"What's wrong with this society?"
"Children need more play time."
"We've lost our Moral Compass."
"My child's phone is an appendage!"
"Are you using data to play that music/game?"
Do these sound familiar? It seems that they all relate back to electronic devices. As a teacher, we saw a decline in how children held their pencils and how they wrote after the computer, handheld game sets, and tablets came to be. We witnessed children trying to use their fingers on desktop computer screens instead of using the keyboard. There were many children coming to school with weak motor skills. Children were playing video games instead of playing with play-dough or paint.
At home, we are letting our children watch more tv and play more cell phone/iPad/computer games than ever before. I live near a park and will see children in their stroller watching videos on devices while parents have earbuds on listening to music or talking. They are not engaging their child in speech. Our children learn from us. They need to learn to communicate with us.
How sad is it to see both the young and the old on devices while out to dinner? Conversations are centered on the app or the video they are looking at. If there is a conversation. Where are the questions and connections about the day, relationships, school, etc…?
Parents have gone away from messy projects at home as well and letting technology babysit their child. They don't let their children play with finger paints, playdough or sandboxes. We have become such a "clean" society.
Did you know there are people making money on YouTube producing videos where children watch someone else play with play-dough or paint? This is ridiculous.
Don't get me wrong technology is great and it is very useful in our society. However, there are growing concerns with its use among children.
Recently in my readings, I came across an alarming statement, "Literary reading in America is not only declining rapidly among all groups but the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young" (NEA 2004, vii). The Washington Post in an article from last fall shows a further decline of readers based on the NEA from their 2015 research. The Washington Post, as well as Ellin Oliver Keen and Susan Zimmerman (Mosaic of Thought, p 31), share the same conclusions. Electronic media is taking away from reading. Where we once read literary fiction now we read Facebook posts.
What does this mean for our children and our future you ask? When you are not reading you are retreating from participation in our society. They include this as civic and cultural. The less reading we do the less empathetic we become. If we are less empathetic are we not less tolerable as well? Isn't this the landscape around us currently? We have fallen asleep on our devices.
There are studies that show reading helps us to learn how to see things from a different perspective and, helps to understand how someone else feels. Comprehending through inferencing what we read also helps us to problem solve for ourselves. Reading helps engage us in conversations. Those who read the most tend to become leaders.
Are we on our way to becoming a society like Disney portrayed in Wall-e? So self-absorbed in our device that we are not seeing our world imploding around us.
We need to take back control. We need to set the example for our children and grandchildren. We need to be readers so they will be readers. We need to be engaged with our future.
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced in October of 2016 new guidelines for parents:
Among the AAP recommendations:
The AAP also designed and has given access to the public to view, create and use a Media Plan. You can create a plan, and read more about advice based on your child's age at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx .
The Washington Post article mentioned above can be found at:
Plug your child into a book. Put down the device and step away.
What do we mean by reading comprehension?
Let us begin with Allington's article, "What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers". Right off the bat I am taken aback that there is research that states "…every child could be reading grade level by the end of first grade. The bad news is that almost no schools in the United States have anything in place that much looks like what the research says young children need to become engaged reader." WOW! The main question in my head is how is this possible? The article was published in 2013, is it still true 4 years later?
He is right on the button, we are led in education not always by best practice and pedagogy but rather as he states "buy our stuff". In my years of teaching I have seen some "bad stuff" that schools are stuck with because the district or even the principal was swayed by the publishers great sales person. I also understand the need to have professionals working with struggling readers and finding funding that is being spent in the wrong places to get true reading specialists or training to teachers in "targeted professional development".
However, I must disagree with eliminating paraprofessionals from instructional roles. In my classroom I could not focus on the those who struggle nor could I individualize my teaching for all the abilities in a first grade classroom without the help of my teacher assistant. She is a vital part of our day. I have trained her well and given her strategies to help me help the students. I think training can be provided to train paraprofessionals to assist teachers better. However, if more schools employed professionally and expertly trained reading specialists then maybe we could achieve that.
I do think we are not preparing teachers to work with struggling readers as we should. Go back 30-28 years and what I remember from my undergraduate reading course was NOTHING on how to work with children who struggle. So perhaps we need to do a better job of training our teachers and providing them with the tools they need to be successful with these students. If the research supports that we need more experts to work with the children then by the same we should be able to use these experts to help us teach our teachers. Why is not every school hiring true reading specialist? Funds need to be allocated for these positions. Our schools are under such pressure to perform on assessments that we have likely lost focus as to what the reading specialist is there to do. If we utilized our reading specialist/coach to the maximum then our teachers would be better trained allowing then our reading specialist to serve his or her role as a true support to the school team.
We also need to educate parents more. I fear that the electronic age of convenience is disrupting our education and as Keene and Zimmerman write, "Electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable devices, have increasingly drawn Americans away from reading books." They continue to speak of a problem that is leading to the decline of reading.
But this throws some questions out there. How as educators do we compete? How do we make parents understand the importance of putting the devices away? You can't go into a restaurant, or a park even and not see a child on a device. It is alarming to read that this will lead to a "retreat from participation in civic and cultural life." Are we becoming a "Wall-E" society?
What do we mean by reading comprehension?
After reading more words in the last 9 days than I have in the last year I am tired. But thank goodness that I am reading about comprehension strategies because it is truly what is keeping me focused and organized with all the verbiage and ideas the authors share. I am making a conscience effort to apply the strategies so that I am understanding what I am reading. I am not use to balancing 4 text books, articles and a read for pleasure text.
There were so many AHA moments while reading the selected text books. Some of the AHA moments were pleasant ones "I knew that!" Others were AHA not bueno moments "Wow, I didn't look at the impact of reading in that way."
As a current first grade teacher comprehension to me has been a part of reading fluency. If a child reads with prosody, at the appropriate rate, with little to no errors and can answer some comprehension questions about the passage then BINGO. Such child is reading fluently.
Comprehension isolated to me has always been and taught as:
- the ability to identify key details
- re-tell the story in your own words
- make inferences about the text
- understand the author's purpose
It seems the authors use different vocabulary but use the same common thread in defining comprehension. Harvey and Goudvis, Strategies that Work, have the most straight forward and likely most traditional definition of comprehension. They identify the meaning of comprehension as not only understanding what you are reading but also about what you are learning. Keene and Zimmermann, Mosaic of Thought, define comprehension as understanding ideas that are not only found in the text but in the world. Cummings, Close Reading of Informational Texts, extends the need to comprehend so that the person reading can learn how to solve real life problems. This hit my like a ton of bricks. Honestly, Cummings is right here. There is an absolute need for children to learn to problem solve. This was absolutely one of those AHA moments.
But it all goes right back to Harvey and Goudvis, " The purpose of education is to enhance understanding," (p 15). If the purpose truly is to understand then education must be composed completely of comprehension including comprehension of cross curricular areas in education. The need for students to really learn how to comprehend now becomes magnified. The purpose of reading is to understand and to learn and in doing so connecting what you are reading to your knowledge that exists and if not ask questions. These are essential life skills. A student must be able to comprehend in Science just as he or she does in Math or ELA. These strategies are not limited to ELA or Elementary. Our teachers across the space of education should all be incorporating this in their teaching, especially in those elementary and middle school years when the exposure to science and history concepts and vocabulary is being introduced.
A common theme was noted for teachers to model the behaviors of a good reader. Show the students you can leave tracks in your reading. Think out loud the questions you might have. Write notes down or vocabulary you might be unfamiliar with or even about something interesting that may have caught your attention. Comprehension is far more complex than I ever gave it credit for. I understand now that not only can I teach decoding, reading, writing but I can simultaneously incorporate comprehension for better understanding. How true that what we have been focused on is really comprehension assessment rather than instruction. I hope as we continue to read through these texts and articles I can find the best way to not only get the teachers onboard at school but also to figure out the best way to show student growth in assessment. Because unfortunately all roads in education still lead us to assessments.
As I lay awake at 1 am unable to get the to do list of my school work and my classroom school work out of my head; I reflected on how I was built to teach. If I write about laying the foundation of a reader then I must also write about the foundation of a teacher.
I always knew I wanted to teach. I played school all the time. But, as I grew older I thought of other things that might be more adventurous or exciting. I started off as a Broadcast Journalism major. Three semesters later I switched to a Psychology major. I truly was fascinated how the brain worked and the connections emotional, biological, and environmental. Then, in 1989 I met my hubby. Soon after I met him he introduced me to someone I would come to love with all my heart, my nephew. Brandon was 2 years old when I met him. He was so much fun and had so much energy. Brandon was also born with Downs Syndrome. I knew the moment I met him I had to go into Special Education. I needed to learn how to help children like him become successful and integrated members of society.
In 1989 we were still very backwards in our politically correct terminology. My B.S. degree actually reads Bachelors of Science in Exceptional Education specialized in Mental Retardation.
My first job out of college was at Robert E. Lee Middle School (I know what you're thinking). I taught a combined class of 6-7th grade students who were labeled Educable Mentally Handicapped. I learned a lot about teaching then. It made me a very strong teacher. I literally had 0 materials to which to teach from. I had middle school boys predominantly and they were bussed in from the inner city. I had to really capture their attention every day. Did I mention I was teaching in an old Home Economics classroom that had been shut down and had asbestos?
I went on to teach at Lee the following fall. I was moved to a portable then. I had a class of approximately 18 students with Varying Exceptionalities (Learning Disabled, Behavioral Disabled, Mentally Handicapped, Autistic, etc…). Plus these children were also ESL/ESOL students. They spoke very little if any English. I think these early years were my formative years. I learned so much about so many disabilities. I learned how to multi-task and of course continue to perform with little supplies. But I would not exchange my years at Lee for any other assignment. I learned as much about myself as I taught those children. I learned that I had to make sure I taught these children how to survive in the real world. And I learned quick how to adapt to what life throws at you.
For some children that meant just even learning to write their name. They were 14 years old and incapable of writing their name. No one had taught them. Someone in the earlier years determined that these children were handicapped so there was no reason to give them any tools or teach them very much. After all what could they amount to be?
It is gut wrenching now as a mother to know someone gave up on someone's child or perhaps even the adults responsible for that child had also given up on them. I couldn't do that. I knew that they could be taught something. Even if it meant they could at least write their name and read signs like Exit or Emergency. It also meant trying to show those who were LD that they could totally take control of their lives if they took the time to capitalize on their strengths and address strategies to live with their weaknesses. Every life is a gift and has a purpose. Everyone!
To be continued…
Before we can take a journey into literacy we need to lay the foundation to start from. Parents have read to their children starting from the time they are in the womb. We know that reading to our children early on and exposure to books will help build a reader. The more our children read the better readers they become. In fact, articles have been popping up all over the internet, newspapers and magazines claiming that studies now show reading makes you not just a better reader but also a happier, nicer, smarter and more of a leader.
I remember reading to both my children while I was pregnant. My husband would also read to them. Being a teacher and a fanatic of books I knew that I would read and expose my children to books from the moment they took their first breath. We read to our children day in and day out. We read when they sat in the tub and when they sat on the potty. I can recall when my oldest daughter, Sofia, started talking. Her first word was "outside" followed by "broccoli". She always had an extensive vocabulary as a young child. It likely came from a Mary Engelbreit book my hubby read to hear nightly. I still remember vividly when my husband ran into the room to announce our daughter had read to him.
She was barely 2.
I asked him to describe what she did. So, he demonstrated. He held the book out and read the words and she started "reading" them with him. Now, I know she wasn't actually sounding out the words. She had memorized the words and pictures just as you would to a favorite song you listen to daily. So was she reading?
Well, kind of. You see reading is built upon. She was learning the connection between the words you speak and the words you see. She was learning that you follow the words on a page. She was beginning to understand the connection of the pictures to the words. The connections were being built. The foundation was being laid.
If you want to build a reader you need to read to your child and your child needs to see you reading.
The end of a school year is bitter sweet. As a teacher I am more than ready for a few months off of lesson planning, grading and behavior managing. However, I have vested so much into the 22 students in my class that it really makes me sad to have to part ways on the first of June. For some children it is also tough to say goodbye to their teacher.
This school year started off rocky. I won't lie. It was a tough dynamic of children. My assistant and I looked at each other those first few weeks wondering how in the world we would bring this group together. I prayed every night for God to help me be the best teacher I could for these children. I prayed He would light my path and open my heart and mind to this challenge.
I equate this class to a book you pick up with no knowledge of what it will be about. The first few chapters I wasn't sure where this was going. I knew I would have to push myself to keep delving into the characters. By mid-year I was hooked. And now, like any good book, I don't want it to end.
These students has become a close knit group. They know each others nuances and know how to help a friend when they need it. They have become a family. My family. Our family.
One of our end of year projects is to write a letter to our Kindergarten friends telling them about the adventures of being in First. One friend today was struggling with his writing. I called him over, when he bows his head down and says...."Mrs. M. I can't write. I have water coming out of my eyes." I knew this specific student has been struggling with the end nearing as well. I hugged him tight and told him not to worry, "You are forever a part of my family. You can visit my classroom anytime." He looked up with his big brown eyes and said "I can never forget my 1st grade teacher."
And this my friend is one of the reasons I do what I do. I love my job. I love my classroom family. I think there maybe water coming out of my eyes in 10 days too.
12 days and counting...till the natives break free. I am talking about the teachers of course not the students. The end of the school year is like running a marathon when you hit that wall and you know you're not far but it seems like 10 miles before you see the next mile marker.
Today our team planned the last the 2 weeks of school. It's pretty crazy when you lay it all out. Lot's of celebrating. All that celebrating is because these firsties have worked so hard to get to where they are but the other part is just letting out the built up excitement for summer.
One of our celebrations is our final Book Buddy meeting. Our firsties and their 5th grade buddies have been getting together since the beginning of the year to share in the joy of reading. Over the past school year the 1st graders have built up their reading skills and abilities while the 5th graders have brushed up on their comprehension skills. At the beginning of the year many firsties can't read a picture book at all so the buddies help them decode, and read to them as well. As the year progresses the buddies begin to let the firsties take off with their reading and start coming up with comprehension questions for their story. They might ask them about the character or setting. The buddies have also been taught to make a text connection and relate the story to their firstie.
This has been a long tradition at our school and I am glad that it continues to evolve. Do you have any book buddies or similar programs at your school?
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner