How to Kill a Summer Reading Program in One Step

A few weeks ago, a discussion was held at my high-poverty, Title I public school somewhere in the south. We wanted to create a summer reading program that would have a real impact on our kids’ lives. A small grant was already in place to fund whatever project we decided upon.

We reviewed our options.

Option 1 – A traveling “read-with-kids” program. For several years, a group of teachers visited neighborhoods and trailer parks in our area and “read-with-kids.” Dismissed because not many kids came to our sites, even when our sites were in their backyards – literally.

Option 2 – A weekly program to be held at our school library. Dismissed because our families have difficulty attending events at our school because of transportation issues.

Option 3 – Think of something new.

And we did. A group of teachers and other staff members came up with the idea of visiting neighborhoods and simply giving books to kids. More books in kids’ hands. Books introduced to homes with little, if any, reading material. Brilliant and simple. But simple never is simple. (Note the use of repetition for emphasis).

We targeted particular neighborhoods, listed kids, found discarded books and purchased new ones, created t-shirts for staff, planned a kick-off party, scheduled book delivery dates and commandeered a school bus. The excitement was mounting.

And then… a question at the latest meeting.

“Should we put comprehension questions in each book?”

*What the bloody hell* thought I in my most sanctimonious, Weasley-ian inner voice. And for some reason, I thought every teacher would have the same reaction.

First, there was a pause. Silence. Then I spoke up.

“I think summer reading should be pleasure reading. No book responses. Just reading for enjoyment.”

And then the cacophany began.

“I think that kids SHOULD be held accountable for the books they read.” “We can put in comprehension questions, book response sheets and questions for parents to ask.” “We can give them graphic organizers to fill out!”

These and other comments were all made with as much or MORE enthusiasm as these teachers had expressed when we came up with the idea of giving books to our kids.

Giving books. GIVING BOOKS. Giving the gift of reading. Of reading for pleasure.

I told my 19 year old, avid, voracious reader about this crazy conversation. “When you read me Harry Potter [insert the title of  any of the thousands of books we read together] when I was little, we talked about it. We laughed about it and cried about it. Why didn’t you give me worksheets, mom?” she smirked.

Why indeed?


Sweet Brown vs. NC Legislators

This morning an article from the Raleigh News Observer hit my twitter feed (thanks, @nancyflanagan).

Apparently, North Carolina legislators collectively decided that two critical pieces were missing from the Common Core NATIONAL Standards.


and multiplication tables.

Times Tables

Yes, I learned cursive writing when I was in school many years ago. Yes, I memorized the multiplication tables to 12, too.

But to mandate that we teach these “skills” is ridiculous.

When is the last time anyone wrote anything of length in cursive?

And if you forgot the answer to 8 x 9 when you were buying multiple items at a store, did you whip out your phone calculator or did you just round up to 8 x 10? And do the legislators not realize that multiplication IS part of the Common Core NATIONAL Standards?

From Grade 3 Math Standards – page 23

Multiply and divide within 100.

7. Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers. 

Have NC legislators been in classroom lately? Are they aware of all of the programs and lessons that we have to teach to fidelity? Do they know what that word means in an educational context?

Fidelity means that every single program and mandate that is thrust upon teachers has to be done/taught/performed/implemented exactly to the manufacturer’s/publisher’s/government’s directions. Consider that we are using math, reading, phonics and phonemic awareness programs; standards-based grading and instruction; common-core standards; common grading and assessments; progress reports; Response to Intervention; school improvement plans, or SIP; positive behavioral intervention and supports, or PBIS; and soon, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and PARCC. (This incomplete list – only incomplete because it is in a constant state of flux and also I probably left something out just out of sheer forgetfulness – is partially paraphrased from here to reflect my personal experience).

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

And we’ll surely need new materials.

Materials for learning cursive writing include paper – sometimes specific paper – and pens. Will the state be providing these materials? Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Unless you are a teacher like me who provides most of the supplies in her classroom because supply funds have dwindled to ZERO and our kids come from homes where food is a luxury and school supplies are not even on the radar.

Do teachers now have to be trained in penmanship techniques? Will there be a run on Ebay and Amazon Marketplace as teachers rush to buy Palmer method books? Will publishers scurry to find cursive writing manuals and workbooks in their storehouses and reposition them as “new and improved?”

Multiplication tables are a bit less driven by the educational products market, but surely there will be lots of flashcards, workbooks and computer programs pushed on teachers.

Ain’t nobody got funds for that!

And won’t these initiatives have to be tested? How else will the legislators be able to prove that their brilliant legislation was a success?

So there will be a market for cursive writing and multiplication table tests. Training for teachers to administer those tests. Security to make sure that there is no cheating on those tests. Software to analyze the data from those tests. Etc. Etc.

Ain’t nobody got time or funds for that!

Don’t even get me started on what else we ain’t got time for. I’ll leave that for another post.