Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Radical Idea About Reading in School

I'm looking at the New York State Common Core ELA Curriculum, Grade 7, Module 1: Overview. For now I'll set aside that this is the first step to a state-wide (and then national) curriculum. Instead, I want to examine one thing about this module and propose a radical idea.

The module concentrates, for eight weeks, on the reading of the novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. It is 128 pages long, based on a true story, written by an award-winning author, and looks fascinating, but one thing that bothers me:

It's 128 pages long and we are supposed to be reading it for eight weeks. 

Eight weeks means about forty ELA class periods. 128 pages over 40 days is 3.2 pages a day. That's a tad slow.

There are other things going on over eight weeks. Dozens of activities, writing, chart completion, and other things to enrich the reading experience.


Here's the thing: this is all about teaching a book at kids. It's not about reading or writing, it's about teachers being accountable.

My radical suggestion? Let kids read.

3.2 pages a day is slogging through a book, chopping up the experience. It's meant to ease the teaching of the book so that students can "get" it and then, God willing, parrot things back on the test.

Today, I had students read for a half hour, each reading different books they had chosen. Some went through 30 pages, some fewer, some more. During the last minutes of class, we put in bookmarks and talked about how things were going.

They did not use terms such as theme, setting, or plot, though many talked of characters and told the story (plot) so far. In two of three classes at least one kid said to another, "you've got to read this book!" One kid, whose bus was late, grabbed his book and said, "Yo, Mister, I'm reading this book now," as though I might stop him.

I work with kids who mostly hate to read. My theory is that they hate it because reading has been done to them. When I first ask them to read, they reflexively say no. The NYS Common Core ELA Curriculum Grade 7, Module 1 seems all about doing reading to kids rather than kids reading.

How about we let kids read?

I'm not sure of all the pedagogy behind my idea, but I'm working on it. I have no idea what standards this idea supports because I don't give a shit about the standards. Reading is learning. I know that for sure. Reading begets reading begets learning. Reading makes us smarter.

The Common Core ELA Curriculum Grade 7, Module 1: Overview is a reaction to the concern that teachers aren't teaching enough. It is designed to ensure that real learning occurs.

Real, real learning occurs at a pace other than 3.2 pages per day. This module stuff isn't worth eight weeks, it isn't worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars we're spending on it, and it isn't worth continuing the trend of doing reading to kids when we know that letting them read is so much more powerful.

I won't even get into what the document says about writing. Suffice it to say, it's not about kids learning to write on.