LouAnne Johnson shares her experience with her past students and how she fosters the desire for personal growth with her students in this section of Teaching Outside the Box. Mrs. Johnson always takes the time to connect with her students in order to understand them and build trust with them. She explains that any student can be a “disenchanted” student as her former students desired to be referred to as above “at risk students.” It is funny to me that we continue to promote a certain level of disdain towards our students by giving them negative labels that imply the unlikelihood of success, but that is a discussion for another time.
Mrs. Johnson shares the simple technique she uses to build trust with her students as nothing more than having a conversation with them where they all share about why they love or hate reading and why. She discovers that many of her poor students have adapted in ways to make them appear to be capable readers. They memorize large amounts of information, mimic and agree with other strong readers, and they are skilled at reading body language and using that skill to judge if the response they are giving is correct.
I totally understand how these students are able to make teachers believe that they can read well enough to progress to the next grade. Like many of Mrs. Johnson’s students, I barely read anything prior to graduating high school. I could read but I hated it. In third grade a teacher nearly ruined me as a learner for life. I still dislike reading because I struggle with it.
LouAnne Johnson lists some of the most common reasons that students avoid reading. That list runs from making their eyes hurt, to fearing that they will provide the wrong answer and a strong dislike to sub coming to authority.
She goes on to explain the solutions to the student provided reasons. There is a great deal of provided in the remainder of this chapter from accounts of her experience to scientific evidence that many students with learning deficiencies are sensitive to light.
One part of this section that really hit home with me was where she talked about students being placed in the “slow group” (179) and how that made them feel stupid. The slow group consisted of the struggling readers in the class. Many teachers divide their reading groups in order to make accommodations for their students not intending to harm the student. I know from experience that it does not feel fun to always be placed in the slow group because you don’t read fast. I was almost always in such a group though I usually tested at or near the top of my class.
We must be wary of our students experience and have open conversation with them in order to promote a safe learning environment where students are willing to read and learn.