Evidence of our failure as teachers

Our school gets very high test scores, especially in reading.  We’d like to think that we are successfully growing readers.  However, today I saw the difference between growing readers and forcing kids to learn to read.

Every student in our school knows the meaning of SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) and a school requirement is that every student have 30 minutes every day to read self-chosen books.  Often the teachers also read during this time to present a powerful model of what engaged reading should look like.  We are pretty good at shooting the off-task student a look that silently says, start looking like you are reading.

At UDS, students may choose SSR if they want to, but no one will force them to do so.  Quite a few actually do choose this option.  However only a handful seem to do so because they really want to read.  Instead the SSR corner seems to be the preferred hangout.  It has been funny to watch the various permutations of what the kids do to “look like” they are reading.  Today one student cleverly propped up her book to cover her face and fell sound asleep.  Others wedge themselves into a tiny corner between two bookcases, just to be out of sight of the teacher.  The gang of three like to take the daily newspaper back there–more surface area behind which to chat.  This is all funny, because they could just write sleep, chat, gossip, or whatever they really want to do on their learning log.  One student was talking to the other teacher.  When I asked what she had written in her log, she said SSR.  When I pointed out that she was not reading, she proclaimed, “but I’m talking to the teacher.”  When I pointed out that she had not chosen that, she was quite indignant that she was reading.  Meanwhile, throughout the entire conversation, her book lay closed on the table.

My question to these students was “is that a book that you just love to read? One you just can’t put down?  If you want to do SSR, find that kind of book.”

There are a few who love to cozy up with a book and spend several learning blocks reading–but not enough.  We have become very good at enforcing reading behavior, but we surely have not grown lifelong readers.


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