This post almost didn’t get published. It almost fell through a crack into the never-never. But just in time the safety net sprang into action and saved it from obscurity.
That may matter more to me than it does to you, but as an educator I hear too often about children who ‘fall through the cracks’, who fail to thrive in the school system, who miss out on the inspiration and timely support that would empower them on their journey to life-long learning.
Like those children, this post was an also-ran. It didn’t quite get it, didn’t quite reach the expectations. But then I read something that confirmed for me the importance of sharing my message.
You see, the love of reading is contagious. It can be caught from anyone, anytime.
However, it can just as easily be extinguished; and the danger of that happening seems to be lurking in school systems packed too tight with lists of must do, must learn and must achieve expectations.
I consider it imperative that teachers prioritize time for children to develop a love of literature and reading that will expand their horizons and create a worthwhile companion on the journey of their lifetime.
Here are 10 easy tips for keeping the love of books alive in an early childhood classroom:
- Read aloud to children every day, ensuring that a variety of books and genres are being read and shared.
- Have a great supply and variety of children’s books available: picture books, fiction and non-fiction, collections of poetry, beginning chapter books, funny books, sad books, books about animals, space, people . . .
- Display books with covers facing out and give them pride of place. Make a display of ‘favourite reads’.
- “Sell” books to children (you won’t have time to read them all) by showing the cover and some illustrations; by telling what they are about, what happens, and what the children will enjoy about them.
- Make a reading corner with carpet, pillows and bean bags that invites children to get comfy while they read.
- Provide time for children to choose and read independently.
- This can occur during quiet times set aside on a daily basis in which everyone, including the teacher, reads for 10 – 15 minutes. e.g. D.E.A.R. (drop everything and read) or U.S.S.R. (uninterrupted silent sustained reading).
- It can also be integrated into reading group or literacy centre activities.
- Share the enthusiasm for books by providing time for children to excite each other about the books they are reading in a sharing circle.
- Display books written by the children and allow access to them for independent choice. Include them in the sharing and ‘selling’ sessions also.
- Make a time to visit the school library for reading and borrowing.
- Invite other adults to the class to read to the children e.g. teacher-librarian, administrators, support personnel, parents and grandparents.
Let me know in the comment box a favourite tip of yours.
This week I have read some fabulous posts by teachers who are making sure there is time for joy and independent choice in their literacy classrooms. I will share these with you below.
The article that convinced me to share my thoughts was one that was not so joyful.
Written by Alexander Nazaryan, a first-year teacher, the article appeared in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times on July 6, 2014. He talked about not being able to meet the needs of his students and explained that it was not the fault of the students though, the fault was that they were mostly of poor and immigrant families.
He felt that asking these students to write about their own experiences did not have ‘the pedagogical value of a deep dive into sentence structure or a plain old vocab quiz.’
I was immediately struck by the similarity of a statement made to me by my son’s teacher thirty years ago. At the time I was leading an in-service workshop about teaching writing. I would have been talking about ways of engaging students in the writing process by giving them opportunities to write at length about things of interest to them; by encouraging the writing of a first draft to get the ideas down; by providing opportunities for redrafting, rewriting and editing; and opportunities for feedback by sharing their writing with peers; and by making the most of teachable moments through individual conferences with each student.
This teacher exclaimed that there was no way the children would be able to write anything of length as not one knew what a paragraph was, or indeed what a sentence was. The students were ten years of age and in their fifth year of school. I believe the statement to be more an indictment of the teacher’s inability to appreciate what the children could do, rather than an accurate estimation of their abilities. I knew for a fact that at least one student was more than capable of writing at length with a variety of sentence structures and correct paragraphing. I was certain he wasn’t the only one.
I am inclined to agree with Nazaryan that ‘Expecting children to independently discover the rules of written language is like expecting them to independently discover the rules of differential calculus.’
However trying to teach the skills of literacy through a barrage of meaningless drill and practice exercises in a joyless classroom is doomed to failure, and the children, sadly, will fall through the cracks.
What the children need, in my opinion and unlike that of Nazaryan, is a balanced approach. The skills of literacy need to be taught in a meaningful context.
That article and others, like this one from HuffPostParents about a year one girl who had to sit on the floor for weeks while her classmates sat at desks make me want to cry.
However it is not all bad, and there are some wonderful things happening.
Below are links to posts by or about teachers who are being far more inspirational to their students and other teachers on a daily basis.
Vicki Vinton, blogging at To Make a Prairie
Matt Renwick at Reading By Example
Steven Peterson at Inside the Dog
Julianne at To Read To Write To Be
Carrie Gelson at There’s a Book for That
This brings me back to the reason that got me thinking about cracks, and children falling through the cracks in the first place. This week’s flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications was to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a crack.
Here’s my response:
She willed the earth to open up and swallow her whole. But it didn’t. She just stood there trembling, attempting to hold back the deluge that threatened to engulf her.
She strained to remember, knocking her head with her fist. Quick. Try. Try. What’s the rule: i? e?
She stammered an answer. Wrong again! Too many rules! Stupid rules! Broken – just like her.
She fled, eyes stinging, mouth twitching; and as she passed, with one hand grasped the confiscated unicorn sitting askew the teacher’s desk.
Away they flew, the assault of mocking laughter fading far below.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post, including my flash piece.