Working with middle school students in a school for the past six months has taught me a few things. It's funny, I've worked with middle school (and some high school) kids for nearly 10 years and felt like I knew just about everything there was to know about this age group. I knew something about how the pressures of school, and the social environment within, affected the student, but working in a school has given me even more knowledge and a better understanding of the average American teen.
There are a few things that bother me, but due to the projected length of the post, I'll only post on one at a time. The first one is the fact that a majority of students do not read.
A recent classroom period was spent helping students with their book reports, which were to be visual in some form. After hearing remarks about reading and about books over the previous months, I decided to do an informal survey. After assuring them I wouldn't say anything to the teacher, I simply asked them if they had actually read the entire book they were doing their report on.
My informal results showed that 75 to 80 percent of the class did not. Of those who did not read all of their book, some claimed to have read most, some said they only skimmed the book, and even more said they read the back of the book and a few pages here and there (mostly at the end).
When I asked how they then could write a report, their answers were just as varied. Many had looked up notes online, while a few had either read their book before or even seen the movie. And many had said in so many words, "the teacher doesn't expect much."
This bothers me on more than one level. I can't help but wonder what the teachers know and what they really expect from their students. I think it sends a pretty clear message that a student doesn't need to work very hard on these kinds of assignments. And the biggest; most students don't like to read, and thus, read at a lower level than where they should be.
I have listened to students read from their text books or from an article that we're all working on, and I am flabbergasted at how poorly some students read. I'm talking about eighth graders here. Students that are about to embark on high school. And they can't read the most basic text without sounding out each word or stumbling over simple words or just skipping over words claiming they don't know them. My thoughts... shocking!
Of course, this is not every student. There are a minority of kids who read very well, or at least, proficiently. And it's no coincidence that those who read well are the ones who read their entire books as assigned.
So, I have a secret wish; I want to help kids become readers. I don't think I alone will solve the problem I have stated here, but maybe one day this experience will allow me to be part of the solution. I just don't know how to do that at this point. But maybe some day I will.