Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Venting About The Fate of Reading and Reading Teachers

I have thought about this topic all day and finally decided to just write it out. I spent all day yesterday in a training session with 11 other "reading" teachers. We were there to learn the ins and outs of the newest version of scripted reading program we are forced to use in our classroom. I understand that the students I have did not pass our state's reading test. I also understand that I will always get students who just blew off the test and are now forced to be in my reading class for the year. The particular program and level I must use will remain nameless. The reason for this is that it won't matter one iota because there are many such programs out there like this one. Through this program I will be teaching students to make predictions, how to read graphs and charts, how to identify the main idea, make inferences and summarize. I will help them with dictionary skills and how to learn vocabulary. All of these are things tested on our state test. Oh by the way, did I tell you I will be teaching this to 7th and 8th graders. ALL of the passages in the anthology are either persuasive or expository. They will learn about the global community, Crime Scene Investigations, Space, General Health and Nutrition, Weather Disasters, Technology, World Exchange System, Environmental Issues, Viruses and Bacteria, Technology Solutions, The Science of Motion, Figures from Past and Present Literature and Life, and Pivotal Moments in One's Life. These are all either Science or History related. These lessons take at least 12 days.
Here is a brief rundown of those 12 days. I must cram a 50 minute lesson into 45 minutes.
Day 1 Advanced word study, preview with DVD, read passage review vocab.
Day 2 Review vocabulary, Re-Read yesterdays passage, fluency practice & workbook
Day 3 Advanced word study , preview, read passage, review vocab.
Day 4 Review vocabulary, reread passage, fluency practice & workbook
Day 5 They have a computerized session where they read or listen to a passage and answer
comprehension and vocabulary questions
Day 6 Advanced word study, re-watch DVD, Read passage, Review Vocab.
Day 7 Review vocabulary, Re-read yesterdays passage, fluency practice & workbook
Day 8 Advanced word study, preview, read passage, vocabulary & workbook
Day 9 Review vocabulary, Re-read yesterdays passage, Review all of the readings for
this unit. Watch closing session on DVD.
Day 10 computerized program like day 5
Day 11 Writing lesson
Day 12 State Test prep

If they finish a lesson early they may read one of the following books from the program's library: The Tiger Rising, Johny Hangtime, Bird, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Night of the Twisters, Every Living Thing, Locomotion, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup.
Only these 8 books - OR -They may read either the Kids Discover Magazine, Cobblestone Muse, Faces or Odyssey Magazine or Footsteps. Of course they (the program) have picked the approved topic such as Bridges, climate, fairy tales, Chemistry of chocolate, or Folk Art.

On day 5 and 10 if they finish their computerized lesson they are to go to the online book cart (part of the program) and pick one of their selections and read it and test on it and then go to their online books (part of the program) and read a passage and test on it.

If at anytime they finish all of the above the only other approved book is their required novel from their Language Arts class. Due to our curriculum, all 6th graders in the county read the same novels, at the same time and follow the exact curriculum at the same time. The same goes for the 7th and 8th graders. As of this year they have implemented the core curriculum for high school and I believe elementary. That way if a kids transfers schools in the district everyone is at the same place at the same time. What? You are asking what about the child that can't keep up and never gets that book read? We are told they need to learn the skills to keep up. If they are ESE or ESL there are built in modifications that the entire district is supposed to follow.
All pleasure reading is to be done at home. LOL I teach in a Title 1 school. Few of my students have books at home and since a large percentage of them don't speak English and a large percentage of them play sports or are in gangs (this info comes from conversations with my own personal students) Then it is highly likely that without requiring them to read good books and teaching them how to pick good books, they will never become readers. So the 1200+ books that I have purchased and placed on my shelf are for naught. Oh did I mention they will be doing fidelity checks to make sure we are following the program to the T? How degrading. Do I disobey and work the program only a portion and try to teach them about good books? I will tell you this. I decided to become a teacher to teach students. Not to teach them to hate reading. I will do as usual. Against the district I will modify my program and teach them about good books and put good books in their hands and if they keep those books then I will go out and buy more. Until they fire me I refuse to fail my students. Here is a real kicker. When asked to tell how we spent our summer and what we did for fun. Everyone had travelled, except me. Only one other teacher besides myself had read a book and she used to be my reading coach and had only read one book all summer. When they asked what I did, I told them I spent the summer reading 70 books to find good ones for my students. I got a lot of "wows" followed by "I just can't get into reading over the summer", or my favorite, "I left all that crap in my room". Makes me wonder why they became reading teachers. When they talked about the program's library the facilitator who was from out of town turned and pointed to me and said, "I imagine Sandra has read all of the books in our library". I looked at her and assured her that I had and I also own them all and have them on my shelves. Everyone just shook their head. You want to know why Johnny and Johnae can't read? We have too many teachers willing to let administrators spend thousands of dollars for canned programs that list the benchmarks and what to say and even have the lesson plans written up. That way they don't have to do anything. this program costs $7500 for 1 teacher/30 students. I have 4 classes and my school has two other teachers that teach these same programs. It is sad that my classroom library is almost as large as our school library and I have more current books. Most books checked out of my room are from students who aren't even mine. Other teachers send them to my classroom for books. I am glad to oblige them.

Sorry about the length but reading is such a passion and to have it squashed like this is such a travesty.


  1. Wow, Sandra. I don't even know what to say... I'm listening, though, if it helps.

  2. Sandra--
    I have so many questions. I'd love to chat/ tweet/email. I'm a Reading Specialist here in the DC Metro area and am so curious as to where you are/ what county/ what program you're talking about/ etc.

    Check out my blog--if you have a sec--http://www.teachmama.com or email me at teachmama@verizon.net

    cheers--and hang in there!

  3. So much for being able to instill a love of reading that will last a lifetime, eh?
    Sorry to hear about your situation (and wonder how far down the road will mine parallel yours?)

  4. Sandra,
    I feel your pain. I work in a district using a canned rdg program as well. Rather than use it to teach my 1st graders reading, I left the classroom and became the school librarian. Although I no longer feel the joy of watching a group of 6 year olds become enthusiastic readers and writers as the year progresses, I do get to turn 100's of kids on to the best in children's and YA lit. I feel as if the school library can give them what they don't get in their classrooms- the opportunity to fall in love with reading.
    What you are doing is right and important and necessary. I applaud you and your passion.

  5. Your voice is strong and clear. I'm tweeting your blog and hoping that many others do the same. You are not alone, Sandra. But many of us are quiet rebels. Maybe we all need to stifle our fear of reprisals and speak out as you have done. I, too, spent my summer reading. I teach first grade, so many of the books that I read for my classroom take me little time, leaving me "found-time" to read other books, mostly in my favorite uber-genre - YA books of all kinds. Thank you for encouraging me to use my own voice to speak truth to power. Our students deserve classrooms that nurture them as readers and respect them as being discerning enough to make their OWN book choices.

  6. I'm listening, too, and I'll be rooting for you.

    You might consider sharing two recent books on reading (REAL reading - not the canned stuff) with your administrators: Kelly Gallagher's READICIDE and Donalyn Miller's THE BOOK WHISPERER. Both are powerful voices in support of the kind of teaching you're trying to do.

    Wishing you the best~


  7. I work in a program that I wish your school had hired--while it wouldn't permit pleasure reading, it's pretty danged successful in turning non-readers into readers. I've been using it with adults for 4 years.

    I'm so sorry and so sad to read this and I wish you the best.

  8. This just breaks my heart. I think what we've done to reading in this country is appalling. I used to work in a bookstore and I can't tell you how many times I spent forever working with a child (while his mother shopped elsewhere) to choose the perfect book for his reading level and interests, only to have his mother come back and refuse to buy it because "he shouldn't waste his time reading books that aren't on the AR list." And then there's my MIL (a "reading specialist" for four elementary schools) who hates Junie B. (though she has never read one) because "that series is all the kids want to read." What!!?! How can that be a reason to dislike a book? AAARGH!

  9. Just know you have lots of support from those of us who know what REAL reading looks like. They won't be able to keep your passion for reading and doing what's best for kids from shining through. Keep us posted.

  10. I feel your pain. I fought this fight for many years. I bucked the system as much as I could. "Cookie cutter" teaching is a crime! It is becoming the norm and that was/is upsetting to veterans like myself. I was able to retire rather than continue to teach a canned program. Keep fighting!

  11. At the beginning of your post I was depressed. As I continued to read your passion and plans to continue to do the right thing for your students was encouraging and exciting. I hope you find ways to make this year work for you as much as possible. Good luck!

  12. Here via The Reading Zone. I just wanted to post and say "THANK YOU!" for not giving up in the face of such a relentless system. I am so glad there are people like you promoting a real love of reading.

  13. Gosh, that's awful. Those poor kids. Poor you. I hope it manages to work out in the end!

  14. Kudos to you for planning to do what you know is right -- to help your students. It's the teachers like you that we remember later on, not the ones who teach to the test.

    Thank you for being a teacher.

  15. After four years at a title one elementary school with >90% ESOL population, i have learned one thing about these mandated programs (for us it is/was reading first)....Shut your door and do what's best for your kids. When the state/county/whomever walks into your room for those "fidelity checks" then put on the dog and pony show....tell your kids the truth and let them be in on the act....As long as what you do works and your kids manage to squeak by on those meaningless tests (teach them to love reading and they will pass regardless of their past performance), then know one will bother you. You might also want to anonymously purchase a copy of Kelly Gallagher's Readicide for your administration (and possibly your district's school board member).

  16. (Found your post through Jen Robinson's Book Page)

    The schools in our area don't use a specific reading program, but they are very big on Accelerated Reader. The push to get students to earn a certain amount of points is so strong that it almost ruined reading for my kids. When you factor in other homework, there isn't much time to read anything that isn't an AR book. This wouldn't be so bad if the books were something my kids wanted to read. One of my daughters is a reluctant reader but she loves manga and graphic novels. Of course the school doesn't buy tests for those sorts of books. I just went through the list of tests, and I couldn't find anything that interested my kids that they haven't already read.

    I sat all my kids down and told them that as long as they read SOMETHING every night, I didn't care if it was AR or not. This summer has been full of reading for my kids, and I don't want to see that momentum stop by forcing them to read books they aren't interested in.

  17. I appreciated your post, and sympathize with you. At the same time, I am thankful for you, and your desire that kids would learn to love reading! All I can say is, "Don't give up!"

    One of our daughters had quite a few challenges learning to read. A very gifted and dedicated special ed. teacher and para educators used a program similar to the one you describe to help her master decoding skills. This was at the end of 7th grade. Now, that daughter has passed all the WA State Assessment of Student Learning tests which are mandatory for high school graduation here.

    At the same time as implementing this 'canned' program, however, each class has a library. Students keep a Reading Log, and write Book Letters to the teacher about the books they read.

    It's too bad your district is seemingly forgetting that the aim of learning to read is READING!

  18. I am a school librarian in a grades 6-12 school. Over 60% of our collection is fiction which does not include graphic novels. Those are in addition to the regular fiction.

    I use all the money from book fairs to purchase the newest books, particularly series books. The kids make sure I do not forget anything. -grin- I tell my kids AND teachers that I do not have to like a book as long as they like it.

    Yes, we are an AR school and I do try to buy tests for everything available. However, I always tell the kids that they need to read what they like, not just to take a test.

    I hope your media specialist will back you. They certainly should be doing so.

  19. I hope the fact that I am a homeschooler doesn't discourage you from reading my comment.

    I think you are a very brave teacher working within a system that seems to need an awful lot of control. The program you described sucks all the joy out of reading for your students.

    I encourage you to stand strong and find a way to get books in the hands of those kids.

  20. Oh - my heart is breaking for you! I teach in a district in which the reading scores reflect the biggest deficit for students occurs in the non-fiction comprehension area. We have instituted a reading lab into which the lowest-achieving students are placed to remediate these scores. Guess what they spend their time reading? That's right. Online non-fiction. These are students who already have decided they do not like to read and the best we can do is to force them to sit in front of a computer and read non-fiction passages to improve their comprehension. How in the world is that going to encourage them to develop a lifelong love of reading? I understand the need, in a democratic society, to raise a populace with the ability to sift through what the read in newspapers and magazines and form an educated opinion on the issues of the day. What I do not understand is the flawed connection the powers that be are making between these reading lab (and that is essentially what I am understanding you have)situations and helping our students become better readers. In order to become better at anything there must first exist a desire to do so. All of the research in the world cannot contradict a student's pure joy at picking up a Junie B. Jones novel (or Twilight or Harry Potter or a Bone graphic novel or a Babymouse graphic novel or a Bluford series novel - I could go on and on) and loving what they are reading. THAT is how we encourage our students to become lifelong readers. By allowing them to read what they enjoy - not by forcing already reluctant readers to read copious nonfiction all day every day. Reading leads to better reading. Reading non-fiction, by its very nature, is (although a necessary skill) not as pleasurable as reading a fiction novel and if we want to grab those students who do not read well and lead them down the path to becoming lifelong readers, we should do it by first teaching them to love to read what they want to read. You cannot put the cart before the horse. This is why, in the earliest grades, we read "The Kissing Hand" and other lovely picture books to our students. We want them to love books. There is a whole notch-group of students reaching the middle grades who, for many reasons, did not grasp the skills necessary to become good readers. Can't we achieve the same thing (reading comprehension skills) by allowing them first to develop a love of reading and then encourage them to proceed to the less pleasurable (but necessary) non-fiction material? Keep doing what your heart is telling you to do - your kids will thank you for it. Please remember - your students may not remember what your taught them, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

  21. I spent twenty years fighting the same idiots. They kept telling me, "You are going to get fired."
    I used a reading writing workshop approach in which the kids picked their own novel from a large classroom library and designed their own writing projects.
    We did grammar and writing mechanics in editing, and almost never opened a textbook.
    Students loved my class, parents loved that their kids would pass up a night of video games or computer time to go to their rooms and read.
    Each year my kids out performed the district on promotion test, and I told my administration that when my student's scores dropped below the district average I would consider they mandated programs.
    I told them that they did not need to know what I was doing in my classroom. All the needed to know was that I knew what I was doing.
    I never saw a really effective teacher fired. If you are creative, and focused and successfully here is my advise.

    1. Go to your room and play with your kids.

    2. Stay out of the building office. No one their will ever be of any help.

    3. Stay out of the teacher's lounge. It is a black hole of negative energy.

    4. Do not tolerate a teacher that talks bad about kids. Walk away from those kinds of conversation.

    5. If you teach in upper elementary or middle grades, carry a pocket full of candy and past it out freely.

    6. Find and age group you love (mine was 8th graders)and teach that level. I never saw a teacher who loved kid "Burn Out."

    7. This be your rule of thumb, If you are doing a lesson in your classroom and no one is having fun doing it. Stop and do something that is fun; then, while they are having fun, you go figure out a fun way to do the other lesson.

    8. Remember that, when the teacher is talking- no one is learning anything. When the kids are talking about and DOING what you want then to learn - they are all learning.

    9. Just this on testing. If we really wanted to know what our kids have learned we'd ask them.

    10. Finally, the best compliment I ever had was from an 8th grade girl who I asked to writing a piece titled "What I Learned In My Year with Mr. Williams." She started off by saying, "Until I was asked to write this composition I did not realize I was learning anything in Mr. Williams' class. I just thought we were having fun." (She's a teacher now) (Thanks Amy:)

    Hang in there Sandra. Real teachers teach for the love of kids. I don't care what they say, that love is a "Treasure beyond Rubies."

  22. I am saddened to read this. You sound like a marvelous teacher who really wants to infect kids with your love of books. Despite the deep problems with the system, your students are blessed to have you.


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  24. Wow, Sandra. The challenges you face are daunting, but I hear such determination in your post. I'm a library media specialist who also serves as administrator for the computerized reading assessment program at our school. Our goal is to create life-long readers. My first rule for our collection is that EVERY CHILD must see themselves reflected in the collection...age, gender, ethnicity, interests, etc. We encourage students, parents and teachers to donate favorite books or add titles to our wish list. I balance every purchase between books to support curriculum and reading favorites. It's all about the books. Good luck!

  25. Well, the pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword. You've started quite a riot across the web and the theme resonates with many of us. Academic freedom is the issue at play.

    I wrote my own response in the genre of a manifesto at What Remedial Reading Teachers Want (A Manifesto). I am an MA Reading Specialist who suffered similarly last year in an intervention course that "fenced me in..." Thanks for encouraging my rant. I feel better.

  26. Thanks to Jen Robinson for linking to this heartfelt post.
    Thanks to Sandra for being open & writing this.

    What can we do Sandra, to help with any repercussions that are those that you don't want.

    School board folks reading this, please reward this reading teacher. This is the sort of teacher movies are made about.

    So, so many people are listening.

    Good Luck & Good Reading to those kiddos,


  27. wow...and thank you for being willing to instill the love of reading and learning in these kids...that is really what they need to get ahead in the world...not just the test results! Keep at it and I hope it all works out best for the kids...


  28. This absolutely kills me. Of course, even in a very good school, my son hates library time ebcause he can only check out books on his STAR reading level- and when it went up in the middle of the Sideways School series, he wa snot allowed to check out the rest.
    Sigh. AS luck would have it, I am mor ethan happy to buy him books, and in fact would just as soon forget the school library, but what about all the kids whose parents aren't willing to go to B&N or the used bookstore every weekend?? My fourth grader reads at the 12th grade level - but that's ecause of what I did, not the public schools.
    And I am a school psychologist!!!!! This absolutely kills me. I am convinced that kids (and adults) who hate to
    read just haven't found the right book. Of course, they might NEVER if this is the way we are educating them!!!!
    Sigh. Keep fighting the good fight!!