Monday, February 21, 2011

A Little Opininated About Books (Warning, this gets random.)

So I have to admit, I was suckered in. I was almost like one of those parents who gets a bumper sticker that says something about their child being an honor student. You see, my son got bumped up to a 1st grade reading group, one of only two kinders to do so. We, me, celebrate literature in our family. He's been a lover of books at a young age, hence the slight gloat!

My husband and I keep anticipating the day when he will read and be devoured by his reading. Things were looking promising. Recently, he wrote in class that he was an expert in reading. He asked me, "Why am I just so good at reading!?" He was feeling good and seemed to be loving it.

Then it all stopped. Instead of relishing his times of reading with me in the evenings, he bristled at them. There was a noticeable change. He was still glad about the move to 1st grade reading, but something happened. I decided to check it out.

I observed and took part in his reading group today. The school is using Reading Mastery, a new adopted curriculum with the test score data any district would want to bet their curriculum money on. And while I observed some great reading strategies in the program, there were a few things that concerned me.

1. Where was the love and passion? The stories and sentences the kids were reading were so dry. I found myself struggling to focus and pay attention.

2. Because it is very rote and drill based, behavior issues were creeping up everywhere, especially in little kinder boys' wiggly bodies.

3. There were wasted moments. While students were taking turns reading lists of words, totally with no context, other kids had to sit and wait. And so they zoned. I would too. Actually that isn't all bad. I understand that happens when you have such large groups of students reading together. This is not the school's fault really.

4. It hit me. My son was showing the same body language he had been showing to me for the last few weeks. He was not engaged. This was not fun. And I happen to think reading is one of the easiest things to make fun.

5. One thing I do know, is that RM was first developed at the UofO for special ed students. I can see why. But is this the best tool for students who are eager learners, who would thrive under a more creative and literature based approach to reading? There must be a balance.

6. Luckily my child's teacher supplements the reading in the afternoon with the old curriculum which is filled with wonderful stories that should motivate most children to read. (And it does. He brought home one of these books and we read it together. He laughed all the way through and kept looking at me to see if I was getting all the jokes.)

7. I'm going to have a meeting to talk to the principal about my concerns. I don't want to get rid of the program. I just want to make sure my child is motivated by school to become a life-long-learner. I want his passion for reading back.


(I talked to the reading mastery specialists at the school, my meeting with the principal was canceled due to illness. Things are looking up.)

A. Reading Mastering is just though the 2nd grade. Once kids work their way through all the levels they are free from RM! So, once my son gets though the 2nd grade, which I anticipate happening sometime next year, he gets to do other reading and other projects. There is currently a small group of 2nd graders who are working on research projects together and reading together because they tested out of the RM levels. I like this. This excites me! I would love it even more, if they read with these children out of fun literary books. I told her my "dream."

B. Teaching decisions are being driven by tests because politicians love to use the test scores for their own agendas. The more the public buys in to these scores and the idea that teachers should be paid based on these scores, the more the curriculum is going to be dictated by what is on the test. And guess what is on the reading test? Informative reading, not literary. Passages about science and history. So, if you want kids to pass you have to teach them how to read these types of passages well. I get that and do not fault the schools for this move toward RM. I blame us and our vigilance to "fix" public schools, but not really understand what we are demanding or wishing for...or how to best fix them.

8. Note: I taught 7th and 8th grade reading and each year had a class of 30 low-level-readers. The best way, I found, to get them reading and improving their reading, was having them read high interest books. Two examples of this were The Outsiders and Harry Potter. Each one of my kids found a way to read and complete those novels. I can still see them scattered around my room, reading in comfortable corners completely engaged and transported to another place. When I had to close down our reading time the room irrupted with, "Awe, really? Please let us read some more." And I always did.

9. Early reader books are way too overrated. I've noticed that section at the library keeps growing. For the most part these books are dull and boring. I see more and more parents checking these books out and having their kids read to them, but I think story and understanding story gets missing from these types of books. I would encourage you to read traditional picture books to your kids each night. These books are art. These books breathe life into literature. I read a blog once from a children's agent that spoke about the decline in publishing of kids' picture books because of public demand. Wendy Lawton noticed that there was a trend for parents to skip picture books and to push their kids into chapter books. I think we as parents are missing the point of reading if this is how our pocket books are speaking to the book industry.

OK, those are my thoughts. Still looking forward to my meeting with the principal, and feeling more positive about RM after speaking to the school coordinator. And I am so thankful my son has an awesome kinder teacher. I still think she's one of the best, and I love that she teaches to the whole student.


Jessica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica said...

This was a very interesting read for me (with a child not yet in preschool). Keep us updated on how things go.

Jen Rouse said...

Good for you for being so engaged and observant about your child's education. Beth has similarly been put into higher reading groups, which I too can't help feeling proud about. But she too struggled with some of her kinder reading assignments. GAPS uses a different curriculum, but the early-reading sentences were just so dull and dry! She was not enjoying the assignments she was supposed to read every day, because there was very little story or interest to them at all. They were so inane. But she got through it, and finally, in the last few weeks, is at the point where she is truly an independent reader. It is such a joy to me when she says things like "I'm just going to take this book the bathroom with me and read it while I brush my teeth, ok?" I love passing on this love of literature to my kids!

I think that early-reading stage, when kids can read some words, but not many; when they can read syllables but struggle with sentences, is just a difficult one. Kids who have been read to a lot know that there ARE good stories out there--and they know that what they get in reading group is NOT it. Of course they're frustrated!

Hopefully your son will have the same experience my daughter did and come through the boring early-stage reading lessons just fine, to get on to the good stuff once he has mastered the basics.

Rebekah said...

Good insight Jen.