reader

Late with entry 2 in the #kinderchat blog challenge.

Prompt: The story of you, as a reader. Who are you, as a reader? When and how did you learn to read? Did you love it right away? Did you have to learn to love it? Do you still  NOT love it? What is the story of your story with stories?

My childhood is a dim, distant memory, but I remember the exciting day that I was finally able to print my own name. That moment meant that I was able to sign up for my library card. I remember carefully writing my name on the form and having the librarian give me my card. It was a treasure. The key to the universe. It wasn’t the beginning of my reading life because my parents had instilled a love of books in me from a very early age, but it was the tipping point.

My dad read to us all the time. News stories at the breakfast or dinner table. Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare in the evenings. Both my parents read constantly. Not quite as constantly as me, but they did have important grown up work that interrupted their reading lives.

When I was 8 years old, I had a goal. I wanted to read every single book in the children’s room.

That room was the most magical place in the world.

It held horse books by Marguerite Henry. Books about kids just like me by Beverly Cleary. Classics. Myths. Biographies. Andrew Lang’s colored fairy books.

I read every spare minute. I’d read while doing chores, hiding under a bush in my backyard, during school with a book tucked inside a textbook. I read while I walked to school. I swear that I knew the exact number of steps I had to take to get to the next curb. I barely looked up – walking and reading block to block to block.

I read in bed, a flashlight revealing to my mom or dad that I was once again defying my bedtime. They were never happy with my choice, but I know they understood because they are the reason that my sisters and I are all avid readers.

When I had my own kids, I was excited to share old favorites and new ones with them. Henry Huggins and Ramona were reunited with me. I can still hear my 4 year old son’s voice in my head as he read The Bears’ Picnic by Stan and Jan Berenstain. “Mother Bear, put your apron away. We’re going to go on a picnic today!” reprimanding his little sister, “Rachel! Stop bothering me!!”

That little sister grew up to be my reading companion. We share many of the same favorites. I remember when she was reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series for the first of MANY times and I said, “When you get to a certain part, you’ll need to talk to me, but you won’t be able to talk. Just call me and I’ll know.” One night, the phone rang, and I heard uncontrollable weeping on the other end. “I know, honey. I know. Just cry,” I told her. You can’t comfort when a beloved character is going through tragedy. You can only be there, understanding.

My youngest daughter grew up in a different generation. I read Harry Potter to her a year before the rest of the nation caught onto the magnificence of the first book in the series. She aged along with Harry. We spent wonderful, unforgettable times at midnight release parties at Barnes and Noble. We would purchase two copies of each book and while I drove home, she would start reading to me. Upon arriving, we’d curl up in our reading spaces and read non-stop until completion, stopping to comment or cry or cheer.

Now that my children are grown, we still share books and recommendations. My mom still gives me reading tips and I share books with her, too.

I never fulfilled my wish to read my way around that children’s room, but I’m lucky enough to have a job that gives me an excuse to read books all day long. Elephant and Piggie sit next to Ferdinand. New friends and old friends.

Who am I as a reader? I’m a kid at heart. Peter Pan. Ramona. Pippi. Newt.

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Who am I?

Kinderchat threw down a blogging challenge and it is a tough one.

Tell us YOUR story. Who are you when you’re not “Teacher”? If you had to describe yourself and your life WITHOUT talking about your job, what would you say?

Yikes.

This post could be blank. My life is overwhelmed by school. I spend most of my week in the school building and many of my outside hours working on lessons, doing research and talking to colleagues on and offline. I think about school all the time. I drive my family crazy with stories about my students.

I suppose I should dig deep and push past the shell. At the risk of waxing philosophical, that’s probably the key to who I am.

I am compassionate. I care about issues and troubles in the world. (And most of those issues are education-related).

I am a deep thinker and I try to come to my own conclusions when I formulate an opinion on any topic. (And most of those topics are education-related).

I am a reader. Wait a minute. That’s not philosophical and at least half of what I read is educa… you know the rest.

I’m… dang. It all comes back to teaching because that is the essence of who I am.

I know who I’m not.

I’m not a great housekeeper.

I’m not a chef or even an exceptional home-cook.

I’m not a knitter any more.

I’m not a librarian, which was what I thought I wanted to be for the first 45 years of my life.

I’m not a perfect wife or a perfect person for that matter.

I’m not mechanically inclined.

I’m not organized.

Oh, wait! I know!

I’m an old woman, who thinks she’s 30 or 40 years younger than she really is because I’m a gamer. Just sit me on my couch and let me slash away my frustrations. Thank you, Link and Zelda, for getting me through difficult days. Thank you to my Animal Crossing family for letting me play peacefully in my happy little town.

Honestly, when you take away the teacher part of me, I’m not fully me at all. It’s not my shell. It’s my core. Without my teacher-me, I’m me with a hole in my heart where the teach-y stuff lived.

And let’s hit the last part of the challenge: “WITHOUT talking about your job.”

It’s not a job. And it’s corny to call it a calling (double use of the word call = intentional).

It is my essence. I can’t talk about my life without acknowledging my essence.

I’m me. Teacher. Mother. Wife. Philosopher. Reader. Gamer. In random order.


A Teacher’s Heart… I Mean Chart

A story was shared during the dreaded all-day workshop.

The presenter said that a young relative of hers was lucky to be in the kinder class of one of the teachers attending our workshop.

She said that he came home one day VERY excited to tell his family that he was “on pink.” Apparently, he struggled with behavior and had never been “on pink” before.

When asked what it meant to be “on pink,” he told his family that pink was the best color because he was now close to Miss XXX’s heart, so she must love him.

The story ended with oohs and aahs from the admiring teachers. What a precious boy to want to behave well to be close to his teacher’s heart and gain her love.

I was dumbfounded.

On the other days, was he far from his teacher’s heart? Did she love him less because he had trouble following her rules.

Surely, he was not the only one struggling to get to the elusive pink level each day. Are the other kids not in Miss XXX’s heart?

I think this little guy’s interpretation of the behavior chart was exactly the same as that of every single one of his classmates.

Behavior = love.

Bullshit.

Perfect behavior is hard for me, to say nothing of how hard it is for a 5 year old. Following rules is never easy.

Love is unconditional. Even the love that teachers have for their students.


Text (n) or Text (v): Define me

This week, I attended a full-day workshop with every kindergarten teacher in my district. The first grade teachers had a parallel workshop. Kinder teachers had ELA in the morning and math in the afternoon. First grade teachers had the opposite.

It wasn’t the most helpful day for me. Nothing earth-shattering or new was shared. Pretty much same-old/same-old.

I kept notes on post-its throughout the day as things pushed my buttons. It would have been career suicide to speak up, although I’m well-known for speaking truth to power.

Most of the other teachers at my table agreed that most of the policies and mandates we have been handed are developmentally inappropriate. Nice to know I am not alone.

During the morning’s ELA presentation, we heard the Common Core words “text” and “texts” repeated over and over. We were encouraged to call books, stories and other reading materials, “texts.”

“Students need to learn that term and use it to describe reading material.”

WHY?

Oh, because “text” is the word that EVERY SINGLE Common Core standard uses? And because “text” is the word that STANDARDIZED TESTS use? Example: Find evidence IN THE TEXT to show the author’s purpose. (Don’t even get me started on author’s purpose, which NO ONE can know unless they talk to the author and the author might just say, “Well, what did you get out of the book? Whatever you took away is was my purpose.”

I want my kinders to love books and poems and plays and sentences and words and magazine articles and online blog posts, etc., etc., etc. Not texts.

Here is my post-it “text”: Oh, good GAWD! Teach the word “text” so they can pass a test? NO ONE in real life uses that word to describe books/literature. “Text” is a common term meaning text message (n) or to send a text message (v). WHY do they need “these words” (pedagogical terms)?”

Text as a universal term describing any written language is ridiculous.

A book is a book.

A story is a story. And yes, a book can be a story or a bunch of stories.

A poem is a poem.

Etc. Etc.

I thought we needed to teach kids explicit language?


today i broke a seven year old

I spent the entire day in the school’s media center testing reading comprehension.

This is an important, formative task that I do constantly, on-the-fly in my classroom.

But today I didn’t test my own kids. I tested first graders. And next week the first grade teachers will test my kids and the rest of the kindergarteners. Why? My guess is that the district, state and federal government do not trust us to test our own kids. We might cheat because our evaluations are tied to these scores.

I listened to kid after kid reading books. The iPad told me what level each one needed to start at. The teachers had no input into the process. Any child who read above “level E,” was then given a sheet of two comprehension questions – front and back. They had to go to a table in the center of the room and finish the story and write responses to the written comp questions.

Then they waited for me to finish whoever I was currently testing so they could come back, have their writing compared to the company’s rubric and then answer oral questions about the story.

Then there were the following paths. If you scored well, you got to start the above process all over with a higher level book and that continued until you hit a level where your score was some arbitrary median score. If you scored some arbitrary median score, the iPad would deem you finished and you could return to your classroom. If you scored poorly, you got to start the above process all over with a lower level book and that continued until you hit a level where your score was stable.

Some kids read 4 books. That means they had 4 writing tests, too.

First graders.

MANY of whom are ESL kids who only started learning English in school last year when we had them in kindergarten.

And the writing rubrics are brutal.

Some of the books have drawing tasks in place of a writing question. They have to draw a specified part of the story to prove they have understood what they read. And the rubric for the drawings is VERY specific.

Writing scores are 0, 1, 2, or 3. 2 and 3 are passing and 1 and 0 are an automatic failure and a bump to a lower level book.

And remember there are two writing questions for each book? The scores are NOT averaged. The lowest score is the final score. The LOWEST score!

Of course the kids don’t know this.

But they wonder and ask… Why did I have to read again and she got to go back to the room?

They worry about their level… I’m reading Level J in the computer lab. Are you sure this is a J book? My mom wants me only to read J books!

We can’t respond to anything, of course.

Oh and the kid I broke? She’s the sweetest, most kind, quiet, shy little angel, who reads beautifully. She was so excited as she picked out a particular book from her choices. She told me something that she wanted to learn about this book (I dare not reveal the book here). I told her that if she found that information, she could tell me when she came back after writing her answers.

She read this high level book with no errors. She was smiling confidently.

And then I sent her off to write. I had other kids writing and was swapping kids in and out of my space to read or answer orally or get scored. I kept glancing at the writing kids, but the admins were also watching the kids to be sure everyone was on task and not talking.

This little girl’s back was to me in the middle of the room and she seemed to be writing every time I looked at her. She was bent over the paper with her pencil in her hand.

Suddenly, as I was getting a new kid to read with, one of the other teachers who was testing said, “Is that your kid? You need to get her because she’s been crying.”

Been crying? Why didn’t someone tell me? And I SHOULD have checked on her earlier because she’d been writing a long time, but many others were, too, and I was constantly busy. And I thought the admins were on top of the kids in the middle. Justification. I SHOULD have checked.

She was not crying. She was weeping uncontrollably. I knelt down next to her and looked at her paper. One side was blank and the other side had a couple of sentences. I asked if the writing was too hard. She nodded yes.

I took her to my space and got her kleenex and told her it was okay and not to worry.

I asked an admin if I could delay her next book until tomorrow and was told that I could.

I went back to this little one to comfort her. Because I knew that she had a 0 on one side for the blank, I was going to push her back to the next lower level, and the current test would be meaningless, I felt confident that I could talk to her about the writing she had attempted.

First, I read her two sentences. They were a very good response to the prompt. She deserved a 3 for that side. And with her 0 on the other side… yes, she got that 0.

I complimented her writing and her well thought out answer. Then I said, tell me what was hard on the other side. She pointed to the first three words of the prompt and said, “I didn’t know these three words.”

Identify the text features…

Precious girl.

I pushed the paper aside and said, “Well, those are very complicated words. But what I want to know is… And I asked her the question that she had wondered about before she started to read.”

Some light came back into her eyes and she told me the answer right away. We then talked about the book and the wonders that she had discovered. She showed me the pictures and told me complicated facts. She fully understood everything she had read.

I said, “Do you want to read another book today or tomorrow.” And she said, “Today.”

So she did.

But all the bandaids I put on her heart during our conversation about that book will never fully repair the damage of those many minutes where she was convinced that she wasn’t a capable, strong reader.

At the end of the day, a wise teacher said to me, “What did we learn from these tests that we didn’t already know?”

I learned that one can break a spirit all too easily.

The cost of these tests is too high.

But I already knew those things.


we always know

You can’t diagnose problems in kindergarten.

Well, really, teachers can’t diagnose anything because we are not medical professionals. According to the press, business leaders and most politicians, we are not even professionals in our own field. Our opinions are suspect. 

I digress. Starting back at the top…

You can’t diagnose problems in kindergarten, but we always know.

We can spot problems even if we don’t have the accurate medical or psychological name for that problem.

We can tell you which kids will probably never pass a standardized test. 

We can tell you if a problem is “just a language thing” (English as a Second Language – ESL) or something that would be a problem EVEN if the child was being taught in his or her native language.

But since we are kindergarten teachers – the lowest rung of the educational ladder – apparently, we are considered silly. 

I’ve been known to be very silly in my classroom. I can dress up or down. I dance badly. I sing loudly. I giggle at jokes that make no sense. 

But when it comes to the issues that I observe in my unending stream of kinders, I am very serious. And my teammates and I know our stuff. 

We know the difference between shyness and autism. 

We know when a speech problem will probably be resolved by time and when one needs intervention by a specialist. 

We know when a phobia is extreme.

We know when a reading problem is severe enough to warrant a cry for help. 

We know when number sense doesn’t make sense and we know how to fix that and we know when we are unable to fix it. 

We know when a developmental delay is simple enough that a child will catch up in a year or two and we know when one is severe enough that it will hinder a child forever. 

We know our own limitations and our own strengths when it comes to fixing these problems.

When I bring a child before the tribunal to decide if his or her issue is of enough importance to call in the specialists and get to the root of the problem, I believe that I have exhausted every other path and that someone else needs to step in on this child’s behalf. 

I KNOW testing and specialists are expensive. I know that the EC teachers’ schedules are overloaded and I know their paperwork is hellacious. But I wouldn’t suggest you spend your precious funding on one of my kids without just cause. I’m not trying to pick your pocket. I’m trying to get help for a child in need.

When I advocate for a child in first grade. In first grade again after he is retained. And again in second grade when I loop with him, I am righteous in my indignation at being ignored and seeing him cast aside year after year. 

“It’s just a language problem.”

Well, yeah. He has trouble learning English (and reading and math and science and his lunch number and everything else) because he has trouble learning and everything I have done hasn’t cracked his code. 

So it isn’t just a language problem.

A wise speech teacher once told me, “Always advocate for your kids in the lowest grades because you ALWAYS know.” I told him that no one ever listened to us. He replied, “And how many times has your analysis of a problem been found to be true later on?” MANY times. “And what grade do they usually start paying attention to problems?”

Third grade. When standardized End of Grade tests begin in our state. After all the red tape, they start getting help in fourth grade, but they are typically so far behind at that point that it’s too late. 

But his words stuck with me. And I continue to push for my kids. They deserve better than being written off for 3-4 years. They deserve the help and services that could make all the difference in their future. 

Because we always know. 

 


Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance
To the company
Pearson PLC
And to the profit
For which it stands.
One curriculum,
Over-tested,
With rigor and accountability
For all.

 

I hope to NEVER hear this in my classroom.

 

References

Incompetent Pearson “Wins” PARCC Contract. Big Surprise.
Mercedes Schneider
http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/incompetent-pearson-wins-parcc-contract-big-surprise/

Pearson Eats PARCC
Peter Greene
http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2014/05/pearson-eats-parcc.html