To be clear, many of my students read at or above grade level. In fact, a full third of them do. The rest of the students, however, do not. Because the average level is much lower than an eighth grade level, I give them material that is written on the average reading level of the grade so that No Child Is Left Behind. At one time I thought that if a student tried hard enough they'd magically advance numerous reading levels under my tutelage. Alas, for that to happen is astronomically unlikely. For it to happen in a first-year teacher's classroom is damn-near impossible.
I sat down with my lil' Wayne wannabe earlier this year to discuss why it is important to learn to read. He is still convinced that his best option is to drop out and start working on his first album. What I told him was lil' Wayne knew how to read and write fairly well before he dropped out and that he (the wanna be) needed to raise his reading level to at least an eighth grade level from a fourth grade level before he has a shot in the record business. When I told him the average reading level for the grade is three years behind, he became incensed. He started blaming everyone in the world for such a catastrophe of reading levels (except of course, himself). The tantrum was expected and my only response was that it wasn't one person's fault, nor a single group's (teachers', parents', students', administrators', etc.). The last thing I was going to do was start naming names.
At a professional development I attended this week (which deserves its own post), the presenter clarified the basis of my frustration with the reading situation: teachers expect that in elementary school students learn to read; in middle and high school students read to learn. The fact of the matter is, however, that students come to me and cannot read. I cannot send them back and sending them on is really out of my hands (in spite of the failing grades I hand out). What I can do is try, with the help of my team (the English teacher in particular) to boost scores at least one grade level at a point when low reading levels seem to creep to a halt altogether.
We do a lot of things to combat the low reading levels. Some of them are:
- collaborating to use the same reading/writing strategies in both classes
- handing out two different homework assignments (reading assignments) for my classes on a given day and on some giving out three to differentiate for the varied levels
- silent reading of social studies trade books this year with sets of leveled books
- explicitly teaching reading strategies with whatever piece we're covering in class
Reading is a tough thing to tackle. I do believe strongly that because my students are so far behind it is my job to work with my team to bring their levels up. While it means less time to devote to social studies in the ways I know how to teach social studies, my students need to learn to read and to read well. While according to our state they are, for the most part, not being left behind in K-12 education, they certainly are after they get to college or the world of work. I should not have to teach students to read, but for me to walk away from my job at the end of the year without having tried to give students one of the fundamental skills included in a formal education would be for me to not have tried to educate them.
Today's Wine: A house Sangiovese at an Italian place on the West Side- Campo. To be honest I didn't pay a lot of attention to it, but it went well with the pancetta in my pasta.