The Missouri Reader
In my perspective, multicultural education should not focus only on minorities. All students are equally important, although different ...
Recently, I was purging some papers and found my reading philosophy written for my graduate class. I read it with a bit of nostalgia and some wince.
“I envision my role as a reading teacher as one who can help students get over their fear of reading. For so many struggling students, there is no joy in the written (or electronic) word; so, students will do everything they can to avoid reading. Some will not do homework, others will fail assessments and still, others may act out behaviorally – anything to circumvent the ‘chore’ of reading.”
Nearly five years later, I take issue with some of my own language and ideas. First, I no longer use the word “struggling” to describe readers. I had written a blog post for Literacy and NCTE entitled, “Struggling Reluctantly,” (http://www2.ncte.org/blog/2017/03/struggling-reluctantly/) that explains “those terms come from a deficit model of thinking, in which somehow these students will never become the readers we want them to be but, rather, will continually fail according to some district initiated benchmark or criterion.”
I have shelved “struggling” and “reluctant” and use “developing” to describe readers, writers, singers, artists, and thinkers. We are all developing at something.
While I still believe there are some students who want to “do everything they can to avoid reading,” I am now more apt to question the reading we are asking students to do. As an example, the first chapter of a typical high school Earth Science book is entitled, “What is Earth Science?” I’m not sure I’d want to read that chapter, either. The subchapters define and explain geology, oceanography, meteorology, and astronomy.
Instead of just reading the chapter, perhaps we could create cohorts of students who are interested in the various Earth Science topics (Geology Cohort, Oceanography Cohort, Meteorology Cohort, and Astronomy Cohort). Then upon studying their science, they could share their learning with their peers in creative and engaging ways.
In addition, I would argue (with myself) that students do not want to fail assessments on purpose to get out of reading. On the contrary, students want to do well and showcase the reading work they have done. However, I do concur with my philosophy about wanting to learn why my students don’t like to read or don’t want to read.
“Often times, students will respond with a simple, ‘I don’t know.’ But it is rarely that simple. Each student has a reading ‘story,’ therefore, one cannot lump all students together and say they don’t read because of one specific thing. Each student has their own ‘fear’ – whether it’s looking “dumb” in front of their peers for not knowing how to pronounce words, or reading haltingly slow or not comprehending what is being read; their fear is real and palpable.”
Their “reading story” cannot be ignored. Having one-on-one conversations with students about reading, albeit challenging, might help some students explain their reading story. Perhaps, asking students to write a personal letter to you explaining their reading journey could help you understand their story. Learning their story helps you determine the support they need in a respectful and relevant way
Finally, my philosophy included the creation of a judgment free zone – physically, mentally and emotionally – where their present reading is acceptable to move their reading forward:
“A safe environment can be achieved by offering students choice. In my Academic Skills class, students choose a silent reading book. When students finish reading a book, they write a Book Review and Summary. Overwhelmingly, I have found that students choose a book that is within their reading level or actually below their level. The goal is to get them to read and build their reading level from where they are. At least twice a quarter, we have ‘Book Chats’ and invite a guest to join us. Students are eager to read when they are not being judged and when they are able to begin at their level of ability.”
Today I am no longer in the classroom, but am an Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist at a large, urban school in Milwaukee. I am committed to helping teachers create a safe environment for students by offering as much reading choice as possible and by giving students opportunities to talk about books to an authentic and eager audience.
Take a few minutes and re-read your reading philosophy. Do you still agree with it? Do you need to revise it? If you’ve never written one, perhaps now is the time. What is your philosophy about reading and why is it important? What literacy goals do you have for your students and how can you make those happen?
After perusing my philosophy, I realized the updates I needed to make, but some strategies and pedagogical advice remain solid. I ended my philosophy with a vision of who I wanted to be: “a reading teacher who creates a warm, safe environment, one akin to an ‘academic family’ where the goal is to assist students in becoming the best readers they can be.”
What is your vision of who YOU want to be?
Peg Grafwallner is an instructional coach and reading specialist at a large urban high school. She draws on her nearly 24 years of experience and expertise to focus on engagement, motivation, and interventions to create student opportunities of learning and inquiry.
Peg's latest book is entitled, Lessons Learned from the Special Education Classroom: Creating Opportunities for ALL Students to Listen, Learn, and Lead is available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Learned-Special-Education-Classroom/dp/1475844263/).
What Does Your Reading Philosophy Say About You?