Friday, September 26, 2014

Why Are Your Students Reading?

I am lucky enough to be a mentor/curriculum coach for a group of first year teachers. We email each other, arrange group meetings, and share the occasional happy hour. Working with them has been a blast. Their questions and passion challenge me; they challenge me to think of my own practice, especially my teaching philosophy.
First year teachers rarely have a coherent philosophy about teaching grounded in practice, theory, and research. I know I didn't. I just hoped to keep my head above water. Philosophy helps teachers not get bogged down by the small day to day of the job. Which reading strategy to use? How to head a paper? How to collect papers? There are much bigger questions and opportunities for teachers. 
If I can communicate that my decisions are informed by more than survival, I can communicate how important it is for them to develop their own philosophies, to think more big picture.

Recently, I received an email about guided reading strategy. I responded with some of my favorite strategies, gave a few links, and then wrote this at the end.
Then my final bit of advice is the following--Why are the kids reading? What end does it serve them? If they are reading for something, meaning to figure out an engaging, interesting question or to answer a project they see the relevance and are much more willing to by in.
 Those were my exact words. I didn't even edit for grammar.

The next time we met, I wanted to really emphasize this. Students will commit to reading, and see its purpose, if they are motivated. I don't mean by free pizzas or stickers. Students crave relevancy. Students crave purpose. Give it to them.

Make reading part of larger questions and problems. Make reading important to kids. This is the connection to teacher philosophy. Think BIG! Support grand ideas, support passion. Don't assign a chapter so you have a lesson (loosely defined) for the next day. Don't give the section review for the sake of creating homework. Have students read to solve problems, to make discovery, to be part of innovation.

As Seth Godin writes in his great e-book Stop Stealing Dreams, "When we associate reading with homework and tests is it any wonder we avoid it?"

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