I taught high school English in a smaller rural school for 20 years and enjoyed almost every minute of it. Throughout my time there I always wished that I could help my students understand my love for learning and especially my love of reading and how the two of them were related. I wanted them to be able to pick up and book and enjoy reading as much as I did.
It seems like everywhere I turn lately, we are focused on data…collecting data, reading data, acting on data. Now, don’t get me wrong, I definitely see the payoffs to correctly using data. I think data makes us much more focused on our goals and it also helps us see where we need to change out actions in order to improve the achievement of our students.
We have been closely focused on our reading data since last spring when we realized our early learning students were not progressing as fast as what we might have liked. We asked ourselves what we could do to support and promote continued improvement in our young students and we have put many things into place that are making a positive difference.
There are a couple of important things that I feel can happen if we get too focused on our data and forget that a data set is only one part of an important picture. Data in itself does not tell the whole story of a student, or a classroom, or a teacher or a school. Most teachers and administrators will be able to tell you a whole story of the achievements and progress of each of their students. The story is very different for each student and is filled with ups and downs, celebrations and reflections and corrections.
The other thing that might happen if we become too focused on our data and is a loss of the love of learning I was speaking of at the beginning of this post. I have been doing a lot of reading lately about the love of reading and how important it is for our students and their reading achievements to enjoy books, see a purpose for books and reading and have opportunities to read just for the love of reading.
It is important for them to choose books that are interesting to them and to read them for enjoyment and not just for the purpose of analyzing or taking the story apart bit by bit in a quest to check for comprehension. It is also important for them to realize there are many ways to read a book and it is okay to enjoy a picture book no matter what your age. Not everyone enjoys fiction or non-fiction equally, so choosing our own books to engage in, opens up the opportunity to discover what we know, what we want to learn and how we learn best.
I used to read aloud to my students a lot. I didn’t really care if they were in grade 7 or in grade 12, I read aloud to my students frequently. I shared all the short stories that I loved because they had twisted endings, such as Shirley Jackson’s “Charles” or Roald Dahl’s, “The Landlady”. I shared my favorite authors and brought people in to read to my students often. I still enjoy reading to students any opportunity that I have. I start every year, as a principal, going into each of my kindergarten through grade 5 classrooms and read one of my favorite picture books. I have to admit that when a student asks me to sit and read to them or listen to them reading I can’t turn them down. It seems to me, like there is nothing else that should take priority in that moment and I can’t make myself miss the opportunity to connect with our student over a good book.
I was in one of our early years classrooms last week and they were just preparing for their first session of Daily 5 that morning. I watched one of our struggling readers grab his book bag with excitement and settle into a comfortable spot and begin to focus solely on his books. The funny thing was, he was not actually doing what the teacher had requested, but he didn’t even realize it because he was so focused on what was in front of him. For me it was a moment of triumph and made me very proud of his progress. Certainly a time to focus on the success and not the lack of listening.
I have distinct memories as a child being so excited about going to the school library. The rows and rows of books waiting to be read and sitting on the floor in front of Mrs. Walleen as she read aloud one of her favorite books. On some days when I walk into our school library and I am watching a class of students pick out new books, I can flash right back to those special moments I had as a young student.
My love of learning has a direct correlation to my father. He taught me from the time I was a very young child to love books and we would spend hours curled up together reading everything “Winnie the Pooh”. When I grew up and had children of my own, my father read to them and bought them many books. I carried on his habits by reading endlessly to my children, sharing all of those books from my childhood.
My father is in his eighties now and continues to make learning a priority, reading every day, sharing his love of learning with his grandchildren, searching out things to learn about on the internet, learning how to share using Facebook, following blogs and really the list would go on and on.
Since the beginning of September we have been doing reading groups with our grade 1 students every day. Our RTI teacher and the classroom teachers have divided them up into small groups of 4 or 5 students and every day at 10:30 they quickly grab their reading bags, find their leaders and excitingly go off for their reading. We have called it ROAR, which stands for, Really Excited About Reading and they are really excited. If for some reason we do not have ROAR, which is not very often, they are kind of miffed, and not very happy about it. They are reading for the love of reading and they do not even know it is improving their reading data. The other really exciting thing about ROAR is that we have been able to involve some of our parents and even some of our older students in leading our reading groups. It feels like a really community effort and I thank our RTI teacher who works endlessly to keep it going.
Even as I sit here right now writing this post I have a book that is calling out for me to continue reading. It is a joy in my life. I will always thank my father, my teachers and my librarians that instilled in me as a child, the love of reading.
There are countless things going on in a classrooms and schools everyday, but whatever we do…let’s not forgot to read for the love of reading.