Teaching (reading)

The worst thing a teacher could have is unteachability.  If you’re smart and you go into a teaching program and roll your eyes through the whole thing, because for some reason, you and your 2 years of teaching experience are more valid than your instructor, you are going to end up being one crud teacher.

In other news, if all teachers understood a little bit more about reading development*, zones of proximal development**, and race-power relations***, I’d be more motivated to collaborate.

As it is, it’s tiring to hear someone say that X, who has an intermediate English language level and has to look up every 4th word, has the ability to fully read and understanding a book that is 2 levels above his grade level.  Sure he has the ability.  Just not in the way you mean it.

It’s really tiring.

*reading development: For the average educated adult reader, the following excerpt from a random abstract will be very difficult to understand:

An interpenetrating network structure created by a maleic anhydride (MA) compatibilizer imparted additional interactions between the two matrices, which has resulted in increased miscibility within the blends. A modified interface has been characterized using morphological analysis through FT-IR and SEM analysis. Because MA compatibilization distributed flexible intermolecular hydrogen bonding within the blend matrix, elongation at break and Izod impact strength has been reported at a maximum of 540.17% and 99%, respectively, compared to those of the PLA matrix.

Unless you have background in this, there is at least one word per sentence that you may not know.  Sure, you might gain a general gist using your context skills and sentence-structure knowledge, but would you be comprehending this?  No.  You may be “decoding” this, which means, simply using proper vowel/consonant knowledge to pronounce each word. But by no means could you comprehend this.  In fact, you might be able to provide a nice written summary without actually understanding what this says.  We know, perhaps intuitively, that having a student read books that are too easy for him will not help him learn.  However, if a student reads at a level that is too high for him, he will not improve in reading comprehension either!  Even if this student did, he would not improve as quickly as a student reading at his level.  How do you determine an at-level book?  Try the five-finger rule (read a page, if you missed 1-2 words, it might be too easy, 5 or more words: too hard).  Or give a quick reading assessment.

**zone of proximal development:  Think: Vygotsky.  Basically, think in terms of onion layers ( Shrek!).  A student’s brain and ability is sort of layered.  In the center are all the things he can do independently.  The next layer might be things he can do with help.  The last layer is something he cannot do even with help.  The zone of proximal development is that space between where he can do work with help and where he can’t do work with help.  That is the space where you want your teaching to be.  This way, the student is constantly being challenged but not overwhelmed.  By crafting good questions to encourage investigation on the part of the student, you’re growing this student’s previous layer.  You want your student to always be hovering at the edge of the layer of what he can do with help and what he can’t do with help.. so that gradually he can do more and more things with help and independently.

That makes sense too, right?  This also means, don’t stick your teaching in that awful outside layer where the kid couldn’t do it even if they kid had help.  Such as, giving the kid a book that’s 2 grades above his level in terms of content and reading ability.  What is so wrong with having a kid read a book he might enjoy or at least could feel confident that he could read on his own?  If it’s too easy for the other kids, then pull out your learning taxonomies (Bloom’s, Costa’s, whatever), and start getting your kids digging deeper.  Don’t throw your weakest kids under the bus just so you can feed your ego and work through “challenging” texts.  There’s a difference between challenging and impossible.

Guess what?  The 60% of your class who are amazing can still be amazing without you.  You are not the reason for their success – although you definitely could be a factor.   Most likely that 60% just needed a break in that they could go to a school that held actual expectations.  Now, the 40% of your students who struggle are the ones that are true measures of your ability to inspire, coach, instruct, and guide.  That means finding their level, and then figuring out how to push them beyond that level.  It does NOT mean lecturing on a book the whole time and giving them all this background information and preloading a bunch of vocabulary etc.. Students aren’t learning to read.  They’re learning how to think like you and pull opinions and thoughts off of your own presuppositions.   What are you?  God?

***Race-Power relations: Now this topic is sensitive, so I’m going to keep it simple.  Most of us come are not where we are because of merit.  There was some uncontrollable factor in our lives that allowed us to get to where we were in the present.  The fact that you were born into a stable family, the fact that you never had to worry about your meals, the fact that you didn’t need to worry about being accused or given the second degree due to skin color or ethnicity.. those are all privileges that allowed you to be where you are today.  We are all biased.  So stop acting like middle school kids ought to reap the consequences of every crappy decision they make.  They’re in middle school – it’s time to make mistakes.  Help them learn from it.  Meet them where they are and then help them rise above it.  Acknowledge that their circumstances are tough, and sure, you don’t need to baby them or “dumb down the information.”  In fact, thinking like that, again, makes you appear incredibly condescending.  Affirm what they can bring to the table and build on that.  And don’t assume that you understand everything, because we don’t.

Maybe one day, if I have more time, I’ll stick this into cartoon form.

I get so incensed about this, because… why would a kid be motivated to read and learn to read deeply if for him, reading is work?  If reading is equated to difficulty?  Reading shouldn’t always be difficult – at least not in the way we present it.  It shouldn’t be all this busy work of looking up all these words.  It’s freaking Middle School.  Start building motivation and enjoyment so that when they do hit the hard books in high school, they don’t groan.  When they hear an author’s name, they don’t immediately equate it with a miserable 7th grade experience.  Make it GOOD.  DAH!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s