Can we just read today, Miss?


Reading Workshop drawn by Maggie D.

      Sometimes I think we teachers are just getting in our students’ way with our anxiety to address specific  and isolated reading skills. Looking at the Des Cartes continuum from MAP testing, at Standards and Benchmarks, gives one an illusory adult’s eye view of what reading is all about, a deceptive sense of authority over the terrain. From our lofty viewpoint we plan out our campaign to conquer figurative language or appositive phrases, steering our classes on a journey driven by our concern to cover the far flung curriculum objectives, rather than one driven by each child’s desire to find pleasure and meaning in what they read.

The child’s experience is ant like. The reading journey unfolds page by page with the story. Here the teacher’s viewpoint is irrelevant and marshaling children to read the assigned texts and corralling them to read books at their prescribed reading level creates an artificial geography of intellectual AstroTurf.

Reading is exploration, an adventure through unknown territory. While at times readers trek alone, other times they follow hot on the trail of friends’ recommendations. Sometimes they travel light, reading and re-reading easy books with predictable structures, gathering mileage on paper. Other times they are so motivated to read a particular book that, even if it were Everest to their current reading level, they will still attempt it and enjoy it.

I had two key guides on my early explorations. The first was my father, who took me to a bookshop or a library every week, and cannily offered to double my pocket money if I spent it on books! The second was my middle school English teacher, who gave her students free reign of her massive book collection, knew every book as an old friend and could recommend a book for every taste and mood.

This unstinting access to books, the sharing of the joy and fascination of reading, the building of a community of readers is the work that has to happen in my classroom. Let me follow my instincts and listen to the children,

 “Oh no, we aren’t going to have those endless worksheets again this year! Can’t we just read, Miss!”

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3 Responses to Can we just read today, Miss?

  1. Ginger Carlson says:

    This is such an important conversation! It is very, very clear that play and meaningful engagement are the ways for human beings to learn, and learn fully. I think it is a sign of a real master teacher who can know the “skills” that are involved and be able to incorporate them seemingly unconsciously into those moments when kids are engaging with their learning (and reading) in natural ways and address the concepts and skills where there are gaps (and clearly there are many kids who don’t have reading and questioning as part of their home life or somehow have other gaps that need addressing).
    But perhaps the biggest issue in education is time, our most valuable resource. Because that is a key ingredient for kids (and adults) to develop passions, and in turn become a whole human being in love with life. And books, lots of them. Thanks Penny!


  2. David Preen says:

    What a glowing declaration of independence for our children, and of young reader rights, And don’t we need one!! Especially in England,where curriculum edicts are mainly designed to create an illusory teaching and learning world- or an astro-turf as you,Penny, so perceptively picture it. We indeed consume so much precious time (children’s and teachers’) as we ‘map’, and we ‘deliver’ objectives: a world as mechanical as the post. And in England we do it all in ‘KEY Stages’. Curiously every stage is labelled key in a world of unrelenting tension. David


  3. David Preen says:

    All this reminds me of my own adventure in learning to read. As there was no school,because of the wartime bombing in Germany, I got to 7 and very frustrated. The only reading material we had been able to bring with us to Dinden where we were evacuated was a heavy tome of Grimm’s fairy tales.. I knew most of the tales by heart,word perfect. So one day I sat down with the book on my lap and declared: I can read, and read aloud. The trouble was , I had the book upside down and my brother noticed and,of course,everybody laughed. That was it, as if by magic I was reading in next to no time. With the book the right way up I soon learned to match the the words on the page with what I was saying,no doubt with help from my mother. The words seemed to jump from the page and it really did seem like magic to me. Of course German is mainly spoken as written and does not present the pitfalls of English pronounciation. Nevertheless the desire to read is the greatest motivator just like you learn to ride a bike or to swimm because you really want to.
    From Magdalen


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