Teaching

The Merry-Go Round of Literacy

I just finished commenting on a blog post by someone who makes claims of being a literacy expert. The blog submitting that allowing children to choose their own books gets them reading.

Frankly, this is the most empty idea floating around the literacy education world. Common sense tells us that a child will never be able to choose a book if he or she doesn’t have the skills to read the title. This notion that if we just lead children to the fountain of books and they will magically drink heartily of lovely literature, is so obtuse that it merits my disdain!

How many times have I had to re-teach children who’ve been told to sit in front of books and read without any instruction in the skill of reading? How many tears have I wiped from the forlorn eyes of distraught parents who believe the their child has a reading disability and on a last stitch effort come to me for the miracle. How many times have I, in fact, delivered on this miracle, only to have the classroom teachers and reading experts in schools neglect acknowledgement that some outside source taught the unteachable to read.

I created a video to prove that teaching kids to read, in kindergarten, beyond expectations is possible. I show actual proof because I placed the children in front of books in November and asked them to read. They could not. Then in June I placed them in front of the same books and they could in fact read the books. So far, only a few have viewed that video, so I’m linking it here;  hopefully more will take the time to witness the miracle with a desire for the truth.

How sad it is for those of us who have the miracle of synthetic phonics in our teaching abilities to watch literacy experts flounder with nonsense and poorly designed curriculum. Our hearts break for the teachers, the children and the families who will suffer due to dysteachia.

A few years back I was teaching kindergarten in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The school was in the heart of Bushwick and was not in the least gentrified. Parents sent their children to school to learn, they did not assume the position of chief teacher, but trusted the teachers to do so.

It so happened that year, that a parent who was struggling with her two boys and her home life, had her little boy removed  from another kindergarten classroom and placed in mine. I had had her other son in my class and she was determined that I teach her youngest as well.  Her previous son was a challenge but I eventually got him set on the right track. This little boy, however, was 10x the challenge of his brother. Every time I turned my back, he was either under the desks, drawing on his desk, hiding something inside his desk, hitting children, throwing things or hurting himself. The mother did not know what to do with him and though she tried disciplining him, he was strong willed and resisted her good intentions. I had her utmost confidence that I would turn him around. Honestly, this child was a challenge even for a seasoned teacher like myself. One day, however, this little guy, hurled a crayon at one of my best students. The crayon barely missed the other child’s beautiful little eyes. I was so angry that I finally told him that from then on, he would answer to me, I wasn’t going to go to his father or his mother-I was his last stop.

I’m telling you all this because there was absolutely no way that the parents of this child were leading him to the the fountain of books; the reality was that these parents were barely hanging on to each other and their children. They both had a tough life. So when reality meets the classroom, these lofty literacy notions that we can just place our little children in front of the books they love and they’ll start reading is so foreign that it’s laughable. Teachers who are in the trenches of difficult urban classrooms know what I’m talking about. Most parents who send their children to our urban schools don’t have the time, the education or the wherewithal to lead their children to literacy. That job, as it should be, is placed squarely on the shoulders of the classroom teachers.

Now back to the story of this little guy; with the right instruction and a strong, firm teacher, he learned to read, write and spell. In fact, his handwriting was so beautiful that at the end of the year he was helping the other children and was honored with accolades from classmates for his work. His reading was so advanced that he was able to read with my top reading group in my classroom. Most importantly, this little guy learned to respect himself, school and learning, He enjoyed reading and his behavior, though not perfect, was so much better. This overburdened mother couldn’t stop thanking me. She was right to have him placed in my classroom, I did not fail her nor did I fail her precious son. After kindergarten, this mother wisely placed both her boys in a no-nonsense charter school which would carry on the discipline and structure her children needed. So, there you have it.  That little boy is in the featured video I have included at the end of this blog. See if you can guess which one he is, if you’re a perceptive teacher you’ll probably be able to guess by the way he behaves in the Fall snapshot.

If you claim to be a literacy expert then I’m sure you’ll be encouraged and elated to view this video which shows that literacy is possible for all children whether they have the magical formula of astute parents who guide them to the beautiful bookshelves or not.

I’d also like to leave you with another video by my friend in Australia, Alison Clarke of Spelfabet entitled What’s Wrong with Predictable Text.

If you have the time, that video is well-worth a view. Alison is spot-on!

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

4 thoughts on “The Merry-Go Round of Literacy

  1. I’m glad that you found my blog inspiring. I’m sorry that your inspiration was to make my simple ( and short) point for young parents about how kids need to participate in their own development as readers into a sufficient straw man to beat your own drum. Next time please use all of your fabulous teacher qualities and actually read the contribution to which you plan to respond.

    1. Actually, I want to thank you for taking the time to comment. I actually like your website and think it is a nice resource. In fact there are some children who, though not taught directly, will figure out the code themselves. Sadly, the children who are in the most need, those who have little to no support at home and won’t have that support, need good, solid instruction.

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