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.
Back-to-school is upon us. Our return to the classroom is imminent and perhaps you have already spent time in your classrooms dutifully readying it for a new crop of little friends. As you know, this time of preparation is precious. For many of us we prepare voluntarily on our own schedule and therefore we use our hours as we see fit. Choosing a new color scheme for the bulletin boards, reorganizing the classroom library, revolutionizing how we deal with those &%$!! pesky unsharpened pencils. There are no forms to be filled out (yet!), assessments to be given (yet!), bathroom requests to deal with (yet!) or endless meetings filling our schedules (YET!).
It is a wonderful time to reflect on what works for you as a teacher as well as what you would like to do differently this year. Of course, there are decisions you can't possibly make until your small fries walk in the door, but during these precious quiet pre-craziness moments, we can give some thought to what type of teacher we want to be this year. Might I make a suggestion?
Expand your definition of what counts as "real reading." Just to lay my cards on the table, I believe real reading means children are actively engaged with text of their choice. Don't get me wrong, there are many children who become authentically engaged with texts assigned to them and there is a place for that type of reading. But I think we are all familiar with what it is like to assign a particular passage, an article or even an entire book for students to read. I am asking us to consider something beyond that.
I work with a lot of wonderful teachers who love reading, have read many of the books in their classroom libraries and they are excited to share their love for many of these books with their students. Often these teachers, who are lovely, lovely people, offer their students an artificial choice between two very similar books that reflect the teacher's own reading preferences. Or, some teachers disregard books students bring from home, labeling them as too easy, too silly, or not classic literature. Again, these are fabulous teachers with the best of intentions, but they are inadvertently narrowing the choice for the student. Many students will dutifully complete the reading, but are they really reading? We might think it is "real" reading because the book is a classic, but if my many years of teaching reading have taught me anything, it is that children are amazing fakers. Some of them could win Tony Awards for the performances.
Where is there time in your day for students to read texts of their choice? And what do students have to choose from? Are we validating these choices as "real" reading or subconsciously sending children the message that only certain types of texts count? If you are looking to expand the choices you offer to students, I know that can feel daunting, expensive, or just impossible. Consider these ideas:
- Photo copy poems from favorite anthologies
- Download digital texts on a tablet through a resource such as Scholastic's Storia
- Offer access to reading-centric apps
- Print out online articles from engaging sites such as National Geographic Kids or Wonderopolis
- Laminate copies of song lyrics familiar to or popular with students
- Snip articles from a variety of sections of the local paper
- Collect maps of the world or menus from local restaurants
- Put together a bin of magazines
- Add graphic novels to your library
- Offer a bin of photographs as wordless texts
- Gather a variety of advertisements or other persuasive texts such as book reviews
I am not saying to go anti-classics because my life would not be the same without The Trumpet of the Swans. I am merely suggesting we mix things up and prioritize the choices of our students as readers. Sometimes I just want to curl up with People magazine and put my latest The New York Times best seller down for a bit. And I am still a real reader despite my penchant for celebrity gossip.
Mrs. Mimi, aka Jennifer Scoggin, is a teacher who taught both first and second grades at a public elementary school in New York City. She's the author of the upcoming Be Fabulous
The Reading Teacher's Guide to Reclaiming Your Happiness in the Classroom and It's Not All Flowers and Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade, which sprung from her popular blog of the same name. Mimi also has her doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.