and self judgement. We all know who we work with. We listen to each other’s struggles over lunch on a daily basis. So how did so and so’s class score so much better than my class?  Why did so many of my students not master the material? I know I am a good teacher, so what happened? I’ll tell you what happened.  So and so taught specifically to the test. Asking questions with the same format, the same wording, the same necessary skills in the same order.  Not the specific test question, but a mirror image if you will. So and so’s students were well trained to pass the test.  Whereas in my room, I am teaching to the standards.  Pacing guides limit how much time I can stay on a topic, not allowing for actual mastery.  But I certainly expose my students to all the math they need to know.  They don’t succeed on these tests because they have not had time to master the material, They know enough to save themselves from failure, but not enough to ace the test.  How could they? They didn’t have a chance to marinate in the material and fully understand the concepts before they were assessed.  But we have to use theses scores as grades, we have to test at certain times.  It seems the data is more important than the achievement of our students.  The data is more important than taking time to teach social skills and problem solving skills. The data is so important we are sacrificing our children to make sure we have numbers to compare at any given time.  A snapshot of how ineffective teachers are. Screw the tests! If I was simply allowed to teach at the pace of my students’ learning I might be able to help produce productive members of society on a larger scale.  And better yet society at large might be better off if we could simply get rid of these tests, or at least the pacing guide that forces when to give the test. What’s wrong with education today is not really the test, it’s the powerlessness of teachers to do what they know to be the best for their students.