Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Let Them Read a Book!

Recently I posted about Dr. King and a lesson involving a video from my classroom prior to his special day.

Elizabeth from More From Elizabeth was one of the commenters to my post. She stated she “learned about Dr. King by reading a book” and wanted to know “what happened to books.” She also commented that she “would have been insulted” if she had been shown an animated video past the first grade.

That was the main point of my post……Students had seen the same animated video year after year. I elected not to do that and showed students two video clips that consisted of reinactments as well as real footage from Dr. King’s life.

It’s taken me a few days to respond, but I wanted to let Elizabeth know that books are alive and well in my classroom. Georgia fourth graders are required to read at least one million words or twenty-five grade level appropriate books in one year. We require every fourth grader to have a media center book with them at all times. During their reading class students read in small groups with a teacher, they read independently, they listen to books, they read Accelerated Reader books and take computerized assessments that give students feedback on how well they are comprehending what they read. Students reread familiar books to each other to build fluency as well.

Yes, Elizabeth, reading is alive and well in my classroom. Before the holidays my homeroom was retested to check comprehension through Dibels and two other assessments our system requires. The results indicated that all but two students had moved up one entire level from their ranking at the beginning of the year. The other two had also made gains, but had not increased an entire level. I have students currently reading at the upper third grade level all the way though an eighth grade level.

I’m not surprised about our results with the amount of reading students complete during each school day. Besides the types of reading I mentioned above students are also reading their Social Studies and Science textbooks (though school administrators would rather choke to death than to let anyone know we really use them). My students read supplemental items I add to my Social Studies program to bring in extra content, read through power points I’ve made for each Social Studies lesson, the vocabulary presented through Social Studies and Science are very advanced, and I haven’t even touched on the reading of literature students complete in Language Arts.

We read. We read all day. Please understand that many of the students I teach have never left their small town. We have a major mall fifteen minutes away, but many of my students have never been inside it. Their families purchase everything they need from the local Walmart. Atlanta is twenty-five minutes away, but it could be a million miles away for some. Many of my students have never been to any of the Atlanta museums, have never been to Turner field to see a live Braves game, never been on a plane, and think the only shows that come on television are Jerry Springer and American Idol. Most of my students ask to take my books bought with my own money home because they don’t have books of their own. The only magazines many see are People or TV Guide. Many have never been on a vacation and those that have often don’t venture beyond choices like Dollywood, Gatlinburg, or Georgia’s idea of Mecca….Panama City Beach. Not that those places are bad….I’ve been to all three, but they are somewhat limited in broadening one’s idea of culture.

With the advent of testing heavy in the inferencing department many students need images. They aren’t required to simply recall or locate information. Students are now required to evaluate data and then make generalizations in order to arrive at an answer. In order to do this they need reference points to build prior knowledge. Sources like United Streaming are a God-send. Today’s youngster finds it difficult to imagine a classroom where their African American friends weren’t welcome. In classrooms where today’s students know their rights it seems very foreign to them that certain people were excluded from various aspects of society simply because of skin color. Short film clips that show footage of the riots, firehoses, sit-ins, and marches build images in the minds of students. These images serve as anchors that students grab onto as they manipulate new unfamilar material.

Yes, I could have read a cute read aloud to students about Dr. King and showed students the pictures. I could have gone out and bought a class set of a chapter book concerning the life and times of Dr. King and spent several days reading it and analyzing the events with students, but let’s think outside the box for a moment....

What if by showing the video clips I gave students a scaffold….knowledge they could stand on to get them to the next place? What if the next place was the media center where they were motivated to look for a book independently concerning Dr. King? What if Dr. King’s image was clearer in their mind as they read because they had seen the video images of Dr. King preaching, being interviewed on television, and making his “I Have a Dream” speech?

What if in the days following my video presentation every biography of Dr. King had been checked out of our media center by a fourth grader?

I don’t need to wonder…..that’s what happened.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! I've had similar discussions with people in my credentialing program; many are older people changing their careers, and a few of them don't see why technology is useful in the classroom (so do a couple of my younger classmates, as a matter of fact).

While books are the best way to learn the details of history, there's nothing that can beat experiencing it for yourself. Until a time machine is invented, that won't happen, but with the technology of the past century, we can listen to and watch people and events long past. At least it engages two of the senses. And, as you pointed out, this secondhand "experience" can encourage kids to dig deeper into the reading material more than just a lecture can.

I hope you don't mind if I share this post with my classmates. It's a great one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment Kyla and feel free to share away.....

The Tour Marm said...

I was born during the year of Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka.

While I was growning up, there were no books on Dr. King or the Civil Rights Movement.

There were newscasts, newsreels in the movie theatres, and of course, artcles in magazines such as LIFE.

Having grown up in a Jewish neighborhood in New York City, I was well aware of how the Jews lost their civil and human rights under Hitler. Indeed, many of my friend's parents had tatooes on their arms.

Watching African Americans being hosed down by water, beaten with clubs, dragged through the streets by police, or confronted by dogs was horrific and reminded me of the stories of the Holocaust.

This was not a movie, this was real life!

How could I reconcile this behavior with the pride I had in my country as a refuge for those who has escaped from or suffered under the tyranny of Hitler?

When I first visited the South with my father at the age of six, we stopped at an old general store for gas and to use the restroom. Imagine my surprisedd when I encountered a dign on the door that read, 'No N's (the 'N' word), Dogs, or Jews'! This was my first introduction to Jim Crow, the insidious unlawful behavior that made it impossible for African Americans (or anyone other than 'pure whites') seek a quality education or enjoy a hamburger at a Woolworth's lunch counter.

I staunchly refused to enter the store because I thought the person who owned it was a bad man. We needed the gas, but I refused to enter or have my father buy me the Nehi I had been looking forward to. I used the colored bathroom.

My father was impressed with me, although it was something he had grown up with and accepted; it was the start of a wonderful friendship.

Never underestimate the sensibilities of those of tender years. I'm still affected as I write this!

Could I have gotten the same content from reading or seeing a cartoon?

I think not.

Marcia (MeeAugraphie) said...

A good education can come from just books, but a great education comes from having a mix: books, technology, hands on, and good old-fashioned teaching. I can only imagine the learning that could be taking place now over the early fifties.

teachergirl said...

90 minute language arts block? I read somewhere on your blog that you have a 90 minute language arts block. How mucn time do you devote to Social Studies and Science? What's the schedule look like? Could you share? We're tearing our hair out trying to configure next year.

The Tour Marm said...

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry—
This Travers may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll—
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.

I agree with Marcia concerning a great education, but she might be interested to hear what a primary school educatiom was like in the 1950's.

As a child of the fifties and early sixties, we were just on the cusp of the media and technological revolution. My class was the first in New York to learn the 'new math'. This was a time when computers were still giants that filled a room, many still did not own a television, there was only one telephone in the house, and the transistor radio was the Ipod of its day.

Looking back at my elementary school days, I don't remember one single movie, TV program, or a slideshow shown by any of my teachers in the classroom. I do remember listening to a radio broadcast called, 'Let's Look at the News' - which my class was listening to at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy.
(We did have a Disney movie with Jiminey Cricket concerning the encyclopedia and something about proper street crossing shown in the audiorium for the entire school; I saw them four or five times in six years!)

But mostly we read. We were taught reading and comprehension. We were taught how to think and reason. We learned how to research. We spent time in libraries. We memorized poetry. We were expected to bring in newspaper articles for current events every Monday. We had deep discussions in class. I remember so many of those discussions, especially with my old fashioned school marm in fourth grade, Miss Fastenberg. It was she who had us memorize poetry like the Emily Dickinson poem above. We didn't have distractions and interruptions during our lessons.

We did OK.

I've noticed that many students today don't know what to do with their 'downtime'; the children of the 50's and early '60's would take out a book, today's kids fidget because they need to have a video or Ipod or they are lost.

Yes, I'm a child of the '50's and in my 50's. I've curtailed the use of movies and documentaries on my bus and have concentrated more on deep discussion and activities. Somehow I keep them engaged. I'm teaching them in the same way I was taught. I figure that the trip itself takes the place of media.(Ipods, walkmen etc. are forbidden during my bus trips.)

And we all do OK!

I consider it a victory when I see students on my trips purchasing books at the various shops attached to museums and historic properties instead of the usual souvenirs. Many times they proudly display their purchases to me; some even read them during their 'downtime'.

The highlight last year was when a group of eighth graders left ESPN Zone's arcade in Baltimore for the Barnes and Nobles next door in order to find some books on the War of 1812.

Ah! My touring is not vain!

Joy said...

As a bit of an aside; There's nothing like showing the footage of Martin Luther King speak to teach children about this great man. Primary sources are more effective than secondary sources in this instance.