Saturday, November 26, 2005

New (School) Year's Resolutions For Teachers

Being a teacher is an evolving process. Throughout each school year, each day and each lesson teachers change as they determine what is working, what is not working, what strategy needs tweaking here, and what practice needs a different twist there. In making changes, I've found that it's best to start with one or two changes, give myself time to learn them well and fine-tune them, and then add another component. That keeps the changes manageable and gives me time to make the new skills or methods my own.

Two years ago, in my last year as a classroom teacher, I made the resolution that I would read aloud to my fifth graders every day - regardless of how much content I had to cover, regardless of any other responsibilities and activities. I put the read-aloud time in my schedule, and I stuck to it without fail. Some might feel that children of that age are too old for read alouds. I learned differently when I was taking a grad course in reading. Our professor read aloud to us at the beginning of every class session (Thanks, Dr. Bertrand at MTSU), and we'd get so involved in the story that we'd plead with her to read another chapter before getting into the lecture for the day (Well, maybe postponing the lecture was a factor in our desire for hearing more of the story, too.) That was a couple years ago, and I was in my fifties. You just don't get too old for read-alouds!

Over the course of that last year with my fifth graders, I read aloud dozens of books - Frindle, The Tale of Despereaux, The Sixth Grade Nickname Game, The Lion's Paw, Edward the Emu, Pink and Say, to name a few. Some books took us two or three weeks to finish, and sometimes I'd read a picture book that we'd finish in one day. The children looked forward to the read aloud time, and so did I. I didn't question them about the text, but I encouraged the children to ask their own questions as we discussed each book.

My students' TCAP reading scores improved that year. How much did the read-aloud time affect their scores? I don't know. There's no way to measure it. I worked very hard in other ways, too. However, I believe that reading aloud to my students each day had a positive impact on their interest in and enjoyment of reading. And I believe that positive impact ultimately improved their test scores. Improving test scores wasn't my goal, though. (Shhhh! Don't tell that to the head honchos of the school system!) I wanted my students to learn to love books and reading as much as I do.

The current school year is my second as a reading specialist. Last year was my "adjusting to a new job" year. For me, it was a new school, a new faculty, a new community, and new children. I worked at developing a good relationship with the faculty, learning about the school and community and getting to know the children. It was a good year, and I felt I made a positive difference in reading achievement.

At the beginning of the current school year, I selected two resolutions for my work with children: (1) I would read aloud to each of my reading groups each day - something for the pure enjoyment of listening to great literature; and (2) Each child would keep a journal that he/she would have time to write in during class, and I would write a response to each entry.

So how's it going with my two resolutions? So far, so good. I work both with groups of struggling readers and groups of high achievers. Children from both groups look forward to reading the comments I've written in their journals, and as time has passed, many have begun writing more and more to me. Occasionally I suggest topics or questions they can address in their journals, but most of the time the children write about their weekend or about their pets or their families, sometimes they want to share something good, exciting, or sad that has happened to them - just whatever is on their minds at the time. My written responses are always directed at the content of what they've written - not about spelling or grammar or other such things. We deal with that at other times.

The read-aloud time is working out well, too. I have several thousand of my own books in my classroom (Yes, it's true - that's not a typo! I single-handedly support at least one Barnes and Noble employee!), and the children I work with can check out 3 - 5 books at a time from me. Children are starting to recommend books for the read aloud, and they're beginning to request that I re-read their favorites. I select books that lend themselves to whatever the lesson is about that day, but the primary criteria for the read-aloud is that the book is quality literature.

There are other changes I'm working on to improve my teaching. However, those are my two primary ones - the ones that are do-or-die - for this school year. At the end of the year, I'll check my students' reading scores on the various assessments. Will my students experience dramatic growth? I don't know. I can already determine that these two changes have enhanced the children's enjoyment of reading and writing, and consequently their enjoyment of school. And that's my ultimate goal.

No comments: