I always assumed my wife is a great teacher. I am a bit partial, but I know she is respected and loved by her peers. What I am consistently amazed by is that she is never willing to settle. She is always looking for a new technique or tweaking an old one to get better results. Her reading strategy the last couple of years was one area I remember a change.
After talking with one of her old colleagues, she discovered a new technique that her friend was using in her classroom. Based on the techniques in The Daily Five, it built reading stamina in kids. The main idea was that you would not expect someone to go out and run a marathon, or even a 5K without training. In the same sense, expecting kids to read for 30-45 minutes would also require training. My wife decided to employ this strategy in her charter school classroom.
I, at first, was skeptical. I was from a generation of students that had DEAR (Drop everything and read) which involved some reading, but was mostly a 20 minute goof off time, as long as you were quiet.
My wife began with small goals of 1, 3 and 7 minutes of continuous reading. The difference between DEAR of my youth and this strategy was the teacher’s action. When starting, the teacher would scan the classroom and make sure children were actively engaged in their book. If any of the kids deviated, talked to their neighbor, looked off into space, put their heads down, she stopped the entire class. She would not point out the offender, but say that they hadn’t reached their goal, and then try again. She actively watched and made children read for the allotted time. In fact, some of the kids even complained that no one had ever made them read.
The progress was slow at first, usually getting to 10 minutes the first day. Over the year, she built up stamina in small increments and the kids started to get into the books they were reading. At first, she allowed them to read on any topic as long as it was reading. Once she had determined their reading level, she gave them book bags containing books that were on their level. She encouraged and challenged them to become better readers. As the year went on, she had to spend less time monitoring the class, as they had become used to, and built up to the total reading time. She added opportunities to write about what they read, allowing them to translate their understanding even further. By the end of the year, 45 minutes of reading in her classroom was the standard. She even had parents come up and ask, “What have you done to our child? He is reading on his own every night.”
During her interview at her new school, she relayed her success in getting her kids to read. The administration was impressed with her progress and asked questions about the technique. They implied that a system like this would be beneficial to the kids in her new school. My wife never thought this system wouldn’t work and she could simply apply it to her new classroom.
But as you know, nothing is simple in her new district. As mentioned in a previous post (The Schedule), her day is broken down to the minute. In the entire day, there is not a time set aside for reading. How do you expect kids to become better readers if you don’t actually give them time to read? The reason? Well, the district views “reading time” to just be an unwarranted break for teachers. If you aren’t cramming new information down the kids throats, how could they possibly benefit. They prefer centers where the kids have reading activities rather than simply reading.
Thankfully, my wife has managed to work reading into one of her “centers.” The mantra of the center is, “The only way to be come a better reader is to read.” Her dutiful kids now respond to the mantra and when an observing eye comes into the room, they realize that the kids might actually be gaining in reading. They might not mark off my wife on her evaluation. Might not.
As expected, the kids in her classroom struggled to get more than a few minutes at first. If reading is not an expectation in any of the previous grades, then obviously, this technique is a bit of a shocker. Slowly they are gaining time and hopefully by test time, they will be able to read for longer periods. Naturally, the state test in communication arts is 45 minutes long, followed by a 2 minute break, and subsequently a 2 minute break after every thirty minutes until the kids are done, roughly 2.5 hours later. Who needs stamina? We can all run a marathon tomorrow, right?