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QUIET! Teacher in Progress: Focus on the 'How'

by Mrs. Mimi
October 3, 2012
QUIET! TEACHER IN PROGRESS
BY MRS. MIMI
Oct 6, 2012
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.

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week!

Okay, I’ll be honest with you. Banned Books Week wasn’t exactly on my calendar. But when a little birdie told me that my column was scheduled to appear right smack in the middle of this celebration, I turned to my friend and yours, Google.

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read what you choose and draws attention to the problem of censorship. I spent some time looking at lists of the top 100 most challenged titles from the last two decades. And you know what? I’ve read about half of them.

What made me really stop and take notice was when I realized that one of the series books that I regularly read aloud to my little friends made the list: Junie B. Jones. Seriously? Did I miss the one where she joined a cult or something?

Once again, I turned to my friend Google to see what was what. Evidently, people object to Junie’s incorrect grammar and impetuous nature. Um, hello? Isn’t that sort of the appeal of Junie? That she speaks in a way that is typical of many five year olds (it’s called voice, people) and has problems that a large number of young readers can relate to (like being impetuous). Personally, I know a lot of teachers don’t care for the series, but the idea of banning it from the library all together seems a bit extreme, don’t you think?

Methinks there are some people out there with too much time and an anger problem.

photo: nataliesap via photopin cc
Regardless, the entire situation got me thinking about what we decide to read to our students and how we decide to read it. Do you know what I realized? It’s not so much the what as it is the how.

Let me explain. I’m sure you’ve heard the words “text complexity” kicked around your school a time or two this year. With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards and its assertion that all students must engage with grade-level appropriate texts, we have become obsessed with the what. What are we going to read? What is considered grade-level appropriate? What is considered complex?

Yet, I think the more important question is the how. How are we going to make these text selections work for all students? And, my personal favorite, how are we going to encourage students to become critical readers of text? How do we push our students to think critically about what is being said and what is not being said?

You see, if we shift our focus to how we would like our students to interact with text regardless of its subject matter or complexity, then the what starts to matter less.

Now, don’t get carried away here. Please do not run into your classrooms with 50 SHADES OF GREY screaming, “It’s the HOW that matters!” Because in that situation, I think the what may very well take center stage.

Mrs. Mimi is a pseudonymous teacher who taught both first and second grades at a public elementary school in New York City. She's the author of 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.

© 2012 Mrs. Mimi. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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