10 Reasons I Look Forward to Going Back to School

Look Forward to School

Copyright Leonora Enking – Creative Common Licence

10. New school supplies

9. The classroom is a platform to advocate for justice (even though my professors warned me not to use it that way)

8. Working with people that care about more than the number on their direct deposit statement

7. Picture Books (duh!)

6. I get paid to read to children

5. I get paid to listen to children read

4. The stack of pictures my students draw for me every day

3. The light in the eyes of a child when they burst out, “I can read!”

2. Parents who say, “Thank you!” (sometimes through their tears)

1. Notes from my students that say, “I luv u!”

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School Literacy and Boys: Another Disconnect

Battle Bunny

Once in a great while a story comes along that blows the doors off the genre of picture books.

Battle Bunny is that book.  But not because my students (mostly boys) loved it.

This book is a brilliant commentary on the disconnect between literacy and boys.

Why?

Battle Bunny is really two stories. One is a spot on basil reader. For the uninitiated: basils are normally anti-action, blasé stories no self respecting author would put their name on. (But reading textbooks are littered with them.)

Scribbled into the book we find the second story; and it’s everything many boys love about cartoons and comic books (that publishers wouldn’t dream of putting in basil readers).

I can’t do this justice without showing you. So…

It starts like a basil. It’s cute. It’s clean. It’s SO “G” rated that I’m going to either fall asleep or be sick!

Battle Bunny inside 1

Then, “Alex” – the boy who owns the book – starts changing the story by writing and drawing on it.

Battle Bunny inside 2

Then he goes nuts, turning this boring tale into an epic adventure staring Alex!

Battle Bunny inside 3

Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett transform lame into AWESOME! In the process they amply illustrate why many boys couldn’t care less about school literacy.

It’s a message that scholars (see: DysonFletcher and Newkirk) have been touting for over a decade, but basil publishers are hesitant to act on.

The time is ripe. Thousands of  other “Alexs” are waiting for us to narrow the gap between literacy and boys… BRING IT!

Killing Them With Comprehension

Question Everything - Duncan Hull

Copyright Duncan Hull – Creative Commons License

Mr. Radley picked up students that irked him, transported them across the room dangling over his shoulder and dumped them in the trash. He plastered his bulletin boards with MTV posters, reeked like cigarettes AND somewhere between September and June he taught me to love literature.

Mr. Radley read books that had me hanging on every word uttered from under his handlebar moustache: My Bother Sam is Dead and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH figure heavily in my memory.

Interestingly, he didn’t ask a single comprehension question… ever. It was like going to the theater: soak in the performance, reflect if you want to… or don’t. This was my entry point to valuing literature.

Sure, I knew how to read. But I didn’t love it; and I don’t know that I would have learned it from Mr. Radley if he had concluded every chapter with an interrogation that progressed though the gamut of Bloom’s Taxonomy while addressing the Common Core Standards.

Maybe he slept through his undergrad literacy classes and didn’t know better. But I suspect that he consciously skipped compression questions to impart something about literacy that is all to often lost in reading instruction: pleasure.

This is the doorway to literacy for many children. Of late it has been buried under a mountain of curricular objectives and the crushing pressures of high stakes assessment. But the best teachers I know resist the political tides to open their students’ minds to the love of literature: just like Mr. Radley did.

So maybe, from time to time, teachers should transport comprehension questions dangling across the room and dump them in the trash in the name of literacy.

The best time to start reading to your child was in the womb. The second best time is today.

Perhaps you have noticed that schools produce more students who can read than who choose to read.

There are many reasons for this. But, significant among them is the endless push to raise test scores.

What’s the connection? Well…

Literature as pleasure is not a concern of most schools because the test score bar has been raised to the point at which most are “failing”.

If your child’s teacher is like most, they would like to teach your child to read for pleasure. However, it’s not in their curriculum (or Common Core). Not to mention that it won’t raise test scores right away (like teaching to the test). Consequently, they have to sneak it in the backdoor of the curriculum; and that’s exactly what many teachers feel compelled to do.

So, if you are hoping that your child will love literature, I’d suggest that you start reading to them… yesterday.

But, today would be good too!

BTW: If you’re thinking, “But my daughter/son is too old!” Just try it for a week. I’ve found that even middle schoolers will gladly listen; but picture books are most likely out of the question.

What up? Dis Book!

Yo! Yes?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty committed to discussing race relations with children.  Yo! Yes? Is another entry point by which I attempt to pull this off.  It also affirms so called “non-standard” English.  (More on that at the bottom).

But even if you could decontextualize the racial and linguistic elements in this story (as if that was possible), it’s well worth the read.

Sometimes an entire dialog can be reduced to one and two word sentence exchanges. Chris Raschka tells an entire story through these nearly monosyllabic exchanges.  It’s beautiful.  It’s different.  It’s so worth reading.

About “non-standard” English : No one holds the “Master version” of English.

Sometimes I hear teachers giving their students grief for speaking AAVE (African American Vernacular English) as if it is “wrong” and the teacher has the “Gold Standard Version”.  But that notion doesn’t have a linguistic leg to stand on.

English is in constant evolution. It varies over time; Shakespeare’s English is hardly like “our” English.  It’s predecessor (Saxon English) is a quantum leap away.

It varies based on location; English in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the U.S. are all measurably different. Even within the U.S. you have distinct “accents” regionally: Boston, the South, the Midwest,..  Going one step further, different groups have their own variety of English.  Some of the better known examples are AAVE, Boston Italian, Surfer and Yooper (Upper Peninsula of Michigan).

This isn’t to say that one doesn’t hear linguistic error within a variety of English. (Young children especially make hilarious errors.) But that’s not normally what I see get “corrected” in school.  What is “corrected” is not linguistic error.  It’s linguistic variation; and variation doesn’t need correction.

So who’s “standard”?  It really depends are where you are in time and space.  No one has “the goods” all to themselves.

If you are totally into this sort of thing, Dialects in Schools and Communities and Children Language and Literacy are good places to start.

Dialects in Schools and Communities                                   Children Language and Literacy