Over the past three years as I have been working with my current campus to improve our instructional practices and move from a struggling school to a successful one, I spend a lot of time in planning sessions to help my teachers learn the ins and outs of planning effective instruction and in classrooms seeing them execute all we have worked on. I get so excited when I see students engaged in the learning, understanding the concepts, and wanting more! How could a teacher and/or principal not?!?! As high stakes testing has become even more powerful in my state and the public’s perception of public education, I do fear that we forget to plan instruction that is best for kids and that excites them to learn, and just focus on assessment result. More importantly, I fear that we take the FUN out of learning!
As a classroom teacher, I had a lot of training in both reading and math. Most teachers that teach 3rd grade or beyond like to focus on one subject area, but I preferred to keep my own kids all day and teach them all subjects. Yes, this was more work, as I had to commit to planning instruction for all areas. And, for me, my principal allowed me to take on the challenge, as long as students kept improving. I was excited about this endeavor, however, because it was a way for me to work to integrate reading and a love of literacy into all subject areas! I am a believer that if you can read and think critically, you can do most other things in life with a little content support…and I was able to prove this time and time again in my classroom.
What I did not share was that I usually taught some of the more challenging students. My principal assigned many of the behavior concerns to me (definitely NOT during my first year…yes, I do believe I ruined those students!) and I had the ESL/ELL class. At that time, we did not have enough second language learners at our school so we were not required to have a bilingual program. These students were assigned to me to learn English, along with all other content standards…without any foundation in their native language. How did I do it? I developed in them a LOVE of reading!
I learned to read at a very young age…I was 4 years old and Sesame Street was my teacher. As I sat in front of the television day after day…because who really attended pre-school back then…I was very motivated to ensure that I knew more than they did on that show…yes, also very competitive, even way back then! Reading came natural to me, and as I grew up, it became a way for me to gain experiences by reading about everyone else’s adventures in books. I used to get into my closet as an elementary student, with a flashlight and a good book, and stay in there for hours reading. When my sister and brother were old enough, I would bring them in along with me and that is when my career as a read aloud teacher began! What this did for me was teach me how to begin my journey as a reading teacher…we would read the story, I would ask them if they liked it and why, and then we would talk about the book. Although my brother continued to struggle in school, especially in reading, when my daughter was born, I would catch him doing the same thing with her…when he thought I wasn’t looking!
So, as I became a teacher, I knew that I wanted to instill a love of literature in my students. I would say things like…boys and girls, when you open this book, I want you to pretend you shrink down to a 2 inch person and jump right into the pages…they thought I was crazy at first, but they soon learned that I meant that thinking like this would give them an opportunity to “experience” the book as a character in the setting of the pages and enhance their understanding. I would challenge them to answer what if questions about books where they would have to create alternate endings or change the responses of characters. I would assign them to groups where they would have to work as a team to promote or advertise the book (Reading Rainbow was always a favorite of mine) without giving away the endings. AND, I always worked to ensure that literature was connected to all other subject areas, whenever possible! My students left me each year loving reading…and other content as well…and wanting a list of books to read over the summer so they could continue to keep up with all of the GREAT books out there! Even now, as a principal, I read to students whenever I can. This year, as my students enter the building in the morning, grab their breakfast, and wait for their teacher to enter the classroom (they wait quietly in their assigned hallways) I pick a grade level and do a read aloud in the morning. I pick a 5th grade group to read one of my all time favorites to (time permitting, of course), which is From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It is such an old book with so many references to old items students have no clue about today…but get so motivated that they do online google searches when I leave so they understand what is being read about in the book.
Over the years, I see that when we begin to worry too much about test scores, compliance issues, or what ever other political influence in out there…we forget about bringing good literature into our classrooms. Even when Kimber took over her kindergarten classroom this last December and we found a box of Math literature books that related to all skills she is required to teach students this year (and she is using them…and kids are LOVING them!), she wasn’t quite sure about how to incorporate the books into her lessons that her team provided for her, but once she did, she learned how important literature can be to children as a bridge between all content areas.
Teachers…my advice to you is to READ to your students! Read every day! Read in reading class…read in math class….read in science and social studies class! And read real books! Online is fine, but there is nothing better than books that you can hold and maneuver! Books that kids can pick up when you are finished and read them again and again! Books that introduce topics to students in all content areas…hooking them into the rest of your lesson!
Below is a list of online resources for you to find GREAT litature for your students! Sparkle on, my friends!