Being a teacher means embracing constant change. Yet all too often, teachers are told when, how and why to change. In this monthly column, Mrs. Mimi takes on creating change for herself by rethinking old practices and redefining teaching on her own terms.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Too much of a good thing?” I’m sure you have. Too many fruity cocktails after a long week can be too much of a good thing. Too many field trips planned for the end of the school year can be too much of a good thing. And, too much emphasis on student reading levels can definitely be too much of a good thing.
Can I share with you one thing that kind of freaks me out? While I love all things organized, the sight of a classroom library organized solely by reading levels makes my skin crawl. Where is the joy of reading in that? And what makes me even sadder is when I ask a teacher about a particular student’s reading and he or she replies, “Oh, he’s a 38.” What reduces me to practically weeping in the hallway is when I ask a student
about his or her reading and hear, “Oh, I’m a 38.”
Pardon me while I collect myself for a moment.
Please don’t misunderstand. I think reading levels are wonderful tools
. As teachers, they help us to more clearly see how typical reading development unfolds, they give us strategies to help focus and refine our teaching, they provide us with a method for organizing our instruction in powerful ways, and they can serve as a common language to use in conversations about trends we observe in our practice.
I also don’t blame teachers for this all too common reality. I think many of us out there are just trying to survive in an age of extreme accountability where data collection and placing students on a graph seems to have superseded everything we know about best practices and the idea of fostering a love of reading somehow seems like an investment we no longer have time for. However
, students are not reading levels alone and classroom libraries are not places for sorting books like they are a million tiny screws in an aisle at Home Depot.
Personally, I think the implementation of the Common Core State Standards could go in two distinct directions. They could go the way of testing and accountability and measuring things and blah blah blah. Or, we could use the CCSS as a tool to help us redefine reading practices in our classrooms, starting with how we organize our libraries and think about our students as readers. The Common Core asks us to create independent thinkers who have a broad understanding of various reading genres and text types, not kids who know how to pick a book out of bin labeled with the correct number. It asks us to develop students who can closely read any text while also speaking passionately and knowledgeably about the types of books and reading that they love.
What does all this mean for our classrooms? (Hold on, let me step down from my soap box for now.) I think it means we continue to determine the appropriate reading levels of our students and use that information to help guide and shape our instruction. These are good, helpful, wise tools and we should continue to use them. However, it also means reorganizing our libraries to include some leveled baskets, but also books sorted by area of interest, author, genre, and text types. It means helping our students to develop and articulate their identities as readers. What books do they love the most? What are they interested in reading or learning more about? What authors or illustrators make them excited to read? How do they like to read? And where? How do students prefer to share their thinking about their reading– in a conversation with others, on a blog, in a journal?
Do you know what never feels like too much of a good thing? (Or at least it never gets to be too much in my deeply nerdy little family.) Reading. Loving reading. Sharing books. Discovering new authors. Refining who we are as readers. That
is always a good thing and it never feels like too much. In fact, the time we are able to find never feels like enough.
© 2012 Mrs. Mimi. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. Putting the 'Fun' in Reading Fundamentals QUIET! Teacher in Progress: Focus on the 'How'