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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Not All Reading Has to be Assessed!!!

By Peter DeWitt — May 26, 2013 4 min read
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In these days of increased accountability, educators are feeling as though they have to assess everything a child does. Assessment doesn’t just come in the form of high stakes testing. Assessment student knowledge comes in the many forms. Unfortunately, even the best of assessing is at risk of taking a turn for the worse. Don’t get me wrong, formative assessment isn’t a bad thing, but it is if it happens all the time.

At a recent training, I was asked to answer questions regarding an interview I did with Dick Allington. A teacher wrote to me asking, “How do we assess reading at home while keep it fun and engaging?” I was convinced that this was an isolated incident but as the conversation grew, I realized it was not.

We are quickly moving down a slippery slope. The simple fact is that we do not have to assess all of the reading a child does at home, nor should we want to. We cannot complain that our lives are about numbers and then force students into boxes and make their learning...all about numbers. Reading should be done for many reasons, and one of them should be about fun!

You’ve heard of fun? It’s where children and adults pick up a book or find one on their tablet that they want to read for enjoyment...not because they need to prepare for a test. Reading for fun is something we do to take a break from the real world. It allows us to take time to laugh or get lost in a story.

Think about Harry Potter...or the thousands of other characters we find in books who take us away from the monotony of life.

Riding a Slippery Slope
Many questions about reading focused on what parents are not doing at home. “I’d love to help him become a better reader but the parents never follow through at home.” That’s definitely a problem! However, educators should pay more attention to what they do in their classrooms and less about what parents are not doing at home. The reality is that we cannot change parents, but we can try to engage students through better reading practices.

Educators can offer suggestions on ways parents can help their children at home, but we need to find a balance to make sure that we are not dictating what should be happening at home at every moment. Before pointing fingers, make sure our own practices are beneficial.

We need to accept that not all parents are educators and are not exposing their children to a literature-rich environment. As educators, we need to provide the best environment that we can for students in school. Part of that environment has to focus on making reading fun. Remember Drop Everything and Read(DEAR)? It was a time to disconnect from the classroom conversation and read for enjoyment.

Clearly, there are many educators who find a balance between reading for understanding and reading for fun, but too often I am hit with questions from teachers (readers of this blog) who are more concerned about assessing reading and writing than inspiring the joy of it.

The Common Core
One of the issues with the Common Core is the fact that, when you add it to the high stakes testing and accountability dilemma, more and more teachers feel as though they have to control every minute of a child’s life. I’m sure that the Common Core will help most children become better at every aspect of learning (yes, that’s sarcasm) but the simple fact is that not every child will be able to meet the next grade level expectation upon entering that grade.

There are many interfering factors that prevent students from reaching their full potential. They are:
• Social
• Emotional
• Behavioral
• Home environment/stressors
• Learning style
• Learning impairment

Rothstein says,

On average, professional parents spoke over 2,000 words per hour to their children, working class parents spoke about 1,300, and disadvantaged mothers spoke about 600. So by age 3, children of professionals had vocabularies that were nearly 50% greater than those of working-class children and twice as large as those of disadvantaged children" (2004, p. 28).

That is not to say that every child growing up in poverty cannot be successful. It just means that there will be times when the achievement gap will not be closed, even with something as wonderful as the Common Core.

We need to get away from the idea that we have to constantly assess reading, and we should focus more on making reading fun. All of this assessing is sucking the fun out of reading. Find a balance between preparing students for their future and getting them to read for understanding. Encourage them to find books that they can read for fun without the fear of an adult standing over them with a clipboard.

Important elements to fostering a literature-rich environment in the classroom:
Literacy Rotations - Use literacy rotations and work with groups of 3 to 5 children at a time. Literacy rotations take practice and do not happen overnight.
Choice - If we really want students to read we need to make sure we are offering them choices they like. When I was teaching in the 90’s I used Harry Potter with my 3rd grade students. We split the class into houses and had theme days. We not only found the joy in reading, we were completely engaged in the process.
Choice also means the number of books available. Students need to be surrounded by a creative literacy-rich environment.
Whole group reading - Reading picture books and chapter books to the whole class is great, but if you are trying to teach explicit reading to students through whole group you need to change your practice immediately. Using only whole group to teach reading is boring for students.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.