Based on standardized test scores, this year my school has focused on improving our students’ reading comprehension. Every now and then we have been shown scores and have been encouraged to increase the amount of reading that we require, particularly the reading of nonfiction texts. We’ve had staff development on how to increase reading comprehension and have been asked to document reading activities. Recently, we were told that scores from our upcoming spring tests will measure how successful we have been this year.
We weren’t asked why our students reading comprehension scores have declined. If we had been asked, however, I could have immediately explained part of the problem. Until this year, my school embraced “Quadrant D” learning, or learning that is performance based (at least that’s how it was described to us). We brought in “experts,” who are no longer in the classroom, and they taught us what we needed to do to engage our students in more meaningful learning.
Kids don’t need to sit around and read and discuss Shakespeare, we were told. They need to be up moving around and performing Shakespeare or working on group activities, or working on computers. Traditional reading and writing activities were strategies of the past that no longer worked with today’s students.
So most teachers, particularly the young teachers with little experience that would have helped them filter the suggestions from the “experts,” jumped on the bandwagon and constructed lessons that allowed students to spend more time performing, more time drawing, more time acting. Reading and writing declined.
Now our students’ reading comprehension scores have declined, something that any veteran teacher could have predicted (and did predict) years ago when we drifted away and decreased how much reading and writing we required from students. Our kids were so engaged, just not engaged in reading and writing.
I am reading Diane Ravitch’s new book The Death and Life of The Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. In the introduction, Ravitch chastises educators for jumping on the latest fad without any proof that the fads work.
We will continue to chase rainbows unless we recognize that they are rainbows and there is no pot of gold at the end of them.
Our kids declined in reading because we chased a rainbow that seemed so happy and colorful and enticing. Well-meaning people chased rainbows, and our kids suffered. I would like to hope that we have learned from this and that we won’t jump on the bandwagon of the next greatest fad, but I know we will.
Why do we always think that the “experts” who have little contact with children know best how to teach them?