For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed reading. I remember being so excited to finally go to first grade. This was the year that I would finally learn to read. And yes, we learned to read with Dick and Jane and of course all of the rest of their family and friends. I was so thrilled when I finally learned to read. I read everything I could get my hands on. Towards the end of first grade or the beginning of second grade, I discovered Little House on the Praire. My grandmother had the book sitting around and I picked it up to read it. I remember being told that the book was too hard for me and I wouldn’t be able to read it. Of course, that was just the motivation that I needed to read the book. The librarian from our small town library would often tell me that I couldn’t get books from a certain area because I wasn’t old enough to read the book yet. Once again, I had to show that yes I can indeed read and understand these books. From then on, I think I always had a book. Fast forward to 8th grade when my English teacher once again told me that the book was too hard for me. There is no way that you will be able to understand Animal Farm by George Orwell he told me. I did read that book and while I didn’t understand all of the concepts that the book touched on, I do remember understanding it enough to get my English teacher to admit that yes, I was able to read the harder books.
I wish we could motivate students to want to try and read the harder books now. My high school freshman and sophomores are more than willing to settle for what they consider “easy books” Magic School bus, Magic Tree House, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc. I will admit that it is fun to read these books, but I would really like to see my students push themselves to read books that are a bit more challenging, that will take them out of their comfort zone, etc. (Don’t get me wrong, I have many strong readers, but would love to see all of my students pushing themselves to be better). Guess in some cases I should be thrilled that they even open a book as I do have other students that work really hard at NOT reading. So frustrating. So many don’t see the need or benefit of being able to read in their adult lives.
Something needs to change. We need to find a way to get all kids to want to read and to read to the best of their ability not settling for mediocre.
Every time we get within 2 weeks of a grading period (quarter or semester) I start getting really frustrated. Several years ago, the district implemented a silent reading policy for the high school in response to low reading scores on the Iowa Assessments. Since this policy began we have continued to see an increase in our reading scores for 9th -11th-grade students. Sadly many of the students will attempt to fake read during this time period. To help with this, I set a goal of 1000 pages a quarter or 2000 pages for the semester, since we are reading for 30 minutes a class period, this should not be a problem. I remind the students many times throughout the quarter/semester that they need to complete a short book talk with me. These usually last around 3-4 minutes and as long as I am convinced that they have actually read the book, they get the points. I remind them time and time again that they need to complete these book talks when they are finished, that they need the book, and that they will only be allowed to do one book talk during a class period, and finally that I do the book talks on Thursday and Friday’s during class. This semester, I have started requiring them to also record their books on Goodreads. Even with all of this knowledge, and the constant reminders, the students tend to wait until the last week before the grading period ends, they beg to report on more than one book at a time, they insist that I should break my rules about only on Thursday or Fridays and yes, they show up without the book and then try and convince me that the book was around 700-900 pages in length.
How I dream of a day when all of this is not necessary when all students will willing pick up a book and read, just for the pleasure, or to learn something that they are interested in, not because they are forced to read. Yes, I have read such books as Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisper and Reading in the Wild and Penny Kittle’s Book Love. No matter what I try to do at the high school level, so many students are already turned off to reading and will do everything that they can to resist reading. I am not going to give up, I am going to keep talking about reading, keep encouraging my students to read and remember that even if I just get one more student hooked on reading, that progress has been made.
I know I have lamented on this before, but really we need to bring back grammar instruction. I usually have the students write their answers in complete sentences for assignments and tests. They usually complain and of course, a few of them forget to write a complete sentence. Or at least in the past, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed that they were forgetting. Now, however, I am not so sure. The other day one of my students tried to argue with me. This student kept insisting that all that was necessary to make a group of words a sentence was if there was a capital letter and a period. (Notice that they didn’t say punctuation, just that it needed a period). Now today the same thing happened with a few more of my students. At this point, I am seriously considering starting next year with a back to basics unit. Taking a couple of weeks to review a sentence, parts of speech, how to write a paragraph, and whatever else I decide that they still don’t know how to do even though it was taught at a much younger age.
So how about you? Do your students have problems with carry over and remembering how to do the basics?
The end of the school year is so near I can almost reach out and touch it. Just one more day after today with students and then one day to work in our rooms and attend meetings. Even without looking at the calendars one could tell that it is the end of the year. So many students coming in, wanting to know what they can get done, is there any extra credit that they can do to get a passing grade or a better grade? Even better, the laptops are getting turned in so some of the students do not have the ability to get partial assignments and complete them.
I look forward to the year that students all turn their work in on time and care about their grades the entire year instead of the last two days.