Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dear Readers: This is a great story actually written by a teacher! That's what this blog is for. We want teachers, parents, administrators and just your average citizen to write stories in regards to important opinions, beliefs and issues regarding children. But this is for children too. Kids can write their own stories. This is the first teacher to post on my blog and I am extremely appreciative of her effort. And, I also agree with her. Need I say more? -- Diana


By Cathy Scott Skubik
Summer time is good for laying around and reading a good book, or two or three. In June, I sent my second grade students off with a list of some good books to look for in the library and I crossed my fingers that they will follow through. I also hope their parents will help them in this endeavor. For it is parental behavior that makes the biggest impact upon a growing reader. If you want to raise a reader, you have to be one. You have to value books, visit the library and bookstores, and you have to READ everyday, in front of your kids, even being a little selfish with your reading time.
I matched the list to what I knew each child needed as a reader. I kept it simple, but underneath the simplicity was a great deal of purpose; my belief in my critical role as a reading teacher/coach/cheerleader. This summer list follows a year of intense instruction that was personalized for them, that taught them what readers do, and gave them time to read whole chapter books and beautiful picture books. We engaged in amazing discussions of what we read, what we learned, what we believed in. We wrote our stories together, we learned about words together, we wrote informational text together. We had a great year of literacy.
Because, of course, raising a reader is also the work of our schools. Good teachers everywhere know that to be an effective teacher of reading, you too must be a reader. A reader who eats books for lunch- talks about books with friends and colleagues- studies reading behaviors and strategies. Teaching reading (and writing) is an art form. It is not brain surgery. But it is a complex process that involves skill and pedagogy, some gut-level understanding and instinct, and lots and lots of practice and study. Unfortunately, because it is such a complex practice, a few years ago our leaders decided to mandate a scripted, uniform program. It is known as Open Court. It has many good components, but it is a textbook program, a one-size fits all approach, and it is not enough. My friends who teach in Open Court schools know that in order to raise readers, they need to supplement the program with literature and actual books and magazines. In some schools, this is discouraged, and strict adherence to the program is monitored by what some of my friends call the Open Court Police. Yikes.
I rejected the textbook approach to reading almost immediately upon starting my career. I knew in my gut that in order for children to become a reader, they needed to hold a book in their hand and curl up with it. They needed to experience the entire book- not just an excerpt printed in an anthology. They needed to read multiple titles by the same author, and follow a character through a series. And, they needed to read (gasp) nonfiction! Open up an OC book, you won’t find much nonfiction, and what you will find is not what represents the large body of informational texts that we read and study in our everyday life.
So why are we told as parents that all is well in our literacy program? You know the answer; test scores! Just last week, Mike Lansing shared the general opinion of most (but not all!) administrators in the Los Angeles Unified School District, “...Since 1999, our instructional efforts prioritized elementary schools and specifically the Open Court reading program. We have been most successful in this endeavor, and the data speaks for itself - we have far outpaced the rest of the state over this time in elementary school student achievement.”
Do we leave it at that? Is that the best we can do? Are the results of a few days of testing- a multiple choice test- enough to tell us the whole story? What about a child's love of a specific book that they read and reread- a book they love with all of their heart? What about asking to be taken to the library-or the bookstore? What about a child's ability to quote their favorite passage? Talk about their favorite author? A child's choice to pick up a book instead of plop in front of a TV?
What about the way they write, and tell their own stories with words that flow and sing? Why don't we talk about that? (Don’t get me started on the so-called writing component of the OC program- that is another discussion entirely.)
I think there is a lot more we need to be asking about (and demanding of) our literacy programs. A test score will give you some basic information about basic literacy. And that is a success story in many of our schools. But it is so limiting, and reading and writing are not. They open us up to different worlds, they allow us to discover and confirm who we are and what we believe in. Good instruction in these areas must match the limitlessness of being a literate person.
Enjoy your summer reading, and let your children see you doing it!
Cathy Scott Skubik teaches at Park Western/ Harbor Magnet in San Pedro.
She has taught for 22 years, and she still loves it.
Her school is NOT an Open Court school.