During this time of reflection and intense activity on Social Media over race in this country, we need to seize this opportunity to teach our students how important learning to read and write well is essential.
The last several years have brought to light the need and movement to provide diverse books to our students of color. This need is real so that all of our students can imagine themselves in the books we share and read in our classrooms. I hope we are sharing success stories for our students as well as the stories of struggle through current events. I want them to imagine themselves as successful and fulfilled as well as understand the struggles of their lives.
I want them to see how being well-spoken and well written can lead them to a better life where they are more respected by their peers. These reciprocal processes build upon each other continuously. One criticism of our current president compared to the previous one (Barack Obama) is that he is not well-read or well-spoken. He is not taken seriously and often considered an embarrassment.
Educators need to seize this opportunity to help our students become well spoken and well written to equip themselves with the knowledge to be perceived as articulate, leading to respect and admiration. We have to use the “now” as a bridge to help students see how reading and writing well, can help them get the things they want in their lives.
Cornelious Minor puts this thinking front and center in his book “We Got This.” (Heinemann 2019). He says, “The first thing I have to do is be clear on the actual skill I want to teach kids, not just the activity I want them to complete.” Tasks or activities do not go deep enough at times to challenge students to adapt their thinking and help them practice the processes of thinking while relating it to their lives. He also states that he wants to build “a bridge between what we are doing in class and the lives that they lead outside of class. I want to be able to show kids how each skill I teach in class makes life right now, better outside of class.” I have been trying through several blog posts to show how actual reading and writing need to be authentic in our classrooms to get kids to engage and commit to it. We cannot choose tasks just because they are easy to grade or pretty to show off. We have to choose a task that requires real acts of thinking and then doing essential reading and writing.
I chose to lead off my June session of e-learning with two articles about the protests gripping our nation right now for my 5th-grade reading group. I choose an article from NEWSELA, “We’re sick of it”: Anger over police killings shatters U.S. Next, I chose an article and video from the Kansas City Star newspaper talking about our local mayor. He joined the protesters in Kansas City. I got the following response out of an ELL student. This response we creative and real for her, not an expected response elicited from a pre-packaged program that does not know my students as I do. This response was an improvement from what I usually receive from her. It was creative and authentic.
I wrote a blog post about putting emotion back into reading instruction. We have to make sure that what we teach is emotionally engaging for our students. Minor addressed this extensively in his book. A student’s interests usually help fill a social need, in and outside of our classroom.
He also helps paint the picture I have been trying to paint for everyone for a few years. I have been very outspoken about how reading tasks are just that a task, and they can not be a replacement for actual reading and the thinking reading requires. I have written about this in previous blog posts. In this post Teaching Reading Skills in isolation, I describe how the task of asking students to look for similes using the words like or as, is a meaningless task. It does not hold true to the skill I want readers to understand and notice in reading and use in writing. Which is you can use metaphors and similes in speaking and writing to help you make your thinking, point, or idea clear to others. It would be more meaningful to teach students about language and how we can use it to elevate how we are perceived and respected or admired by our peers and others. The language used in our speaking and writing helps us achieve status now and in the future. If we can get kids to see this as we teach students to use similes and metaphors in their writing and speaking, it becomes meaningful.
I also reposted an interview with Minor from the Two Writing Teachers Blog. He also speaks there of how you have to not only plan for students’ futures but help them take what you are teaching and use it now in their lives. Reading tasks that required kids to fill out graphic organizers have become way overrated and do not require kids to do the thinking required as readers. We have to bridge the gaps and cause reading and writing to be relevant to kids’ lives now. We must do so authentically not with glorified tasks that reduce the hard work to something more comfortable to complete, but robotic in nature. Our classrooms should not be a vacuum from kids’ lives outside but a bridge to becoming stronger. We can bring in their lives that are chaotic and messy, with thoughtful and reflective lessons as we watch and listen to them. Their behavior is a language of its own. We can do this and still have our students hold to the learning environment we are creating that is a safe place. I urge you to read Minor’s book if you have not and grow your practice. This is a link to my blog post on My Thoughts on Transfer,” which links you to a Heinemann podcast featuring Minor. We have to set students up to transfer what we are teaching to use in their lives.