This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Shawna Safreed
Education is being shaped by test preparation. It is a stark reality that every educator is faced with each year. While we try to move forward and teach students how to think, read, and write critically, we always come back to the reality that we must prepare our students to take standardized, mostly multiple choice tests. In doing so, we, unknowingly, are contributing to the fact that we are leading students to a deterioration of a love of reading and a decrease in a love of writing. Even knowing this, we continue teaching the same way because the standardized test reality looms in our classrooms and the influence of scores weigh on us. We choose cookie-cutter stories coupled with mundane multiple choice questions because it prepares them for the test. Reading is the absolute foundation for future learning, but are we neglecting developing life-long readers in our classroom?
As a result, authors like Kelly Gallagher, author of Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, and Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisper, sheds light on the issues and requests a transformation in the way we teach reading and writing. So, I pose a dire question as we take on this shift to form a love of reading and writing again in our students’ hearts: HOW do we transform our students from test-takers to life-long readers?
1. Teach students how to find a good fit book. When students tell me that they do not enjoy reading, it is truly because they have not found a good fit book. They are used to standard reading material that is found in a literature book. They have not found a book that interests them, so of course, they do not enjoy reading. Line your classroom with books, and have students “shop” for a book. Have a book pass in your classroom, take a field trip to the library, and know their interests. Spark a new love of reading in your students by igniting a new passion of reading in your classroom. They feel our enthusiasm, so get excited about reading yourself!
2. Be passionate about reading and writing in front of your students. Our students feel our enthusiasm each and every day, whether we realize it or not. When our students can see how much we love reading and writing, we inspire them! Share with your students about what you are reading! Each week, I place the novels I am reading on the board. We have conversations about them, and they can sense my passion and enthusiasm for reading. In doing so, they then will tell me about what they are reading. We become excited together, and I become a role model for them as they develop a love of reading. They are eager to tell me about their novels just as I am eager to tell them about what I am reading.
3. Create the reading experience in your classroom. Reading should be comfortable, relaxing even. Encourage your students to move from their desks to a cozy nook or corner in your classroom. The culture of reading at individual desks needs to be broken. Encourage your students to read under a desk or on a comfy chair. Most importantly, as the teacher, YOU should be reading too. You are the reading role model, and I assure you that your students are watching you!
4. Ditch the literature book! We have formed our reading instruction by routine, mostly ordinary literature that does not aid our students to develop a love of reading. We couple that literature with traditional graphic organizers and questions that are uninspiring because, again, we know we must prepare our students for a standardized test. Encourage students to read on their interest level, introduce novels of substance, and empower student choice.
It is time for a dramatic shift in education in the way we teach reading. It’s time to think outside of the literature books and inane multiple choice reading comprehension options. Ultimately, we are preparing our students for life--to be lifelong learners outside of our classroom walls, so we must think and act differently. Learning is a direct correlation of reading; reading is the foundation of learning. It is time to move forward, take a stance, and create and nurture a love of reading in our students’ hearts and minds.
Shawna Safreed graduated from West Liberty University in 2008 with a major in English Education 5-ADULT. Immediately after, Shawna pursued a master's degree in Technology Integration from West Liberty University. Shawna began a career as a teacher in Ohio County School district in 2009 teaching 6th-grade reading and writing. Shawna has been engaged in learning more about the history of Wheeling and leading reading strategy groups within the county to help transform reading instruction in the county. She currently is a member of Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Shawna’s special interests include spending time with family, reading, and running half and full marathons.