New to the field of education I have several questions about how to accomplish goals set for my students in order for them to be successful in their continued education and as citizens of the community I share with them. It seems that there are no concrete answers from the sources I have read in the past. There are just vague ideas that don’t seem to be supported by numbers but rather by good intentions. I am aware that the road to hell is paved with good intentions so I need to find concrete answers to help my students. I cannot simply hope for the best based on outdated or ineffective practices. The primary question that remains is: How can I assure that my students can transition from 7th to 9th grade mastering as many of the Common Core State Standards by which both myself and my students are evaluated?
There are 84 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) between 7th an 8th grade. Many of the standards have multiple bullets and all of them contain the ambiguous language of a politician that gives no actual stance on anything. I reviewed some of the reading and language standards with my counterpart at my Jr. high school and we had a difference of opinion about nearly every other standard based upon the language used describe what we require our to students master. It was a frustrating eye-opener to say the least.
Over the past 30 years researchers have suggested that reading volumes of books in independent reading helps students to increase both fluency and comprehension, yet, school systems fail to follow the research and teach archaic practices that often persuade would be readers to conform to a system of assimilation where test taking skills that reflect the process of elimination of easily – teacher-friendly – scored assessments supersede one’s ability to think critically. At the same time teachers are pressured to create and defend scores and grades that represent student reading abilities.
What seems to be the result are a series of activities that can be mass produced and scored on a simplistic rubric. The work book/sheet becomes the easiest means for a teacher to evaluate a student even though workbooks/sheets nearly completely skip upper level Bloom’s and Webb levels. Essentially, kids are not being taught how to think critically because there is no room for critical answers to simplistic questions on short fill in the blank pages. We seem to be skipping the important steps.
So what works? Well the research supports independent reading. Children that allowed to select their reading materials are more likely to become life long readers. They are more likely to continue reading during the summer months where many other students fall behind at the rate of nearly one grade level every two years (Pearson 175). With this slide in maintained reading level by the time students enter middle school many read at a 3rd-4th grade level. What does this mean? Well “60 percent of America’s inmates are illiterate and 85 percent of al juvenile offenders have reading problems” (celebratesmart.org). Essentially, in order to standardize grading and instruction we are creating criminals. This coupled with the loss in tax revenue and the increase in social services is crippling our nation. Does independent reading matter? I’d say.
According to Coleman and Pimentel, “… texts should appeal to students’ interest, and should, at the same time, cultivate their knowledge base along with a joy of reading” (Pearson,171). We need to offer our students texts that actually interest them while pushing them to increase the difficulty of the texts that they read. We cannot rely on text books with a mixture of suggested pre-approved questions and answers to excerpts of the same texts that students didn’t want to read 30 years ago.
Rural students are less likely to continue reading after school due to diminished value placed upon reading (yalsa.ala.org). In smaller communities such as mine there is less value placed on reading than creating a solid work ethic required to operate and maintain ranches and farms. Libraries are more scarce in rural settings and often have limited hours of operation which further contributes to the already diminished value and poverty also compounds the lack of interest.
Yalsa.ala.org noted that students in rural areas are most likely to become life long readers if they are permitted independent reading in a media of their choosing. Books cannot be the only answer. We must use digital media along with magazines and newspapers to bring our students to reading. We cannot wait for them to discover it on their own because it is usually too late for many. The high school and college drop-out rates along with the ever rising prison population prove this every year.
We need to lead our students to as many troughs of reading water as possible. We need to increase the value of reading in our society so that students will be encouraged to read at home. Scholastic.com says that, “…independent reading, both at school and at home, builds successful readers. What’s more, the research shows that giving students a say in what they read is key.” We need to get them reading and keep them reading at all costs so that their skills increase. As student reading levels rise they also learn to write more effectively. Using independent reading texts as mentor texts for writing will increase both student engagement and student productivity. In looking at CCSS, it seems that nearly all of the reading and language standards can be met by having students select texts and responding to them answering higher level Bloom’s and Webb questions.
“Open a World Of Possible | Scholastic.” Open a World of Possible. Web. 31 Jul. 2015. <http://www.scholastic.com/worldofpossible/>
Pearson, P. David, and Elfrieda H. Hiebert. Research-Based Practices for Teaching Common Core Literacy. Print.
“SMART-Infographic.” SMART-Infographic. Web. 31 Jul. 2015. <http://www.celebratesmart.org/reading-is-critical-infograph/>
“You Are What You Read: Young Adult Literacy And Identity in Rural America.” The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults. N.p., 2015. Web. 31 Jul. 2015. <http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/2015/04/you-are-what-you-read-young-adult-literacy-and-identity-in-rural-america/#more-302>