So as educators, we take professional development courses on student engagement. We try new strategies. We use classroom structures, hooks, gimmicks. We’ll do anything from using interactive technology to doing a song and dance if it means that 100% of our students will be “engaged” in the lesson we are presenting.
Because come on, let’s face it. Reviewing how a question will be asked on the end of year state test such as Which detail is least important to include in a summary of paragraphs 1-4 is just not that exciting. Let’s ignore that fact that our review is really about getting students to understand what the question is asking and then how to go about answering the question than it is getting kids to comprehend and summarize a story.
But even with cooperative structures, technology clickers, incentive charts, popcorn parties, gold stars, and sour gummy worms we just can’t seem to reach every child to be fully engaged in understanding the least important detail of paragraphs 1-4.
Why is this?
And why can you take the same group of students, who have varying reading levels, varying behavior, varying social and emotional need, varying home lives and sit them in a classroom with just one thing and EVERY SINGLE STUDENT is ENGAGED?
Just one thing. No technology. No incentives, no bribes, no sugar-induced comas.
Just one thing.
Read aloud by their teacher.
You may have heard people say this before. And no, you can’t just take any teacher. And you can’t just take any book. The teacher needs to have some decent read aloud skills and have a genuine love for reading. And the book has to have been carefully chosen by the teacher for the class that she knows so well. Reading aloud a poorly written book by a teacher with poor read aloud skills simply doesn’t work.
But unless you have witnessed this first hand, it’s hard to imagine the power this one book and this one teacher have.
The sad thing is in an age of “testing” reading aloud seems to get pushed to the back burner. Unless there is a “measureable objective” for every minute in the day, there doesn’t seem to be a place for it any more.
We are really missing the target lately. By sharpening our focus on testing to achieve those passing scores, we are blurring the edges of reality.
And the reality of it? By forcing elementary students to be focused on passing standardized tests, we have less time to actually teach them to read. Plus we are KILLING their love of reading (if they ever had one.)
So Mr. or Mrs. Head of Education, when these students graduate high school not being able to read, not ever having finished a book, and not having any desire to ever read anything please don’t act shocked. Please don’t call us a nation with an illiteracy problem and then decide to remedy this by pushing for more testing starting in Pre K. Please don’t increase the lexile expectations any higher. Please don’t expect our students to work more rigorously in any more complex texts. It isn’t possible for them to “close read” any more than they already are.
Start measuring students on how much they love to read.
Start hiring teachers that love to read.
Make one of your principal “look fors” to be that teachers and students are authentically reading and talking about books they’ve read.
Start making “teacher read aloud” a time in the day that doesn’t require a measurable objective.
So when you come in to measure “student engagement,” don’t worry, because I can guarantee 100% of my students will be fully engaged.
Teachers live this reality. We know what testing is doing to our students. Testing more doesn’t mean they are learning more. They are actually learning less of what they need to be learning. But until someone who has more power than an elementary teacher figures out how much damage testing is really doing to the future of students, we will continue down this road of illiteracy with a side of hating to read.
And as an educator, I will continue to still teach my students how to “pass the test” no matter how ridiculously rigorous it becomes and I’ll hang onto that pendulum until it starts to swing in the other direction. But no matter how much education changes one thing will remain constant in my classroom. The secret to creating a literate nation: the love of reading. I will always read aloud to my students. Because it’s the game changer. It’s the one thing that will keep students 100% engaged. It’s the one thing that can change their lives and their future.
An elementary teacher of reading
So what's the one thing you should know as a writer?
Teachers need those well written engaging books that have the power to change lives.
The class I was talking about above was a group of 5th graders. And the books they need their teachers to read aloud? Well written middle grade novels.
This would be the perfect time to register for the Children's Book Academy course Middle Grade Mastery taught by Mira and Hillary Homzie.
The course runs from February 29th- March 28th!
For all the details click the link below.
Hurry to register as the early bird special rates expire on Monday at midnight.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at the Children's Book Academy. Mondays with Mandy or Mira is now the Blogfish!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays will feature award-winning former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature reading specialist and MFA in creative writing graduate Mandy Yates has been published multiple times in Highlights Magazine.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
And 5th Mondays will feature will feature the fabulous Carl Angel, award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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