Drowning in the Tsunami of Expectations, Can we, as content area teachers, rescue the struggling reader?June 13, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 5 Comments
(Post written by Cynthia Mosher)
Literacy is the ability to use language to read, write, listen, and speak. Students are expected to be literate by the time they reach a secondary science classroom. Teachers expect them to understand, and communicate, both in oral and written form, enough of the native language that they can concentrate on the subject content matter at hand. This seems to be too insurmountable a task however, as “approximately two thirds of eight and twelfth grade students read at less than the proficient level,” according to the National Institute for Literacy.
The new solution to this problem is that we, as content area teachers, must now implement literacy strategies in our classrooms, that should have, and may have unsuccessfully (remember two thirds of our students are still not proficient) been implemented in previous years. The neural pathways for language skills are laid down early in life, and the most effective time for a child to learn “literacy” is during this window. If the child is raised in an illiterate household, are we as content “specialists,” in middle or secondary school, really going to be able to accomplish any more than what the early childhood teachers could? If the student has any sort of reading deficiencies by the time they reach secondary school, are we instead adding to the feelings of helplessness by throwing more reading, even with scaffolding, at them?
We are also combating the loss of interest in math and science that is occurring as students progress through their schooling. Many researchers support the school of thought that science must be more hands on, and “inquiry based,” as a way to make the curriculum more relevant to today’s student. They feel that to engage these students, we must design experiments and activities in a community of learning, allowing students to collaborate and build on their prior knowledge. Much of the learning should be through discussion and group work, not independent reading. Let’s be honest here, if we assign a group of students a reading assignment, the struggling reader will let the proficient students carry them in that area, and contribute where their strengths lie.
And what about that one third of students that is reading proficient? What do we do with these students while we teach literacy skills? Force them to practice skills they normally do with minimal thought? Let them work on other class work, so the struggling students must again play catch up? Or do we let them free read? Talk amongst themselves? Design extra lessons, or assign the horrible “busy work?” Will we begin to have classroom management issues? By having these literacy lessons, are we reviving the behavior management issues that we thought we could resolve by teaching inquiry based lessons? And for what? So that we can brag that the number of students in our school that are literacy proficient increased this year by one or two students? I say we save the extra money that would be spent on these high school literacy programs and put it where it will really work, better daycare subsidies for the welfare and working poor; free,easily accessible local preschool centers; and mandatory screening and attendance for toddlers not meeting verbal growth milestones.