February 2, 2011

Continuous Improvement- Why Change is Good

Being a former Physical Education teacher brings with it a  certain prejudice of what you know about reading and teaching in general.  To be honest I used to feel a little inadequately informed myself.  In order to overcome this I have joined every professional education group I could find as well as began to read voraciously all of the well known authors and researchers on educational practice.  I am finally fairly confident I have a pretty good knowledge base when it comes to teaching, especially in the area of reading.  It probably drives my staff and even my superintendent a little crazy when I start quoting Robert Marzano, Richard Allington, Timothy Rasinski, Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, Charlotte Danielson, and Douglas Reeves amongst many others, but I have a deep belief in their research and writings so it is hard to not support my beliefs with their writings. My wife happens to be an elementary teacher (one of the best I have ever seen) as well as a voracious reader, although she has mostly moved on to Barnes & Noble Fiction, but she loves seeing me progress from former caveman to intellectual.

I have had some philosophical struggles with our current reading program since I have come to my new district, but still I tried to embrace it where I could, besides the evidence that it was pretty successful was clear.  While our district reading scores have been very good, we have also seem to hit a plateau.  We continue to have a small percentage of students that struggle with the Direct Instruction program we use.  One of my other concerns is that  it appears our common approach for addressing the kids that struggle with reading is to give them more of the same program.  In all of the reading I have done on quality reading instruction, I had reservations about the program we were using.  When staff members started coming to me with many of their concerns I decided to try to become better informed.  Yep, I read another book.  While I had read plenty already and listened to many keynote speakers,  I was looking for further confirmation of what I already knew.

I found an excellent book called "Readicide" by Kelly Gallagher.  Mr. Gallagher is a High School English teacher and while much of the focus in the book is geared toward high school and middle school, there is still some very good practical information for all teachers of reading.  What was most important, in what I gleaned from the book, was that with our drive to improve our students' reading scores on standardized tests, we have turned them into test taking machines that no longer read for enjoyment, and that was exactly what I was seeing when I went into classrooms. 

I started talking with teachers last year about our reading program and what their thoughts were on student engagement and the amount of time kids were given to actually read on their own.  Both answers were discouraging.  I had already read the Daily 5 book by Moser & Boushey and I knew my wife had used it in her classroom in her previous district.  There was a strong interest from the staff to have my wife come and speak about the use of the Daily 5 in her classroom, so much so that she came and spoke to the staff twice about the subject.  I have convinced many of my teachers to drop the dreary workbooks and to start using student created projects to provide practice and create better formative assessments.  I am looking forward to creating lifelong readers of our students and I am thinking the more they like to read and the more authentic learning and assessment we give them, the better our tests scores will become as well.  I will keep you posted on this process as it is bound not to be easy or smooth.  Why?  Because change is never easy, but often it is worth it.

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