Why Read Aloud?

I grew up surrounded by books. My mom was a kindergarten teacher who turned our biggest bedroom closet into a library. I can still hear the metallic sliding sound of the sliding closet door.  Every night I would go into that closet and pick out some books for my mom to read to me. We did not do this because I had a reading log to complete or a book report to do. It was just simply what we did.

LISTEN TO THE MUSTN’TS

Shel Silverstein

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be

When I think of childhood, I think of Shel Silverstein. My mom read A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends over and over to me as child. Many I can still recite from heart for even after reading a different book, I would beg for one or two poems. When I could read on my own I would lay and read his words over and over letting my imagination go wild.

My father read books too, but mostly nonfiction. Books about golf swings and basketball plays were his favorite. I have written a lot about how influential my father was over my life, but when it came to reading it was always my mother who did it. Now that I am sitting here thinking about it, I cannot think of one time in my life where my father read a story to me. Though I guess he must have at some point.

I do remember my older brother Matthew carrying a book with him all of the time, even to the Thanksgiving dinner table. My father would yell at him to get his nose out of the book. But, my mom’s influence sunk in and it sunk in deeply. My younger brother Gregory went on to be an English major in college too.

Reading gets so much focus in today’s schools, yet this focus has caused education to stray away from the actual act of reading. Kids are asked to do so much that there is little time to read. Whether it is a worksheet of comprehension questions, a reading log, a journal entry, a book report, a project or a test, little time is left to read or to be read to. By middle school, where I have spent most of my 12 years of teaching, many students haven’t been read to in years. Once I figured that out, I made a point every year to read at least one entire book aloud that was simply for fun. No tests, no quizzes, no nothing. Just for fun. And let me tell you they loved it.

I am a lover of books. I am a teacher who required and motivated my students to read 20 books outside of class each year. Yet I find my second grade son’s reading log to be a thorn in my side. I read to him every night with his siblings, but making time for him and his kindergarten aged brother to read aloud to me every night is difficult at best. I talked to my husband about reading to them more and helping find time to listen to them read too. More and more my husband has been reading with them and I don’t think I have ever seen anything sweeter.

This past weekend my son read to my husband from his World History book, and they got into some very deep discussions about Roman soldiers.

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I guess reading logs are necessary in today’s society, though I wish there were a more organic way to encourage reading. It is so crucial for kids to see reading as more than just homework, especially boys.

Over the past forty years we’ve witnessed a marked increase in girls’ academic achievement. Unfortunately, there’s also been a documented decrease in boys’ academic achievement.

There are several theories about why this is happening, but perhaps the most compelling is the assertion that school, and reading especially, is being seen increasingly by young boys as a “feminine” activity.

Even though it’s likely our fathers did not read to us (Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, cites a study where only 10 percent of participants reported having fathers who read to them—see xxiv), fathers reading to children is one of the very best ways to reverse the academic ambivalence we’re seeing in young boys.

http://education.byu.edu/youcandothis/dads_reading_to_children.html

With a focus on achievement and standardized testing, schools run the risk of turning more and more children off to reading. This is especially true for boys who are often already difficult to motivate to read. Reading should be a million things such as fun, entertaining, informative, thought-provoking or helpful. But the problem comes when reading becomes nothing more than an exercise to prove one’s ability or the effectiveness of a teacher or school.

If every teacher started each day with a Shel Silverstein poem and every parent ended the night with one, we may not have a country full of geniuses, but somehow I think it would cease to matter.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

from the book “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1974)


There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

No….WE Raise NJ

The new coalition called We Raise NJ, headed by the NJPTA, was formed to add a different voice to the debate around the upcoming PARCC test in NJ. But really it is too little, too late.

Acting Commissioner of Education David Hespe, said back in October that there was no opt out movement. Maybe back in October there wasn’t, but the movement has been gaining steam ever since. The biggest obstacle has been ignorance. How can you warn parents who are largely unaware of the new education reforms and their impact on their children? How can you get them to pay attention, get educated, and rise to a call to action?

Well, it wasn’t a propaganda campaign of misinformation that did it or a small group of loud parents as the incoming NJ PTA president suggested in an article for NJ Spotlight.

“Her successor, incoming NJPTA president Rose Acerra, added: “There is a small group of parents making noise, but I think there are more who are looking up to us to give them information.”

More and more parents became involved because they are seeing the effects of the PARCC test first-hand. Their children are coming home with typing homework. Their children are being school budgets are being spent on technology upgrades to support this test. Their children are being test prepped to death with worksheets and pep talks. Their children’s teacher’s are stressed and that stress easily trickles down.

Acerra is wrong to suggest that it is just a “small group of parents making noise”, because more than half of the states originally slated to take the PARCC test have now declined to use it. When whole states are saying no to the PARCC, the opposition cannot be downplayed to just a few rabble-rousers. No one needs the NJPTA to give them information, because, though they help support essential school programs, they do not deal directly with educating students.

Parents need to hear from administrators who feel comfortable to speak candidly. Superintendent Michael Hynes from Long Island published an OP-Ed piece about the dangerous direction of data-obsessed, mandate-laden education reform.

Parents need to hear from experts in the education field about what exactly is developmentally appropriate for their children. Parents need to hear from teachers who are not afraid to lose their jobs, like those threatened recently in Philadelphia to not speak with parents of their students about testing concerns. Parents need to talk to their pediatricians about the AAP’s recommendations to limit screen time and the impacts of early and extensive use of electronic devices.

“We’re cautiously optimistic with the test, but we’re watching it like everyone else,” said Tyrrell, who lives in Neptune Township. “Unfortunately, we don’t know all the answers until after we give the test,” she said. “I think a lot of people are preemptively judging something without seeing the results.”

Maybe former NJPTA president Debbie Tyrrell is content to just “wait and see”, but many parents have already seen enough, particularly those parents who are also teachers and administrators. Sample tests are posted online, so what the test entails is no secret. T

Many parents do not want to give one more dime to the testing company, Pearson, until they know the results of the federal investigation into their business practices. They do not want their children to sit through a minimum of 9 hours and 45 minutes of a test as an experiment to see what happens. They do not want their children educated in the narrow confines of test preparation. They do not believe that a test with confusing and convoluted questions will provide any more enlightening information about the intelligence or ability of their children.

And let us be clear that they do not want the NJPTA to give them more of the same song and dance that they have heard all along.

WE Raise NJ…not the NJPTA, not the legislators, not the education commissioners, not the companies or their C.E.O’s, not even the president.

It’s time to listen to those who are the closest to the kids.

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Activism in Education: Looking Beyond the PARCC

As the dates for the test get closer, it becomes less and less likely that NJ will join the many states that have bowed out of the PARCC. The conversation has turned to focus on how to compose a refusal letter and figuring out what each district will do with the children who have refusal letters on file.

In many ways, being a part of this movement has been inspiring. I have watched more and more parents getting informed and asking tough questions. There are so many Facebook groups that have formed on the national level such as “Opt Out of the State Test-The National Movement” (14,000+ members), the state level such as “Opt Out of the State Standardized Tests-New Jersey” (5,000 members), and at the local level such as “Ocean Township Cares About Schools” (177 members).

These groups have helped to disseminate research and articles. But they have also helped people to connect with one another in a very powerful way. No longer do people have to feel like lone rangers, but they can draw upon others for strength and support. It isn’t one person against one principal or superintendent or school board anymore. Through social media, the movement was able to start and continues to grow.

Radio stations like 101.5 have engaged in the conversation. Jim Gearhart has been instrumental in giving parents a platform to voice their concerns on his talk show. Newspapers both online and in print, have run articles and editorials giving the public a glimpse of the debate raging across the state and country.

This week there is a round of public hearings scheduled where people can register to deliver testimony about their views on testing in NJ. This will no doubt lead to even more media publicity for critics of the PARCC test, which will lead to even more people joining the struggle.

But the real impetus for parents will come when the PARCC starts and their kids struggle.

The test is too long. Many of the questions are too confusing and developmentally inappropriate. Many children do not have to typing or PARCC-specific computer skills to succeed. Pearson may not even find enough graders to score the test, since the company has resorted to advertising on Craigslist.  When those tests are scored, many are going to fail. And I was rooting for sit and stare, simply because the debacle it would have created would have further escalated the demise of the PARCC.

In a nutshell, the PARCC will in all likelihood implode itself without much more help. But what then? Does anyone really believe the obsession with testing and data-mining will end there? Education is a lucrative business and as long as it stays that way, our children are in jeopardy. This grassroots parent movement cannot just be a movement, because movements start, they grow, and then they die.

Diets don’t work, because they are not permanent solutions. To lose weight and keep it off you have to make a lifestyle change. The same goes for parents. You cannot send a refusal letter or shout at a few board meetings then go back to life as usual.

Just as high stakes tests will not eradicate poverty or give parents and teachers all of the answers they are looking for, ending them will not create a utopia in education. Our education system needs this activism to continue long after the PARCC test has come and gone. We need students, parents, teachers, administrators, board members, and politicians to keep talking, keep thinking, and keep moving towards one positive change after another.

It isn’t hard to organize a group of people against something that is detrimental to society, particularly with social media. But the real trick would be to get these people to then become a real resource for schools. These groups could share research, articles, and practices, then work together to put pressure on their administrators and school boards to adopt more progressive reforms. This should and could happen locally. We must stop looking to the federal government to fix everything.

If the goal is better schools, then simply rallying against the PARCC or other tests like it will not be enough. There has to be energy, effort, and activism put into alternative reforms and the best place to start are these small local groups that this fight has formed. Start the conversation by asking, “If we don’t want to see the PARCC in our schools, then what DO we want to see?”

What do you want to see in your schools? Please share in the comments below.

I know I want to see more field trips, more project-based learning, and more science and social studies in the elementary school curriculum…and that’s just for starters!

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