Sunday, April 14, 2013

When we read, we learn. When we learn, we grow. National Board at work in my classroom.

"Consistently, one hour a day, forced to read (our choice for once), students get to read something of their choice in school. There are probably many kids who don't get that time at home. The fact that North provides that opportunity for all students -- it's absolutely awesome." -- R4P student, 2013

"When we sit down to read we are bound to love it more and more - it's a fundamental action of our being...we learn, if not traditionally, then we learn in a non-conventional sense, but we must read is to learn." -- R4P student, 2013

Both semesters this year I've asked students to chart their attitudes about reading three times during the term: first week, midterm, and finals week. We just past the half-way point of this last semester, so we charted and reflected again. I love reading what kids make of the data they see, and I know I would not have thought of this way of including them in assessment except for my work with National Board for Professional Standards. My journey with NBTS and Education Leadership Oklahoma changed the way I teach, the way I look at myself and my students, and has led to deeper student learning and achievement. The support I was given by my state Legislature was instrumental in these changes in my classroom, and instrumental in my students' learning and reflecting on their learning.

At the beginning of this semester, things looked grim. Seven students HATED reading, three hated it, and one couldn't commit between 'hate' and 'don't like.' One student was very vocal about the fact he HATED reading and didn't intend to change his mind, even though siblings and friends had told him I would change his mind.

I asked students to reflect on what they saw in the sticky-note chart, and we began our work. Students are engulfed in a reading environment, surrounded by books and by readers.

Any one day, we will experience all of the English Language Arts Strands: reading, writing, speaking, listening (producing), and viewing. Reading every day, writing reflections about reading, talking about books, listening to classmates talk about books. Producing and sharing multi-media book shares. We read and read.

I knew I had nothing to fear from those 'haters' because I knew most of them would find books they liked and they would change their opinions...even just a bit.

Nine weeks later I destroyed our 'presurvey' chart on the whiteboard and had everyone place a new sticky on the board. We saw dramatic changes. My new students were surprised; my returning students knew this would be the case...they understand the power of choosing your own books, and in finding that one book that changes your mind about reading.

It's not enough to have students create the chart...if NBC taught me anything, it taught me the power of reflection and authentic assessment. I have learned to include students as partners in assessment. So, I displayed the two charts and asked students to look carefully and comment on what they see. They never never never let me down.

Themes develop. Students consistently mention time and choice. They appreciate both -- because, let's face it, time to read and freedom to choose what to read are seldom part of a high school student's day. One student said it for everyone: "Once people start reading and find their perfect book, they get on this reading kick and gain confidence in reading." Confidence often plays out in higher test scores: "My ACT score for English alone went up after taking this class twice."

Another strong theme is learning about books and genres, and finding that one book...that first book...that 'home run' book, as Jim Trelease, calls it. My returning students talked about this phenomenon at the beginning of the book, perfectly confident our 'haters' would find 'that book.' And most have done just that. One student put it this way: "The difference is we have gotten to read. The more kids read fun books, the more enjoyable it makes reading. Analyzing books can ruin even the best books, so it makes sense...this class provides a break." Another, even stronger statement: "[We've] finally been allowed to read books that [we] actually like...Reading for Pleasure attempts to undo what we've been taught since elementary school: literature at school = boring."

This idea of finding a book that can make a difference builds on Peter Johnston's view of  a 'dynamic-performance' view of learning. I have many students enter my class,  utterly convinced they'll fail. They see themselves, not as capable, confident learners, but as 'bad readers.' They don't think anything can change this. They are fixed in their view of their own learning and reading. Other people are good readers; they aren't. Students who've taken R4P more than once deeply understand the truth. We need to be open to the search. We need to let books find us. And when they do find us, we become strong, confident readers. In nine weeks, nearly everyone has found that book, and has a new view of themselves as readers now.

My one hold-out is the young man who is waiting for this magic he's been told about. A classmate jokingly suggested strangulation for messing up our chart...but I know this student -- he is a skeptic, he's smart and funny. His attitude is positive and his intentions are pure. He is really trying to find some joy in reading. He's worked hard searching for a genre he likes. He understands his current position: "Differences [in the charts]? I am alone in have brainwashed everyone. You are taking over the world. 'I pledge allegiance to the flag of Mrs. Swisher.' Seriously, I'm like two positions away from anyone. Now what? I must resist. I know that everyone in class is coming after me. After that last battle, I lost a leg. C took it. as long as I'm quiet they might not notice. Oh, God. They heard me...." How can I NOT love a kid who can tell me a story like this? How can I not spend time helping him find his home run book?

National Board, both my own process of certification and renewal, as well as my ten years working with candidates, has challenged me to look for student impact in everything I do. Because I know how valuable reflection is for me as an educator, I have deliberately woven opportunities for my students to reflect on their own learning, and what happens in class.

I trust my students to be learners and readers. They never let me down. Policymakers and administrators may not see what's happening in my room, but WE know magic happens.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more!! Kudos to you in making the reading time happen for your students. They'll thank you for the rest of their lives . . . now if we could just get this to go viral . . . :)