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Monthly Archives: September 2011
What’s your best advice for managing feedback on student writing? How can teachers make feedback effective, useful, personal … and still do it in a timely manner? Thanks.
Tell about what has helped you become a better writer. Did you have a particularly influential teacher? What kinds of class activities were useful to you?
My heart is with kids who say to themselves:
• I try but I still fail, and I don’t know why.
• If someone in my family doesn’t get a job soon, I don’t know what’s going to happen.
• I don’t like to read. I know most of the words but they don’t connect.
• My teacher has favorites. I’m not one of them.
• I go to a school with thousands of students and hundreds of grown-ups but no one talks to me.
• My parents check my grades every day and always find something to complain about even when my grades are all good.
• My friends are bad influences but I don’t know what to do about it.
• I’ve never had a boyfriend/girlfriend. Am I normal?
• I’d like to go to prom but we can’t afford it.
• My classes don’t teach me anything I need to know.
• I try to be friendly but people act like I’m not there.
• If my parent goes to prison, I’m not sure what will happen to my family.
• I’m angry and afraid I’m going to hurt somebody.
• I don’t have a computer at home so I can’t do certain homework like other kids.
• My teacher doesn’t like me and I don’t know why.
• I’d like to have friends but I don’t know how.
• I don’t understand math the way other kids do.
• Everybody tells me to take advanced classes but they’re so hard that it’s ruining my life.
• I don’t see where I fit in at school.
• When my teacher calls on me I’m afraid to answer in case I’m wrong, so I always say, “I don’t know.”
• I think I’m depressed but I don’t know what to do about it.
• My boyfriend hits me.
• My mom hits me.
• My dad hits me.
• I’m going to graduate but I know I’m not ready for college.
• There are people in my school who scare me.
Those of us who work in schools are surrounded by brave faces suffering in silence. Today’s challenge: Say, “Hello. How are you doing?” We might get an answer; we might not. Either way, a simple exchange like that can do more than the words convey as we let students know they are not alone and not invisible.
We can’t solve all the problems, but we can smile and say, “Hello.”
Our school has a huge number of students with very active reading lives! I thought that most students only read books when they were required to do so for school, and a certain amount of that reading was “enhanced” by SparkNotes. It’s not true. We have many, many, many, many students who enjoy reading, talking to each other about books, and hunting for their next good book to read.
Why did I have this misconception? Several years ago we had a school-wide “silent sustained reading (SSR)” program. It died a miserable, ugly death. Many students and teachers looked for ways to not do the program. This year, several teachers have introduced SSR dimensions to their individual classes, and in every case, it’s working extremely well. Students who have never read books are doing it and finding it rewarding.
It’s no big secret that our school’s English Department and numerous other school personnel read Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. That books explains how schools are killing a love of reading in four specific ways:
– Focusing on test preparation skills at the expense of reading instruction
– Overteaching books and sucking all of the life and joy out of them
– Assigning books that are irrelevant and too difficult for the students
– Not providing authentic reading experiences
I’m guilty of all of the above, but my eyes are open now. I’ll do better.
Another book has also influenced my thinking about students’ reading habits: Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. Miller is a sixth-grade teacher in Texas whose students read at least forty books a year and consistently exceed state standards in reading. Her students all do the same assignments, but they never read the same books. Her approach is highly successful in developing lifelong readers. Sixth grade and high school have obvious differences, but Donalyn Miller is on to something, and her ideas deserve consideration at the high school level.
I’m also inspired by Daniel Pennac’s “The Rights of the Reader”:
1. The right to not read.
2. The right to skip pages.
3. The right to not finish.
4. The right to reread.
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to escapism.
7. The right to read anywhere.
8. The right to browse.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right not to defend your tastes.
If we can somehow find ways to encourage students to exercise these rights, we will take huge steps in developing a culture of readers in our school.
So, to all of you readers, congratulations. You’re doing yourself a huge favor by finding time to read, reflect, and talk about books. You don’t have to be underground about it. There are a lot of you. If some people think you’re wasting your time, it says more about them than it does about you. Keep going.
If you’re a student who hasn’t yet found the book that lights your fire, let’s see what we can do about that. It’s not too late. We’ll gladly help you find a book that suits your tastes. Take a look at YourNextRead.com for some suggestions. Talk to your school or public librarian. They exist to help you find books.
For any parents who happen to be reading this: Please help your sons and daughters get books in their hands that they will enjoy.
As always, your comments and questions are welcome.