Saturday, October 8, 2011

What is Happening?

After having taught in various schools, states, grade levels, etc., one thing that baffles me is an increase in students who either cannot read or struggle to read.  I personally believe that, regardless of IQ, most humans will learn what they can or need to in order to survive.  There are basic things we learn...walking, talking, etc. without having to be taught because our brains know that we need to do these things to have an easier life.  I kind of see reading in that category.

How do you get by without being able to read? How do you sign a contract? Or do you just not know what you're signing--pretty scary.  How do you drive, shop, do anything without being able to read?

Yet, I keep seeing it over and over again.  I was first surprised when I met students who had made it all the way to the 6th grade without being able to read.  I had a student who couldn't spell the word cat.  I'm not mocking this student's intelligence.  In fact, I fully believed in this student's ability.  But somehow just reading words was a challenge.  What happened? Was somebody not there?

At this same school, they were concerned about this increasing problem with reading.  So, there was a reading program put in place and we were all mandated to use it.  All it consisted of was reading all block long for 90 minutes.  You read to students for 20 minutes, do an activity, have the students read from a personally selected book for 20 minutes, do an activity, and then have them read a class novel for 20 more minutes and do an activity.  It was redundant and what myself and many of my colleagues discovered was that it was turning our students off when it came to reading.  They were also being required to read every night and turn in a reading log (seriously, how many do you think were even being honest about that?).  They were in reading overload.  I tried to change it up and make things interesting.  However, I was instructed I was not to deviate from the model at all...because it supposedly worked.  I never saw it do anything but make the students hate reading.  If a student can't read, making them read more isn't going to help.

I then worked with students at another school with a language program that was pretty successful in teaching reading.  I worked with the county's reading specialist personally on this program, and we really saw our students learning to read better.  But it still stumped me how so many students made it all the way to the 6th grade (the one I was teaching at the time) without being able to read...and many of them not even caring to learn.  

I can understand being frustrated because the way somebody is teaching something to you isn't working for you.  But, personally, if I struggled to learn something that I needed to know to get by in life, I'd look for any way to learn it that I could find.  

I just really don't get it.  Am I missing something about society today (I'm serious here)? Is it becoming more possible to live life without needing to read? I just don't know how I could do it.  I'm not even talking about having a college reading level --just at least being able to read period.  

I sort of rationalized a 6th grader not being able to read because they are still depending on adults for most things.  But it really floored me when I came across 12th graders who were unable to read and totally disinterested in learning how.  I was truly scared for those students because if they can't read by the end of their high school career, where are they going to go? What are they going to do? 

That's all there is to this post.  After working at various schools and brainstorming ways to encourage reading, I see no difference.  Those people who want to read will read and those who don't won't.  This isn't mean to be pessimistic--just realistic.  My goal as a teacher has become to show students how learning makes life easier.  But I think something is changing in society.  I'm not sure what it is...maybe it's text language, more media, technology...but each year fewer students are able to read.  And I really think that's a skill you can't live without.

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