Philosophy of Literacy Education
“I hate reading.”
This statement is something I hear from many of my Language Arts learners. It is always hard to reply to this statement, because it is usually the beginning of the year when the moans and groans of reading start rolling in and I haven’t gotten the chance to get to know my learners. Some kids would find great wisdom in the reply, “You don’t hate reading. You just haven’t found the right book yet!” To them, they think that the simple idea of not coming across that one book to change their life yet is profound. There is still a glimmer of hope. Then there is the reply, “Just give this book a chance. Trust me, it will change your life.” The kids being motivated by this reply have curiosity nudging them to open those pages. So, what about the other kids that might not see this glimmer of hope when it comes to reading? What can teachers do to help these kids flourish in literacy? And what kind of environment does all of this happen? I believe hope comes from confidence, and confidence is the inspiration teachers give to each of their learners. Through differentiation, relevance, and passion, teachers can reach those who need it the most. I believe a literacy environment can be created by more than just posters on a wall, but by the culture of a classroom that focuses on growth-mindset and student confidence through differentiation.
There are more reasons as to why people dislike reading than what they are willing to tell us. To some people, reading can cause stress due to the simple fact that they are not as fast of readers as those around them. This can cause embarrassment, frustration, and angst. Imagine seeing everyone move onto the next assignment after they got done reading, and you are still finishing up the first page. You begin to wonder what is wrong with you. You begin to feel rushed. You begin to not comprehend what you are reading due to all of this stress. Learners of all ages have different reading speeds. I believe in letting them go at their own pace, take the time to process the information, and reassure them that going their own pace is okay. After all, at the end of the day, they are reading. The fear of having to read out loud in front of your peers can also cause some learners to not even show up to class. Fearing embarrassment and ridicule from those around them, readers who experience this often feel pressure in regards to reading aloud activities. This stress becomes an obstacle for their comprehension skills, which in turn becomes an added worry upon them. Making reading out loud voluntary, or a one-on-one/ small group opportunity, can lessen any unnecessary pressure on learners and make the environment one where they can learn and grow without being frozen in fear. Though it is an important skill to be able to read literature for fluency, as well as speak publicly, modifying the same opportunities can help learners gain confidence. Gained confidence can help them become comfortable in whole group activities.
One great example of helping with fluency confidence is through the use of an iPad application called Dragon Dictation. I use this application in my classroom when we are working on our pronunciation of words and reading at a steady pace. Dragon Dictation records the learners as they read a passage from a story out loud on their own. The recording is then turned into editable text on the iPad and can show the learners how well their pronunciation was and if they may need to slow their reading pace down. Another helpful tool to use is the basic recording feature on an iPad. I have my learners record themselves reading out loud, and ask that they play it back to themselves to hear how they sound. This is a powerful practice, and can show learners what their strengths and weaknesses are in reading out loud. Just like a dancer needs a mirror to see what they can improve on, learners in education need the same opportunity. This kind of learning environment nurtures a positive, growth-mindset culture that gives everyone opportunities to grow and persevere. A learning environment is just as important as the practices that happen daily.
The learning environment can have a big impact on the learners within it, especially when it comes to reading. I believe the teacher should be expected to make the classroom a literacy-rich environment full of opportunities. Posters with words and writing on them, books for choice, options for adapting materials for some, and options to challenge those high-level readers, are some key environmental factors. Learners who can read the words on the walls, as well as ponder the ideas that go with them, are keeping that literacy environment alive. Though inspirational posters and parts of speech pictures around the room can help, another element to help instill a love of reading is the teacher themselves. The teacher should not only be inspiring and motivational in how they feel about reading, but showing it through examples and instruction. Teachers can take the time to read out loud to kids as they follow along, slowly letting the kids hop into the mix, and soon enough forming small groups. Independent reading and comprehension skills will follow and allow more opportunities. All educators should allow for their kids to conquer anything they can.
Being a Language Arts teacher for a wide variety of different level readers, it is always a triumphant moment when you can see one of your kids’ lightbulbs go off and watch them soar with confidence. Sometimes that is the only thing they end up needing. In my school, we look at data from the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test and the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA). From these data points throughout the year, we can determine whether a learner might be struggling when it comes to her/his reading scores from both tests. From here, we can further determine a plan of action by getting to know the learner inside the classroom. However, if not all readers are created equal, how can they all be given a chance to succeed and find their literacy potential aside from just taking a test? Two words: differentiation and choice. When you know your learners, their interests, their work ethic, their habits, etc. , you have a whole inventory of information to begin differentiating instructions and assessments for them. They are adapting to the skills being taught, while you are adapting to ways they can gain independence in those skills. Allowing them a choice over how they apply those skills gives them ownership and pride over their finished product. I firmly believe in differentiation in instruction and assessments in all learning environments. Why? Not all learners will thrive on tests. In my first year of teaching, I had a learner come up to me before a test and tell me he had terrible test anxiety, and would not do well on the assessment I gave him. He went on to tell me that if I gave him the chance, I could give him the test orally and we could have a conversation where he could have the opportunity to show me the skills he had gained. This got me thinking differently about how all instruction and assessments are applied. From that moment on, I worked tirelessly on developing different opportunities for learners to thrive and apply their skills. That also included reading. That then led me to a study I conducted for which I titled, “The Power of Choice”, which looked at how much success could be found in giving readers a choice over which book they read, and how they could apply their skills and knowledge, while the requirements all stayed the same. The products that came out of this study were incredible, and changed my teaching forever. Kids who I thought were shy chose to put together a presentation about their book and tell the entire class the elements within it. Kids who made entire models of the main setting of their book brought with them amazing artistic and creative skills. Kids who enjoyed the traditional book report did so in an impressive way, showing writing and comprehension skills I had never seen. They all read a book and thrived because of the power of choice and the practice of differentiation. It turned out that the more choice learners had when it came to what they read, and howthey showed me what they knew, the more confident they were in applying the skills we had been learning. Still, there have always been those reluctant readers. My mission was accepted, and I continued to evolve.
The rest of that year was devoted to research on differentiation, understanding by design, and developing more opportunities and freedom for my learners in the world of reading. For their independent novel projects, learners were able to choose their novel and apply their understandings in their own way, all while still adhering to the reading and writing requirements. For example, one student made a newscast video that had a script of the plot, setting, character analysis, and review of the novel she was reading. The script met all of the requirements for the assignment, and her creativity motivated her to work hard and grow from this one project. This was a big moment in this particular learners’ journey. She read an entire novel, identified all of the key literary elements, broke out of her shell and blew the class away with her “breaking news story. ” In the end, the hard work and triumph is what makes this all worth it. For some, reading a whole book is one of the most memorable parts of their journey.
I have learned a lot on my own journey to continue to find ways to inspire and help learners see their reading potential. No matter what the exact issue was, however, there had always been one factor that had been the deal-breaker when it came to my reluctant readers: confidence. When someone has confidence, they have hope and gain a belief about themselves. This belief can create a whole new mindset. I believe teachers should allow for learners to gain confidence in their reading abilities. This could be letting a student read a book at their own level of reading and comprehension (even if it is low), and slowly scaffolding reading opportunities with more challenging texts. Allowing learners to see their capabilities can be a powerful moment for them. There should also be options for learners to listen and follow along with texts, such as an audio book. It is almost like training wheels on a bike. With practice, you won’t need them forever. However, without them at all, you may give up before you even get on. Student choice in literature is also powerful, and can help learners become more engaged and "bought into" reading their book. Letting students read books while nudging them into more challenging texts has its own rewards. You will be able to see their passions and interests surface, and a new person may be forming right in front of your eyes.
All readers are not created equal, yet they all possess the ability to thrive with literacy skills. They just don’t know it yet. I have heard learners tell me they dislike reading, and my comeback I can’t ever get quite right. I try to have a literacy-rich environment, full of ideas to ponder and books just waiting to be opened. However, more than anything, I try to differentiate everything I do, so all of my readers can realize their potential and gain confidence in doing so. By the end of the school year, all of my learners will have read more than one book. They never believe this at first, but they sure do surprise themselves. There is nothing more powerful than taking one of the most important skills in life like reading, and showing learners that they are capable. Sometimes they just need the chance to be successful and to thrive.