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Reading is NOT optional

I just read a short blog post by Bill Feterriter entitled “A message from Myers: Reading is not optional.” Funny how this blog thing works … he said, he read, he wrote, I write, you read. So here it is, Myer‘s said.

“We all know we should eat right and we should exercise, but reading is treated as if it’s this wonderful adjunct…We’re still thinking in terms of enticing kids to read with a sports book or a book about war.

We’re suggesting that they’re missing something if they don’t read but, actually, we’re condemning kids to a lesser life.

If you had a sick patient, you would not try to entice them to take their medicine. You would tell them, ‘Take this or you’re going to die.’ We need to tell kids flat out: reading is not optional.”

Myers is so right! And I agree with Feterriter, that Myers passion is making sure that EVERY kid — especially those living in the kinds of tough circumstances that he (Myers) grew up in — embraces reading.

That is my passion, too and I believe THIS is the failing of our school systems. We focus more and more on standardized testing … and collecting data … until there is LITERALLY no time left in the day, in the week, or  in the two week block – for teaching.

TRUE STORY: That’s what happened recently in our school district. Recently we were thrown (for a second time this school year) into TWO WEEKS OF TESTING. ALL TEACHING GOT SET ASIDE during these periods. We were mandated to administer the ELPA (State test for English Language Learners), The MAP (district test), The Middle of the Year DIBLES (district test which identifies who needs weekly or biweekly progress monitoring testing), The Middle of the Year Accelerated Reading and Math Test, and a paper and pencil district pre-test for Science and Social Studies! Our beautiful library (that I write about in another post called Building a Library with Joan) became the testing center for all the online assessments. Yes, you counted that right! There were eight different assessments being administered!

TRUE STORY: Just after this testing period, I arrived at the door of a first grade room, to pick up a student on my resource program caseload and another student who had been identified as needing intensive intervention.  I was taking them to do some multi-sensory small group reading instruction. I called the students names and they said, “Oh are you here to test us?” How sad is that … I don’t think anyone remembers that I am a teacher.

Something has got to change! The children are counting on us! Our priorities must shift … so I second the words of Feterriter,

Listen to those words, y’all.  Let them roll around in your mind for a few minutes.  Stew in them.  We ARE condemning kids to a lesser life when we turn the urgency of reading into an option. “

And to that I add my own post script … We are condemning our urban learners with diverse learning, language and behavioral needs to a lesser life when we use all their precious teaching time TESTING for skills and concepts that we don’t have the time (and sometimes the resources) to teach them. Research shows that most children don’t learn by osmosis! 

We must take back the teaching profession … and center it around teaching and learning to read, and reading to learn, and learning to read for pleasure! Reading is NOT an option!

Building a Library with Joan and Friends at BridgePointe

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. ~Norbet Platt

If we are to develop lifetime readers and writers we must connect what we do in classroom with real life outside the classroom!

The act of reading and writing can’t be viewed as something separate and outside of what is important and vital to everyday living, just as good nutrition and final presentation is not outside of the act of cooking. I enjoy the process of cooking when I have chosen the recipe based on what I know about good taste and good nutrition and have the freedom to create something special for someone else and the pleasure of eating and talking and enjoying the meal together.

So often the assignments we give children with the objectives of learning to read or write in the early grades or reading and writing to learn in the older grades are so dry and colorless, there is no connection or with our students as unique and developing individuals and life its self and no lasting value in an of its self. Rather than being reading and writing experiences, which help us gain our equilibrium – they are so compartmentalized activities that they go nowhere beyond the “learning” objective of the assignment it’s self. How many pages of the basal workbook are worthy of bulletin boards and scrapbooks and other places of lasting enjoyment in our classrooms and homes? In this day and age of HIGH STAKES STANDARDIZED TESTING, we must think about the nutritional value (versus empty calories) that we bring to the students seated at our table everyday.

One of the first things I noticed when I came to our school six years ago, what that there was no school lending library. There was a room filled shelves stuffed with 30 year old books and dittos and papers and miscellaneous things that upon being expelled from teacher classrooms found its home on the shelves in this room.

The room its self was being used as a content area classroom. Children were not allowed to browse or borrow the books and teachers rarely bothered with them as well. I knew in those first moments that one of my personal and professional accomplishments must be to help the school build a school library. For five years, my men’s shower-room turned resource room classroom had become the underground library. Children came before school and during lunch and on their way to and from the bathroom to borrow the books I had collected from garage sales, friend’s children’s discarded libraries, and the bargain rack at the bookstores.

Two summers ago, a volunteer from BridgePointe, named Joan, who loved books and reading as much as I did came to my co-taught dual-language inclusive education classroom. It was a room full of soon-to-be third graders (some with IEPs and some without) that were such reluctant readers and writers they hadn’t even yet decided to embark on the journey. We read TO them and WITH them, we co-created poems and email letters to my 80-years old mother and wrote stories and book reviews and thank you notes and letters to the principal and each other and even postcards home. We make charts and graphs about the wide genre we read, we created an author corner, class books, and PowerPoint presentations and for a few minutes each day we relaxed in the patch of green grass in front of the school and we read to each other. One time, we walked 1.6 miles to the local public library and signed up for library cards. We had no workbooks or textbooks just plastic milk crates stacked like makeshift shelves in one corner of the room filled with stories and articles that entertained and informed us and a make-shift writing center filled with sundry items you might need to write. The children were welcome and encouraged to borrow and take home and share with their families. And they did.

By the end of the summer children were signing out armfuls of books for themselves, their little brother or sister and their cousin who lives with them. That summer we learned many things together and independently and those children – right before our eyes – became readers and writers.

Joan and I decided that summer we needed a school lending library. She sent out an email to her friends at BridgePoint who sent emails out to her friends that a sleepy little elementary school in in the city needed a library. And two months later – we had one. Thousands of books and cast off shelves from a public library in a northern suburb came to our school in boxes, in bags, in the arms of boy scouts and girl scouts and mom’s and their children, and young adult youth church groups. Two professional painters volunteered time to paint, people cleaned and organized and labeled books and one month after the first day of school  … my used-to-be second grade bibliophilics were the first in line to sign out books to take home and share with their families.

Joan is now living in Ireland with her husband because he recently was hired to a new job there. But we think about her everyday as we read-read-read with great pleasure in our beautiful school library.