Sunday, December 18, 2011

Liking and Hating Have No Home

After reading Kelly Gallagher's Readicide this week, a metaphor of shopping for a house has been working itself out in my head.  I wondered how many of my colleagues or parents of the kids I teach have the read the book, and wondered how many would if asked.

I wondered how many of your colleagues or parents of the kids you teach have read the book, and how many would if asked.

Without the proper perspective, we can all make terrible decisions when shopping for a house...without the proper perspective we can all make terrible decisions when teaching/encouraging young people to be readers and writers.

Immediately put-off by the color of the walls, the furniture itself, the layout, the curtains and the lighting, we judge and we leave.  If we don't give ourselves the time and freedom to explore the house (free from interruptions of color or ceiling fan style) beyond the surface issues, then we are more apt to dismiss it.  Next.

Because of state-mandated tests and the pressures and expectations associated with them, we hand drill-and-kill worksheets to our students to measure what they read--we make our students stop every chapter to reflect on a topic or quote in a dialectical journal--we regard a piece of writing from a student only for its errors in punctuation, grammar, and usage.  When we don't give students the time and freedom to explore the text (free from interruptions of who, what, where, when, why) beyond the surface issues, then they are more apt to dismiss it.  We are building test-takers, not readers or writers. Next.

Will someone provide the proper perspective, and teach us how to look at a potential home if we aren't receptive to it?  Are our discussions about a house centered on I didn't like it (based on the surface issues and our initial reactions)?  Can we take a step back and consider the real issues:

a. are there cracks in the ceiling or walls?
b. how old are the appliances and how soon would they need to be replaced?
c. what is the condition of the roof, the furnace, the windows, the air conditioning unit, the water heater?
d. is there dampness or mold anyplace?
e. did you turn on the faucets or flush the toilets?
f. how many amps of electricity are run into the house?
g. is there adequate storage and closet space?
h. does the layout work for you if you have children?

Will someone offer the state some legislators some perspective, and enlighten them to encourage teachers and parents to regard their child as a flesh and blood reader or a writer and be receptive to it?  The students are not numbers in their mother's arms, and when they are face to face with a teacher they are human beings--not numbers.  Pressed to find avenues to increase our state test scores, many of our discussions about reading center on "my students/child didn't like the book?"  Because if a kid likes a book then he must understand it...if he understand it then something good must be happening...and so we dwell on like. Can we take a step back and consider the real issues:

a. are your children reading for recreation, free of sticky notes, worksheets, and quizzes?
b. how many classrooms have a book flood--high interest books which students can borrow?
c. when do your children have time to read for pleasure--at home and at school?
d. is literature over taught--do you stop every five minutes to discuss it?
e. did you overemphasize the trivial at the expense of the meaningful aspects of the work?
f. are students asked to read a balance of difficult and recreational texts...authentic, real-world texts as well?
g. are the same students mired in remedial reading each year?
h. have we designed our reading and writing practice around NCLB and state-mandated tests?

None of the points about the house or the classroom or home reading practices are about style.  None are about how one polishes a house, an essay, a literature discussion or worksheet and prepares it to be seen and enjoyed by an "audience"...our family and friends and neighbors.

Liking a book should not be a part of the discussion--I know every student won't like or understand every book.  That is what a teacher is for--we're there to help them through the difficult and challenging literature, to see the big ideas, and relate it to world they live in now.  "It's not the difficult novels that are the problem; it's how they are taught that is the problem," Gallagher writes.  Reading (and writing) are rehearsals for the big ideas that will follow, inspire, and interfere with human beings all our lives.
Teach them how to see the book properly--give them a frame to begin with, guide them through some of the difficult passages, but then let them free to build up their own reading stamina.  Don't get in the way!  We don't have to apologize for students not liking a book or if a student is challenged by a book.

Whether or not a student likes or hates a book is no more relevant than liking the paint color of a house--that is what a paint brush is for.   Liking and Hating have no home in our classrooms.

As Gallagher notes, "These finding remind me of the words of Lev Vygotsky, who said, 'Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them." (53)

We are the teachers with the tools in our belt--consider adding Readicide to your professional library--hand it to colleague, an administrator, a parent.

August Macke -artist

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