I'm taking a short break from fiction to read a book that was just delivered. I bought From Striving to Thriving by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward on the recommendation of a trusted colleague who discovered it when she "went down a Twitter rabbit hole." If you're an educator, likely, you'd agree with this statement: Twitter isn't free! Anyway, it was money well spent. I'm slightly less than 50 pages in and I feel like I'm devouring it. I read those pages mostly in a hammock and on the beach yet I'm compelled to underline, circle, and jot notes in the margins. Don't the very best books inspire you to really THINK as you read? Sometimes I think out loud. Those are the very, very, best books.
So, the thing that has me thinking is not really just a teaching reading or teaching writing thing. It is actually just a teaching everything thing regardless of what grade level you teach. The authors are adamant that educators not label kids. If you read my previous post about "inclusion kids" you already know how I feel about labels. These authors argue that we need to focus more on what students CAN do and help them acquire the skills, strategy, and most importantly, the inspiration to go from there. Our students are more than an SRI score. They are not a DRA level. They are not a Guided Reading level. They are not a leveled reader level. They are sure as heck more than their MCAS scores. We need to move away from dealing with the "struggling reader" and instead regard that same student as the "striving reader", who, given opportunities to read in great volume will progress towards becoming a thriving reader.
The authors remind us that we don't teach PROGRAMS, we teach STUDENTS. Therefore, we need to build relationships with our kids, engage them with REAL literature in its full form, and give them opportunities to read, and read, and read. We should never pull kids out of reading class to participate in programs that focus on addressing their deficits. Oftentimes, what separates "strivers" from "thrivers" is that "thrivers" have had more opportunities to read engaging text and more access to quality reading materials. Giving strivers less time to read is detrimental. Always.
Ironically, this is the very same conversation math educators are having. We have to stop assessing kids with the intention of addressing their defects. Instead, we should meet regularly with our mathematicians so that we can observe all that our students CAN do. Our task then becomes figuring out how we can capitalize on what students CAN do in order to bring them to the next level of understanding. Kids are pretty stinkin' smart. They don't fall for our clever ways of leveling them. They know. And when a kid figures out that he or she is in the low or slow group it is always detrimental. Leveling kids is just as bad an idea as labeling them.
But isn't differentiation so important? These authors say...not so much. Making sure ALL students have the same access to high quality instruction is what is important. Then, meeting with kids to individualize some instruction so that we can use what students CAN do to bring them to the next level makes sense. This over-focus on differentiation sometimes has our thrivers working independently and our strivers filling out skills based worksheets so that teacher can meet with the middle. The thrivers and the strivers need explicit instruction and the eventual release of responsibility just like our students working "at grade level" do. In the end, all kids need time to do math and all kids need time to write and all kids need time to read. Without the gift of time to do this important work, our strivers will never be thrivers.
As I rethink reading in my classroom, I'm reminded again that I have to give my students more TIME to read. It is especially important that they have time to read books of their own choosing.
Honestly, this is a great book. It is worth the $$. Consider reading it along with me.
From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers
by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward