Thursday, April 16, 2009

there's a problem here

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.


MightyMom said...

I was flat amazed when I saw kids anywhere from 10 to 18 years old bringing an 800+ page book into the Pediatrician's office to read while they waited....of their own desires!!!

The book that kid after kid after kid after kid lugged into the exam rooms?? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

all in hardcover because it had just been released the weekend before....I said then as I say now. Nothing that inspires kids to voluntarily read an 800+ page book can be bad!

(course then I read the series and LOVE it...)

I don't know how to take a middle schooler and inspire a love of reading in them. But I do know how to do it with a preschooler. And frankly, I think you have better results when you start with the preschooler.

Momma Roar said...

Having been a public school teacher, there is such a tremendous amount of stress to teach to the standards...and to keep these kids moving (no child left behind.) But the pressures of doing this causes things to be skipped...even such obvious things as reading fundamentals.

I feel for teachers - there is so much placed on them...and they can't go over the basics b/c they are supposed to be teaching the current year's stuff...and I think most school administrators take the position - the kids will get it.

I taught with some wonderful teachers who made a difference - but they had their hands behind their backs by a lot of political stuff.

I hope that you can find a way to reach them!!!! I love that you are so inspired to help them.

Christine said...

Reading skills are fundamental to learning other subjects. I find the fact that their reading skills are so poor upsetting. What will become of them? How are they going to make it through High School let alone University?

nancy said...

I really agree that you have a good chance of teaching a love of books and reading to a young child. With older kids, it's a matter of finding something that really turns them on. Like Sarah said, even if it's Harry Potter.

Steve said...

From your brother the school Principal...

Ours is not the first generation to have uninterested and poor readers. But our generation has made the problem worse by (1) greater tv watching than previous generations, (2) the lure and distraction of the Internet and video games which was unknown a generation ago, (3) the increased emphasis and pursuit of leisure in Western culture as compared to duty towards family, church, school, and society, (4) personal appearance and sociability has become more important than character which has resulted in reading being perceived as less meaningful because it is not a social exercise, (5) and because our culture does not esteem work and discipline and diligence as ends in themselves children will see reading as a negative, especially the kind of disciplined reading that homework often requires.

Kids who read most often have parents who read and understand the power of books in the lives of their kids. These parents work hard to (1) be routinely creative in getting good, fun, interesting, and captivating books into the hands of their kids, (2) encourage reading by modeling regular times of pleasurable reading, (3) creatively ask questions and discuss what their children are reading, (4) and to make books and reading as indulgent and joyful as the movies and video games and their favorite food.

A wise and inventive teacher can be a successful surrogate parent in getting kids to read and to enjoy literature.

Jamey said...

Yup, that's a problem. I am torn about this problem. I think it's a problem both at home and at school.

Our oldest is a great reader, above his grade level. He had a really horrible teacher in first grade and got behind. Not only did she not teach him the fundamentals but she was MEAN to him. He spent more time in the corner sitting in his desk facing the wall than he did in class. We pulled him out of that school and he never went back. I home schooled him for the rest of first grade. He went to 2nd grade and had a fabulous teacher who restored our faith in the school system (and humankind) and she went above and beyond to bring him to a current level of reading. We worked hard with him at home as well. We took regular trips to the library. We went on all kinds of field trips so he was practicing reading even when he didn't know the zoo...he loved the zoo and we would have him read the map for us and tell us where to go next and read all the little plaques at all the exhibits telling about the animals. One bad year at school with a bad teacher can do a lot of damage. He now reads above his grade level but hates to read. He is now in 4th grade and this is the first year that he has started to like school somewhat again. It makes me sad that he had such a bad experience even though I did what I could.

Our middle child has had great experiences in school and reads very well. He has never needed encouragement to read at all and will just come home from school read his book and never complain. He too reads above his grade level and loves to read.

Our youngest is in Kindergarten and is just learning the basics. I hope she learns to love to read like our middle child. She has had some difficulties in school but has a great teacher that I feel so blessed to have!

I love to read and I think once you can read and comprehend you can do anything. I think it takes a combination of a good teacher and good parenting to make a good reader in a child. Unfortunately some teachers shouldn't be teachers and some parents shouldn't be parents. And if you have a combination of the two it can be devastating. I hate to think what would have happened to my oldest if he didn't have a parent wiling to "fight" for him. And it was a huge battle for a couple of years. It was emotionally exhausting at times but it has paid off in the end.

All most kids need is one person in their life to encourage them and support them. I hope you can find a way to do that at your school!

barb said...

It is shocking,especially coming from a family of readers!

You can make a difference, Diana, and God will show you how.

It just takes one person to make a huge difference - like lighting one candle!

Interesting and insightful comments from your readers.

J-ME said...

I have been working in the middle school for the first time ever this year. I am with 6th graders and am also amazed at the skills they lack. Not only in reading but in math. Things I know they were taught in 4th grade, they act as though they have never heard of them.

The language teachers here sometimes devote a class period to just silent reading. The kids must have a book to read, and be reading during that time.

Of course some have the same book for weeks on end, while others do read and change books often. Oral reading is a real problem for many of these students.

It also amazes me that so many students do not take responsibility. They will be given a book report or special assignment for a class weeks before it is due, and then the night before they are just starting and are not prepared the day it is due....

I do believe much has to do with lack of support at home in many cases, but some kids just don't care. It is so sad to see that attitude in 6th grade (and even in 4th, where I substituted last year).

I wish all parents would understand that one of the best ways to increase vocabulary and understanding is to read, read, read to their children starting when they are babies!

have you ever heard of Jim Trelease? I heard him speak once. Excellent! He has been very active in promoting literacy.