Posts Tagged ‘reading’

What I KNOW to be true

Good God. I have just about had it.  I am at the end of my rope, the last bit of my patience, the final smidgen of my compliance.

I am being forced to teach my kids to read using a slick for-profit kit, written by the much admired Lucy Calkins of Teacher’s College.  This kit tells me that I have to reduce the great glory of reading to a series of minute, thinly sliced “skills” like “recognizing text features”.  I’m supposed to sit the kids down and overpower them with a “mini-lesson” where I cleverly explain/show/demonstrate/advertise the target skill.  In TEN minutes.

Then I’m supposed to have the kids “turn and talk” about the topic that I just taught at warp speed. Next in the script, I tell the kids “off you go!” and they are supposed to happily and successfully employ the teeny little micro skill as they read on their own.


I’ve been reading since roughly 1963 and at no time in my life have I ever stopped myself to ask if I am recognizing the story arc.

I believe, with every fiber of my being, that reading is a complex and wondrous human skill that evolves differently in every young child.  I believe that at the very same time that we are decoding, we are also making inferences, wondering about the motivations of the characters, recognizing the conflict and predicting the resolution.  I believe that children slowly and hesitantly grow into each of these skills.  This complex web of cognitive and linguistic processing skills is a marvel.  It should NOT be reduced to its smallest parts.

I believe, I truly do believe, that none of these “skills” will mean a thing to a child until the moment where he or she has fallen completely in love with a story.  If the child isn’t walking home from school while picturing himself as the hero of the adventure, no “mini lesson” on earth will get him to care about reading.  If the child isn’t soaking in a bubble bath and holding the book above the water to see what the bad guy does next, it doesn’t matter how carefully I follow the cookbook reading program.  If that child isn’t dying to know what happens next, all the “turn and talk” in the world won’t get her to really truly read.

I do understand that Lucy C is a reading guru.  She is clearly smarter than me, and I am sure that she’s done tons of research and is a major player and all that crap.

But here is the simple truth.

She has come up with a product that matches the “Common Core” and she has found a way to sell that product for a whole boatload of money by marketing the entire Teacher’s College pre-packaged literacy kit.

I’m not a guru. I’m sure as hell not an educational entrepreneur.  There is no shiny, glossy, expensive box of lessons with my name on it.

But I know kids.   I know language development, and I know reading.

And I know, beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, that you CANNOT break a complex neuropsychological task like reading into the tiniest threads and try to teach those threads as discrete lessons.  It makes no sense to do it this way, because unless the students go on to synthesize those skills, they won’t be reading.

Or writing.

Or learning.  Or thinking. Or problem solving.

When my babies were little, they learned to walk.  I helped them.  But I didn’t try to separately teach them to flex their calf muscles and then a day later teach them to relax those muscles. When they learned to talk, I didn’t show them how to make the sound “b” and then wait a day to teach them “a”.

Complex neurological tasks cannot be reduced to their component parts if they are going to be mastered.

And that’s why I am frustrated beyond belief by the lessons I am being forced to teach.




Where would we be?

It has been a lovely four day break.

A hiatus from the madness.

A tiny little respite from the Common Core, the rubrics, the reading levels, the formative assessments.

Know what I did with all this time off?

I read books.  For fun.

I know, this is a concept which is completely incomprehensible to modern children. The very idea of reading a book for pure pleasure, just because you like the cover, or the topic or the author or the whole idea of the story….well.  Kids in school today just can’t understand or relate to any of these ideas.

See, in the world of the modern classroom, students are given “reading assessments” so that we can find their “instructional level”.  So…..if reading has been a little bit of challenge for you, and you are really interested in reading one of the Rick Riordan books, you get a very clear, very obvious message.  That message is this: ‘You aren’t smart enough to read that book.  Back to ‘Junie B. Jones’ with you!”

So what’s wrong with this model?

Oh, my. Where do I begin?

#1: You just told a child that he/she is a crappy reader.  Exactly how do you think that child is going to change that in the next five years? H’mmm?

#2: You just told the kids that even if they are really excited about a subject, or an author, they shouldn’t try to reach beyond their comfort level.  You’ve just told them that they need to stay firmly in their “comfort” zone, where they are at the “instructional level”.

#3: You just wasted a whole big whopping bunch of time on assessment when you could have been actually reading real live books.   How on earth is that going to help ANYONE?


I picked up a big old whopping biography of Abraham Lincoln.  Why?  Well, I saw the movie, and I had a lot of questions.  If I used the “just right books” training that is used with kids, I would have come to the conclusion that this book was way too hard for me.  When I opened it up and read a random page, I was confused by the content and the language.  The length of the book was daunting.  I should have put it down.

But I didn’t.

I want to know about Mr. Lincoln, so I want to read this book.

I’m now a50 pages into the story, and I am riveted.  Yes, there are parts that are a challenge. Yes, there are moments when I come to text that I don’t understand.

But you know what?

I feel smart as I read this book.  I feel smart, and smug and happy with myself.  And most of all, I am learning a boat load of information about our 16th President and what motivated him to act the way that he did.

So as I enjoy the last few hours of my Thanksgiving break, as I ready myself to head back out into the fray, I vow to keep in mind the ways that Mr. Lincoln’s intellectual prowess was matched by his intellectual curiosity. I will remind myself that if he had lived in the days of “ongoing formative assessment”, he might have been told at the age of ten that he was not an “age level” reader. He might very well have been told to read less challenging text.

And he might not have taught himself the law, and he might not have set himself up as a surveyor and a lawyer and he might not have dared to run for public office, and he might never have become the sixteenth President of the United States.

And where would we all be now?  H’mm? Where would we all be now?

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