Sunday, February 9, 2014

From "Relic" to "Expert"

The day before winter break, I was contacted by one of the media specialists for my school. She asked me if I and my team members would be willing to talk to the teachers on the next inservice day about the strategies we use to get our students to read so much. Apparently the students on my team are far ahead of the other teams in taking AR tests and they want to know how we did it.

When we got back from break, I was contacted by the seventh grade assistant principal. He wanted to give me a heads up. At the monthly  seventh grade English department meeting, he wanted me to talk to the the teachers there and outline my reading strategies. I was stunned.

As I went on at length in my last post, for the past three years I’ve not been a favorite of the administration.  I’m not as conformist as the principal would have me be. I’ve been looked at askance for not jumping on board with our restrictive and reductive curriculum, for trying to include methods I know--from experience and research--are better practices.

I have felt (and often still feel) like a relic from a bygone teaching era.  Now, when we are once more given a little free rein (not much!)--and I can use some methods I had been barred from before,--I am asked to explain how, when the school as a whole has a rate of 19% of the students taking an AR test, my team has a 72% rate.

A little background: until this year, English teachers in my school were required to use the students’ Accelerated Reader tests and goals as a grade, even though that is not what AR was designed for. I am not a big AR fan to begin with, but to blatantly use it in a way the company itself says it was not designed for struck me as especially unsound.

This year, we have stopped using AR for grades. Yes, we still had to make them take STAR tests and assign them goals. Yes, we still had to contact the parents periodically to let them know their child’s progress toward that goal. But, since we were no longer required to count the grades, it seems some teachers felt this meant that we should no longer push independent reading. At the least, many thought they no longer needed to push students at AR books.

But the central office still wants the kids to read and apparently can find no other way to figure out whether or not they are reading than for them to take and pass AR tests. They were irate at the low number of students taking AR tests. And we all know what rolls downhill.

The literacy committee had put together a list of incentives for reaching certain AR point levels earlier in the year. We had an AR kickoff rally (at the start of the second quarter). Then, nothing much. I helped to set up the incentives, but frankly I don’t pay a lot of attention to most of them. I am too busy getting my students to read.

What’s my “secret”? It is simple--really. I prioritize independent reading.

I start class every single day with at least ten minutes of Silent Sustained Reading, our WEIRD time.  I know the benefits of SSR and try to communicate that to my students. Minimum. I have a classroom library with over 1,000 books. I am very liberal with passes to the school library. I assign 30 minutes of reading every night for homework. I talk to them about reading. I keep track of my own reading where they can see it. I celebrate their reading. I assign a required minimum number of books to be read each quarter.  My team members and I decided at the beginning of the year that homeroom time and any free time in classes would be reading time. And we all enforce it.

Most of this is focusing on reading and not on AR. Yet, by shifting the main focus away from AR, I am still able to get my students to read. And as one student told a media specialist when asked why he was taking an AR test if it was not required, “I read the book--I might as well take the test on it.”


TiSC said...

Unfortunately, my post disappeared as I was trying to edit it. I'll try again.

I find it odd that the administrator wants you to present something that he will likely not allow be used.

I'm retired now, but successfully used SSR in my day, and saw others use it with amazing success. Your having a large classroom library is wise. Proximity of the books to the students makes a difference.

Something else I did, if you're allowed to in your school, was use rain gutters to make wall "shelves" where books were displayed face out. This makes the books more appealing to the students. You'll soon discover which are the high interest books. A benefit for you would be that you have two walls with permanent "bulletin boards"! They appeal to parents as well as administrators, and you don't have to bother with room d├ęcor. More time to work with your students or plan for them. Win/win.

Good luck with your presentation to the teachers. Please let us know how it goes.

Patricia said...

Way to go Art, it is like rain drops on rock - keep at it a little at a time and eventually you will create a Grand Canyon. (Hopefully in less than a millenium)
I used ssr daily and dear day once every two weeks.
Let me know how your presentation goes.
Pat Schulze