A Plea! What Do I Do With the Stuff?

 So when I retired from teaching full time 4 years ago, I just packed my classroom up in boxes and bins and put them all in a storage locker. There everything has remained.  Mostly it is children’s picture books. I would say there are hundreds, if not thousands. There are also some furniture items I purchased myself, CDs and there are a lot of college level texts and “teacher books” by presenters I admired at conferences. There were some years that I reviewed books for an educational publishing company and I got “paid” in professional books. Some of those are untouched.

  I remember one teacher who retired when I was still working who had a garage sale with her “stuff.” Some colleagues were appalled that she didn’t donate her books to a worthy cause. I am not a fan of garage sales. I have never had what I would call a successful one. Some books that are especially dear to me I am going to keep for my grandchildren. The first book I pulled out of the box and checked on line is now out of print and is worth quite a bit of money. I know retirement can turn into a financial challenge, so I am thinking I might need that money at some time for medical costs or even a trip or two. The teacher books, and teacher resource books (some I’m sure have purple ink), I am unsure about. Do people still read and consult those? With more and more districts using scripted lessons and online instruction, do teachers still purchase them?  And don’t college level text books have new editions almost every year? Can’t they be read on line? Will teachers even have to go to college and/or purchase books in the future?  What do I do with those?

So, I am asking for anyone’s advice. What should I do with the stuff? What is the most practical and efficient way to reduce my teacher hoard? I have thought of opening up an online used book store, or possibly an Etsy vintage shop for some of the puppets, wooden toys and things I collected and recently found in the locker. I know there are Oakland County and Macomb County teacher swaps, but I don’t know how active they are or if that is the best way to go. Is there a national teacher swap or would my own online bookstore idea be better? I have heard of people that go and buy books for a quarter at garage sales and then sell them on line to make money!  I know my daughters don’t want ALL this stuff, and the time to downsize is definitely here. Please help!

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Really Retiring?

“Sometimes you have to let go of your old dreams in order to achieve the new ones.” Jan Pardy

 

So my Facebook memories from May 2012 have started to mention my announced retirement from teaching from the district I had worked in for twenty-five years. I wasn’t really ready to retire then, but for me, it became a philosophical, psychological and physical necessity. A change in the reading and language arts curriculum was forcing me to leave behind a district, a community, families, and a job that I loved. A “job” that was part of who I was as a person. One would think having my doctorate in reading instruction and curriculum would have made me someone who might have been at least consulted in regard to the curriculum change in reading instruction, but alas my knowledge was not regarded or even consulted. It seemed like it was even considered threatening. Getting a doctorate changes relationships even when you don’t understand how it is happening. Even though you know your heart hasn’t changed at all.

I remember talking to one of my favorite mentors in my career.  When I was considering applying for the doctoral program, she  told me she got her doctorate because she wanted the title. That was not the case for me. I got mine because of Justin and Ashley. Two wonderful students I had at the beginning of my career that had already begun to feel that they were stupid in second grade because they couldn’t read. It broke my heart that so many kids were suffering already at such a young age, and I made a vow to learn everything I possibly could about teaching children how to read. That resulted in a masters, an Education Specialist and a doctoral degree…one class at a time.

Our “mission” as a school district was to create lifelong learners, but it seemed that was only valued to a certain extent in regard to teaching staff. I had represented my district across the country and locally as a language arts presenter at NCTE, IRA, MRA,NSTA and WLU and also locally at our ISD as a literacy trainer. I served on numerous committees and boards.  I had the honor to be a mentor teacher and a supervising teacher to over 27 student teachers. I still didn’t think it was “mission” accomplished.

When I heard Corrective Reading was being used at our middle school, I was stunned. I was very familiar with it and the news put me on edge. I had been a member of the DI listserv for over 15 years. I knew the problems with the program and had even used 100 Easy Lessons in my classroom as a supplementary phonics program. It only took about 10 minutes a day and I had the freedom to modify and supplement it easily. It was missing  all of the higher level thinking skills, contained no reading strategies other than phonics  and it did nothing to instill a love of reading with its boring  decodable text.  I had even used 100 Easy in several papers I had written at the doctoral level and had visited buildings that used it. It covered about 1% of what I considered good reading instruction. Sixth grade students who came to my classroom to help out with my kindergarteners began to relate to me how much they HATED reading with Corrective Reading. These were the same students who used to come to me and share all the great books they enjoyed. I began to panic, worried Reading Mastery would come to elementary.  I sent an email to my principal asking if that were possible, and she assured me it wasn’t. But it did, so I retired cold turkey, with little more than a month to prepare my heart.

I knew I wasn’t ready, and applied over the summer to some private schools and in the fall started to sub at those schools and volunteer in my neighborhood school.  It wasn’t long after school started that a former student‘s mom recommended me for a part-time job tutoring first graders in her district.  The following year, as a result of volunteering at my grandchildren’s school, I was asked to do the same thing at their school. While I taught in my district I had also worked for a few years as an adjunct, and I continued to do that.

So for four years I have been easing out of teaching.  I had several jobs before I was a teacher as it was a late in life career decision. I never had to ease out of a job before, but I had invested so much of my time, money and my heart and soul into teaching that I didn’t know if I was going to survive the separation. Now I know it is time. I have less time to do the things I like to do best in reading instruction; formative assessment, evaluation of assessment, planning, teaching, and then back to the beginning of the cycle,  the directed and thoughtful learning that takes place. Miscue, running records, Kid Watching, and teacher intuition are taking a backseat to online data collection and instruction. Since I don’t believe in labeling and ranking, teaching as I know it and love it seems to be part of the reformers definition of “old school.”    Words of encouragement, searching out books that interest and delight students, and helping new readers find a new favorite book in the library are no longer important. Being a role model of a reader and giving students time to read in school, are now taking a back seat to rote and repetition, fed to students via technology. It is all about data collection. Schools, teachers and students being data driven and ranked won’t work for me.

I find I am looking at my watch more. Yes, I still wear one. There was a time when I was so involved with my students, that the days flew by and I never even had a sense of time passing.  I need to be fair and recognize that changes are taking place in my own attitudes and feelings about teaching.  It is time to jump from the front seat to the back seat and let someone else drive the car. I don’t like the direction it is going, but all my effort doesn’t seem to turn it back around. I remember Reid Lyon telling me once to jump on the train because it is leaving the station. I never got on it, but I feel like maybe now it is too late for my efforts to try to stop it. There doesn’t seem to even be a pendulum.

I am so grateful for the amazing students, parents, administrators, professors and colleagues I have been blessed to have worked with over the last almost 30 years.  Of course I have worked with some real teacher leaders called principals and I have learned from all of them. Especially the one who believed the most important assessment is teacher intuition!

So here I am at another crossroads. I wonder which direction I am headed in next.  My expectations are that I will have more time to immerse myself in my family, my faith, my philosophical and political ideals, my hobbies and maybe a new entirely different career. But I have found that my expectations  are often the last thing to actually happen. Life is so full of surprises. My daughter’s friend Lauren says, “Perhaps it is all just happening as it should, and expectations are the only thing holding you back from seeing every next step as a perfect one.”  It’s time to climb those steps, set some new goals and dream some new dreams.

 

 

 

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tsu

Any of my friends on tsu? I just got on and am trying it out. It is almost just like Facebook, except tsu doesn’t get all the advertising dollars like Facebook does. It is shared among the members. Imagine if you were getting paid for being on Facebook! I know I would make some money as much as I’m addicted to it. Click the link or copy and paste and let me know what you think.

https://www.tsu.co/Creecherteacher

 

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Kindergarten Achievement Gap

Kindergarten Achievement Gap.

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Kindergarten Achievement Gap

Dear Teachernut,
A month back to school! What’s new?
Sincerely,
Back to school and energized

 

Dear Energized,
I hope everyone is having a wonderful new beginning of the year and you are getting into the swing of things again. I know for many, not much has changed since June. More and more states are doing year round schools and summer programs, and teachers and children have less time to recharge. Those of you who have done summer remedial or enrichment programs, be careful around March. I found that is when potential burnout really hit when I taught during the summer months. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself needing a couple of personal days in the spring to recoup your physical and/or mental health.

One of the things I am really seeing this year is a very obvious kindergarten achievement gap. Children are coming to school a little older in Michigan because of a change in the state law, and many of them are coming in knowing much more, at least in the area of literacy. In the past, I was excited when a student entered kindergarten knowing 10 letters. Now I am seeing many who know all their letters and sounds and can rhyme, blend and segment them. Their book handling seems much more advanced as well. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does it make a difference in later reading ability or in their becoming a lover of reading? I think most research says it does not, and of course in Finland they don’t start literacy instruction until students are seven years old. But, should we discourage those children who are entering kindergarten, and are eager to learn, from becoming readers? I keep thinking of that old “Matthew Effect.” Will these children have a jump start on those who come to school knowing no letters, sounds, and book handling skills? There seems to be very few students who are in the middle. They either know way more than students used to, or they know nothing at all.

So, if you are one of those kindergarten teachers who is also experiencing that huge achievement gap, are you wondering how you are going to adjust your curriculum to meet all students’ needs? Can you continue to teach letter of the week when most of your students already know all their letters and sounds? Harry Wong says, “When you are teaching children something they already know, you aren’t teaching them anything.” When I left my kindergarten classroom three years ago, I felt that I was teaching the same things I used to teach at the beginning of first grade, right after winter break. Is that being pushed back even more? What do you think? How do you feel about it, and what are you doing to adjust?

Sincerely,
Teachernut

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“The best parents and teachers, of course, are in the story business.” Seth Godin What is your best story of the end of the school year?

“The best parents and teachers, of course, are in the story business.” Seth Godin.

What is your best story of the end of the school year?

 

Dear Teachernut,

It is the end of the school year and again I am feeling like I am from another planet. In our school district, we not only have to have all our records completed, but we have to pack up everything in our classrooms and clean off our bulletin boards before we are allowed to be dismissed for summer. Some of my colleagues have had theirs done for weeks and seem to be glowing with end of year ecstasy and energy, but I feel so sad and incomplete. Is something wrong with me?

Sincerely,

End of the Year Blues

 

Dear Blues,

Know that you are not alone. Although many teachers run out of their classrooms singing in June, l was a teacher like you who started dreading the end of the year about mid-May knowing I would probably be the last to leave the school building. When I finally got my classroom packed up, and I was almost always the last one in the building, I took a deep breath and looked at my finally vacant room, knowing that I would probably be a little depressed for a while. Most likely I would spend a few sleepless nights making plans for next year and mulling over the things I would do differently. Speaking of sleep, I did an excess amount of sleeping those first weeks of summer break. Most people don’t realize the emotional, physical, and psychological fatigue that comes with being a teacher. They don’t remember their teacher not sitting at a desk, but being on his or her feet all day roving from student to student.

Looking back, I think one of the reasons I was so slow getting things packed and was melancholy was because part of me didn’t want the school year to end. I wanted to prolong it as much as possible. I remember the worst year of packing. I had been teaching kindergarten for six years at a wonderful school. One of the things that made it wonderful was its small size. That blessing turned out to be a curse however, when it became necessary for our district to consolidate buildings and the school was selected to be torn down. There had been years and years of memories created by the students and teachers in that building. I had a humongous walk in closet and there were treasures stored there that had been valued by teachers for years before me. I had to decide what to pack for the move and what to throw or give away. I knew in my heart that each precious item had a special memory for someone who had traveled through that classroom. I think I left a week later than anyone else that year.

Not only was I always one of the last to leave, but sometimes I had a classroom by the parking lot door. I would watch teacher after teacher walk out, saying, “Good-bye! Have a wonderful summer!” and I would wonder if I mine would ever start. I wasn’t a person who could take everything off the walls and pack things away two weeks before school ended. I wanted the children to have continued consistency until the last day. They seemed to act up less if the classroom didn’t look so vacant. I think taking all the things down early, may make them anxious. I wanted things to at least stay the same in my classroom as long as possible. Then those last two days of school, I had the students, even the kindergartners, help with the taking down and packing away the things in their classroom even though it sometimes made things a little messy. This was also a good time to make a classroom memory book with students so we could all reflect on the year together. Doing those things definitely gave us all some closure.

I know some students hear a countdown to the end of the school year from their friends and family and worry how the routine will change after that last day; a new daycare or sitter, or a trip alone to visit a parent or grandparent they haven’t seen in a long time. There were also children in my second grade class who had no care giver over the summer break and feared being alone. Is your anxiety possibly caused by the same things your students’ is? Make sure you have some happy plans to look forward to for what you will be doing over the summer, even if it just a little “me time” to relax and garden, read a book, or have valuable family time.

The best end of the years of my teaching career were the six years I taught a 1-3 multiage class. There were many reasons for this, but one for sure was that I knew there would be a continuation and a consistency for the students over the three years they were in my classroom. At the culmination of the third year, I had a celebration tea for the 8 or 9 or students who were going on to the fourth grade, and the feelings were different than the ones I had in the past in a regular classroom because I had made personal relationships with the children and their families that I knew would last a lifetime. And they have! I have been invited to their high school graduations and now their college graduations and weddings. Knowing that you can keep in touch, even when you hand them over to the next grade, may help with the feelings you are dealing with.

Don’t feel guilty about taking your time to close your classroom. It will get done. Savor every moment, recognize your feelings and reflect on your year. It can only make the next one a little bit better.

Sincerely,

Teachernut

 

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How Can I Encourage Parents to Read With Their Child at Home?

How Can I Encourage Parents to Read With Their Child at Home?.

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How Can I Encourage Parents to Read With Their Child at Home?

Dear Teachernut,

I have been so frustrated this year! I am a first grade teacher who firmly believes that what makes readers, is reading. Four nights a week I have children take home a very short book to read, that they are able to read with little help, yet I have five struggling readers who consistently do not bring back the slip checked off that they have read the book. At first I thought the parents just forgot to check the slip, but when I inquire, the kids say they haven’t read the book.  I sent home a letter to the parents and emailed them, but they just don’t seem to get it. When they respond to the email, they say they “just  forgot,” and the same thing happens again and again. The principal says the area where our school is located just doesn’t have a “culture of literacy,” but many of these families are upper middle class families and college graduates.  In my opinion, to just say that our neighborhood community does not have a culture of literacy is the answer to this issue, is having low expectations of the families and children.  Some teachers I have talked to say,” Just teach them what you can in school and don’t send the books home anymore. If they aren’t going to read them, what’s the point?” Other teachers say, “Families are so busy these days, maybe they just don’t have time.” Don’t have time to read with their child for 5 minutes after dinner, or at bedtime?! I have even suggested that the children read to their siblings, pets or stuffed animals, and they STILL don’t read! I KNOW these parents want the best for their kids and want them to become happy successful adults. There must be an answer! What can I do next year to help the children and families understand how important reading practice at home is for children?

Sincerely,

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

I have experienced the same thing and I agree, it is very perplexing and probably more so for teachers like us who read regularly and have always read to our children.  I have a few suggestions and hopefully others will chime in with ideas. I think it is good that you are sending books home, because many families don’t own books that are in their children’s reading ability. So if they aren’t going to read the books that you send home, what can a teacher do to get them to practice reading?  Maybe the children aren’t asking them to read the books because they aren’t being listened to at all. I’ve seen many ignored children in restaurants, as parents spend time texting or talking on cell phones. Once I even saw a parent playing a video game on a cell phone as the child sat there alone across the booth from him, as bored as dirt.  Perhaps the reading at home has become a power struggle between the parent and the student, although if you are sending home books the child can read, I don’t see how that can be much of an issue.  I know children get really excited about books they have written themselves. Is there a possibility that your take home books be the stories the children have written? Then perhaps they might ask parents to read  them or at least to look at the books. The important thing is that they are reading. Does it have to be a book? What if they got reading time checked off if they played a board game that included reading? What if you counted if they read the captions on a movie or favorite family television show? I think most televisions have a device for closed captions for the hearing impaired. My own children have it turned on all the time for my grandchildren.

The other important point you brought up was creating a culture of family and community literacy.  Many local libraries have programs that try to address this, but this is something that can also be nourished within the school setting.  Does your school have  after school enrichment programs? Could one of them be a Family Literacy Club? It could have a much more exciting name that might draw children in like, Ninja Readers. Let the kids decide on the name and also what the reading materials should be. You might be able to get comic books or children’s magazines donated. Some schools have a literacy or curriculum night. What about on that evening, demonstrating for parents how to read to your child or with your child. Could the parents be struggling readers as well? Maybe they are anxious about their own abilities. There is a wonderful article on how enriching and loving, reading to your child can be, and what a great role it is for dad to take over. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/10849403/Chris-Evans-parents-must-read-to-their-children.html Here is another great article about kids and reading. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jordanshapiro/2014/05/13/kids-dont-read-books-because-parents-dont-read-books/  Please make sure, when you give these articles to parents at your literacy night, that you don’t just print and pass them out. Give them time to read them while they are present, and then have them get in small groups to discuss how they could squeeze family reading time into a busy week. These are just a few ideas on how to get students and families to read more and create a more literate school community. I hope others will share things that they have tried that work.

Sincerely,

Teachernut

 

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Do I Want to Be a Principal?

Dear Teachernut,

Our principal has announced his retirement. I am thinking about applying for the position, but I’m not sure it is something I want to do. Another person is rumored to be applying and is not someone I respect, or agree with philosophically. I really love teaching and do not know if I am a good fit for the job, but some colleagues are dreading what is to come and want me to step up. What qualities do you think make a good principal?

Sincerely,

Pondering

Dear Pondering,

I’ve never been a principal. I never wanted to be one because I loved being in the classroom so much, although I did apply for the job in a little K-3 multiage school that you had to travel to by ferry. I did so when I was urged by a friend who I respected, that told me I would be “perfect for the position.” I didn’t get the job. The human resources person said it was because I interviewed too much like a curriculum director. Go figure. I have heard of some schools that run collaboratively without a principal. I’ve never worked in that kind of building, but I think it sounds like an interesting possibility.

During my over 25 year teaching career, I have worked with over 13 principals. Some of them retired or were reassigned to different buildings. Sometimes it was my choice to change schools or districts for a variety of different reasons. When I think back on my experiences with them, I recall more differences than ways they were alike. What are those things that I liked and didn’t like in a principal and what do I wish I would have seen more of? What follows is a short synopsis of what I have experienced when working for principals and what I have seen that seems to make some outstanding and others, not so much. Let me also say that some principals that I loved others hated, and some that I thought sorely lacked leadership were admired by many of my colleagues.

All of the principals I worked for had been teachers. I always used to say I was going to do research one day on how long a person had to be out of the classroom before they forgot what it was like. I have been out of a regular classroom for two years now, and I still remember every moment like it was yesterday. It is important for principals to visit teachers and lend a helping hand to revive those memories of life in the classroom so they can better empathize with members of their staff. There were some principals that never stepped a foot in my classroom for any reason. Now with teacher evaluations that must include observation, they must at least stop in for the required number of times. I plan on writing more about effective evaluation in a future blog, but for now, let’s just say those evaluations should have positive affirmation and constructive input for ways to improve. I’ve always heard that when talking to a child, you should say ten positive things for every criticism. I don’t think that evaluations of teachers should be any different, so I wouldn’t want a principal who was negative or disinterested.

Principals, like teachers, must wear lots of hats. That is one of the reasons I was confused when I wasn’t hired by that district whose human resources person said I would make a great curriculum director. The management of the curriculum, the evaluation of it and its application, is one of the most important hats that principals wear. Even though many aspects of curriculum are now mandated by federal law, state legislation, and local school boards, it is still the principal’s job to make sure the teachers are delivering the curriculum in a way that best benefits students. That also would include assessment and analyzing its results.

I do believe strongly that good school leaders should be good teacher leaders and understand what the job entails. A school may have 30 teachers, plus a variety of other employees such as office staff, custodial personnel, lunch room help, Para pros and perhaps others. It can be a lot to manage, but good teacher leaders support teachers, employees ,school families and values those relationships.   I remember one principal  who remembered what the job of being a teacher was like! When August arrived and I was unpacking my classroom, she walked in, introduced herself to me and welcomed me to the building. Although she saw I had plenty of boxes to unpack and knew that the classroom was pretty much full of supplies that had been left, she said, “What do you need?” Since the district I worked for was cash strapped, I was kind of shocked. I said,” What do you mean?” She replied, “If there is ever anything you need, you let me know and I will get it for you!” “Really?” I asked incredulously. She responded, “That is my most important job as a principal, to make the teacher’s job is as easy as possible.” And for the time I worked for her, that is exactly what she did. I had another principal who was very similar. He would stop by my room almost daily and ask if there was anything I needed and  how things were going. Were there any problems I was having? He would also check on my family and inquire about my weekend. He said he believed in the “intuitive ability of good teachers.” Both of these principals also had community building among the staff as a #1 priority in their schools. They planned social outings for teachers to give them a chance to get together off the record and get to know each other better. They were also good at helping the school community grow stronger by encouraging social events at the school among the parents that were not always related to “school business.” When they organized these kinds of events and activities, they radiated delight in their jobs. Both of them related to me at different times that they loved what they were doing as much as they had loved teaching and couldn’t picture themselves doing anything else.

Another way that principals create community with school families is by helping to create a warm, welcoming and safe environment. Many schools now have extreme safety measures which are a necessity, but may be off putting. Parents often feel inhibited coming into a school building even though it is paid for by their tax dollars. To compensate for that, it is important that everyone in the office is extra communicative, kind and cheerful. Parents and grandparents should be welcomed as volunteers. I love being in a school where I see parents and grandparents working side by side with teachers, and research shows that it is important for children to see parent involvement as well. Parents may also be included in hiring committees when openings come up for leadership and teacher positions.

The principal must also be a public relations person. With schools of choice, charters, and other options for parents these days, even neighborhood schools have to sell themselves. Parents come in and request a tour of the building and a visit or interview with the principal. Although many things can sway parents in making their decision, if they are turned off by the person in charge, they may decide on another school.

The best principals I worked for were creative and encouraged creativity in their teachers. They didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk. We often heard “If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we always got.” But when push came to shove, nothing was ever changed. One of my most enlightened principals was a former art teacher, and the school environment reflected creativity wherever you looked in his building. Another principal encouraged creativity in classroom structure and curriculum delivery.   I suspect this kind of creativity will become more and more rare with scripted curriculums and data walls filling bulletin boards. As much as the term has become cliche, I also think principals should be lifelong learners and keep up to date on current research and educational issues. They should be readers and writers and model that for their teachers by encouraging book discussions , having subscriptions to professional journals available and they should recommend reading, both professional and for enjoyment. Just as teachers should know their students’ reading interests, principals should know the reading interests of their staff.

Loving your position as an employee of the public education system is getting harder and harder these days, which I believe is the result of trickle down bullying. Principals must be very careful not to become the bully they don’t tolerate in their school. Children do what they see modeled. Despite UNICEF determining that the United States has the second highest child poverty rate in the developed world, public education is bearing the blame for just about every problem in our country. This is coupled with less and less funding and more and more pressure on schools to solve our nation’s woes. The Department of Education is bullying states to comply with their dictates, the states are bullying the district administrators to raise their test scores and lower their budgets, the administrators are bullying the principals to do likewise, and the principals in frustration are bullying the teachers. With developmentally inappropriate standards now in place with the Common Core, and teacher’s salaries dependent on the results of high stakes tests that they have NO control over or input in, is there any doubt that before long this bullying will trickle down to the students? There are principals and administrators who support teachers during these times rather than trying to bully them into raising test scores. One of my favorites is John Kuhn, a former principal and now superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in Texas. He is a hero superintendent and is courageous in the current political war against public education. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFgrt95OD0U

So to sum things up, being a principal is a big responsibility and is an important and complex position. I firmly believe the most effective principal is one who has been the most effective teacher. Most of the same qualities that are ideal in a principal are the same ones that are seen in a well-managed classroom with a teacher leader who is in tune with the needs of their community of students and creative in delivering a researched based curriculum. Weigh your decision carefully. Continue to discuss your options with trusted friends and colleagues. Ask them what their thoughts are about the role of the next principal in your school and consider carefully if you can fill those shoes. Be courageous and good luck with your decision.

Sincerely,

Teachernut

 

 

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Dear Teachernut, What is Close Reading?

Dear Teachernut,

My first grade son brought a copy of a fable home from school. He said they had read and discussed it in class, but the teacher wanted him to do a “close” reading of the fable for homework! Why are we doing something at home that he already did at school, and what is “close” reading? What should we be helping him with?

Sincerely,

Curious Mom

 

Dear Curious,

I hope the fable was one of Julius Lester’s fables. His book Ackamackus, is one of my favorite books of fables. As far as “close” reading, here is my take on it. For the past few years, even though there is no research to support it, much of the emphasis on reading in the early elementary grades has been on reading speed or words read per minute. What the research does support is reading with prosody, which means reading with feeling, intonation and rhythm.   Regardless, in many primary classrooms, teachers literally sit with stop watches at the ready and time children while they are reading. If the teacher isn’t there with a stop watch, it may be a computer timing the student’s reading based on when they click the mouse. The student is given very little time to think while reading and has no time to make asides or ask himself questions. If you aren’t thinking while you are reading, you are just saying the words, like a performance. I suspect all this timing of children’s reading speed has led to many young students believing that is all that reading is, saying the words fast. Of course, what is important is that reading IS thinking.

There is now an emphasis in the Common Core State Standards on “deeper” levels of comprehension, although the words “close reading” are not specifically used in the CCSS. Unfortunately, this also seems to be leading to what I would say are some questionable practices, reading mostly nonfiction, reading the same material over and over, and questioning the writer and the writer’s craft, which the author may never have intended. I think another reason for this emphasis, and one that I agree with, is the importance of critical literacy in an age in which we are bombarded with information over the internet and we have to decide what it means and why is it being said. The writing may be framed in a certain way to encourage the reader to believe or think with the writer’s perspective. I often hear teachers tell students that fiction is made up and nonfiction is true, but all writing is subjective and nonfiction is really someone’s perspective on the truth. I recently spoke to a relative of mine who is an author and he said, “Reading is by nature a subjective experience. It is not only impossible, but pointless and actively harmful to attempt to divine the author’s so called purpose. Any writer I’ve spoken to and there have been dozens, knows that the reader will take away whatever meaning life has prepared that person to find.”

Close reading seems to emphasize rereading. I hope it isn’t the kind of rereading we did in my advanced English and literature classes where we read passages over and over again and dissected them for what we thought it was supposed to mean, rather than just enjoying the text, making our own interpretation and applying it when and where in our lives it fit. Instructionally, in the younger grades, close reading involves reading short, sharp and snappy selections of mostly nonfiction, and encouraging the reader to “ read between the lines.” In order to do this kind of inference, they must have some kind of prior knowledge of the material being presented or it is nearly impossible. In the case of your son, I hope his teacher gave him some background information on fables as a genre.

To help your child with his homework, I would read it with him and ask, “What do you think you should understand now?” You might also talk to him about any special literary strategies that might be used in the piece, not necessarily naming them all, but “WOW isn’t it cool the way the author picked a turtle to play that character? I wonder why he did that. Why did he say, quick, quick quick, instead of just saying it once? Why do you think he chose the word humongous, instead of big? Also encourage your child to make up their own questions about the reading to ask you. Let them be the teacher! It seems instead of teaching them decoding as a skill that has to be done rapidly and separately from meaning of the story , we should take a more a holistic approach and give children time to pause, reflect, and ask questions the first time they read it. In my opinion, reading instruction with students of all ages should be with books that engage them and instill a love of learning and reading. Let them pick the poems, passages and books they want to read more than once. I doubt I would be the voracious reader I am today, if in school I was made to reread everything over and over. Let me know how close reading works out for you and your son!

Sincerely,

Teachernut

 

 

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