The Stress of Reading: Benchmarks, Goals, Expectations, District Mandates, Policy Makers, Publishing Companies, and Former Teachers Authoring Reading Systems

This one is going to sting some of you.  Some of you may even take the time to find me and write me or call me nasty names.

Some of you may reach out to me because your child is stressed.  Some of you may find me and ask me to help you, help your child, and help your family.  Some of you may wake up and think, “Yes, she is correct,” then start sharing this with family, friends, and teachers.

Some of you may wake up and think, “Yes, she is correct,” then start sharing this with family, friends, and teachers.

This is not a prescription for everyone.  Just like we don’t all take statin drugs, aspirin, or carry an epi-pen.  Just like a reading program is not for everyone.

This is a call to information or option, for those students who are being viewed in their school as, “under-performing, not meeting benchmark, below average, below standard, struggling, not meeting grade level, or in the red”, and the many other terms you may hear from teachers, administrators, and specialists.

This is a call to information or option, for some, that, “Hey, your child needs more time!”

This is a call to information or option, for those whose gut tells you to stop listening to the pomposity that your child is failing at reading.

FAILING at reading in kindergarten?  In first grade?

Imagine five days a week or more you hear, “You’re not doing well.  That group you’d like to be in is not for you because you simply aren’t there yet.  No, I understand you’d like to read that but, you can’t it is too hard for you, you’re not reading at that level.  Put that book back.  Your box of books is over here.  Why are you looking in that box, it is not for you.  No, you can’t read with your friend, you are not on the same level.  Sit down, do your work.  Oh, you can’t read that, ask a friend to read it to you.  Stop talking!  Why are you talking?  This is silent reading time.  You don’t know that word, well sound it out.  You don’t know that sound, ask a friend.  Write this letter, no not that way.  Why are you sighing, sit up straight, pay attention, stop fooling around.”  How would you perform under those conditions at the age of five, six, or seven or as an adult?

I am a trained Reading Recovery teacher.  Reading Recovery is an intervention reading and writing program for students in first grade who are “performing below grade level.”  As a requirement of this training, an entire year-long immersion into understanding the foundations of reading, how to support early readers, explicit strategies, and language to use with students correlating with the point of error or confusion, to support the student in a necessary piece of content, strategy, or skill.  The training year is intense.  Teachers in training are required to teach lessons behind a one-way viewing glass, where their peers watch them teach, then following the lesson provide feedback and ideas for improving lesson structure and delivery.

Students in Reading Recovery are initially evaluated with a test that informs the Reading Recovery teacher of a starting point for work with that individual student.  All lessons from that moment on will be individually tailored to that student’s abilities.  Yes, I wrote abilities.  The abilities are the highlights of each lesson with just enough work to push that student a bit more, each lesson, each day finding a small bit of work that is linked to what the student KNOWS, to enhance and grow knowledge, skills, or strategies.  It is work and progress over time.

At the end of these lessons, some students will “successfully discontinue” meaning they have made enough progress in the eyes of the Reading Recovery intervention, to continue progress within the “average range” of their classmates.

It is not a program which passes out a diploma at the end.  It is not a program which tells a student, “Hey, you’ve done it! Your work is complete.”

It is a program that is: daily, one-to-one instruction, five days a week, assigns explicit homework to reinforce the exact principles of that day’s lesson, one teacher meeting the needs of one student, designed expressly for that one student which focuses on that student’s abilities.  Yes, abilities.  I wrote it again.

Can you imagine that? A teacher who teaches to ability, rather than meet this goal which is designed by an outside publishing company or district dummy head.  (Sorry, this side of me is going to be popping out here and there.)

I’m pissed.  I’m super pissed. I am sick and tired of hearing, “My child is reading at level A and they are supposed to be on level D by now, what can I do to get him there?”

Supposed to be????? Supposed to be, according to… that crack-head publishing company who founded authors who aligned with districts and national standards, who have created a system based on another system, based on another group’s idea, miscalculated data, information that has been altered to get the product to market so that the mansions, cars, trips, and toys can be paid for and the fame can be acknowledged?  On the back of a child who is simply starting out in the world?

Don’t get me wrong:

There are some programs out there that are well intentioned, and well designed for the benefit of most.

Children need to learn to read.

I refuse to say when.

I refuse to look at a student and see a non-reader.  I refuse to share with another parent that, “You’re child is at the bottom of the class – translation (running in a parent’s mind): he’s an idiot because he’s not reading.”

I’m going to dig in deeper.  I’m going to talk with that parent about developmental stages. That the brain is still developing.  That the visual system is still developing. That sometimes boys take a bit longer to come around to reading.  That other school “systems” like Waldorf, teach reading a year or two after kindergarten.  Those countries like Finland, don’t even teach reading in kindergarten.  I will say, “Don’t worry.  It will come with time.  I understand how this might look and how this might feel. I will keep working with your son.  I am confident that he will read one day.  Let him play for a while longer.  He will be working and learning in school, allow him to play after school.”

I will say, “It is important to have a childhood.  Let your child run, dig, get dirty, argue with siblings and friends.  Allow curiosity to come up naturally without force.  Watch your daughter, listen to your son.  Sometimes only observation is required.  Let her pick up the bug and wonder.  Let him climb the tree, smell the leaves, and roll full body down the hill”

I will say, “Tell her how to write the word when she asks how to spell it.  Read to her every night, with enjoyment.  Listen to what she says about books as your read.  Buy or borrow books that are interesting to him, rather than selecting books that are interesting to you.  His selections will foster his love for books, reading, and learning.”

I will say, “Take the pressure off, for a little while.  Let him be a child for a little while longer.  We will keep an eye on him together, regularly.  I am in this with you.”

I would tell my teacher self, “Yes, this is tough.  You are swimming upstream.  You are doing something that colleagues, ideas, and mandates see differently.  You are in an advocacy role as much as you are in a teacher role and a parent role.  You must help this student gradually.  It is ok that she is not at the level that “they” say she should be.”

I love reading.  I think every being on the planet benefits from knowing how to read because even in this landscape and reality of technology for everything and everywhere, reading is still required.

I don’t presume to think that every single student will love reading.

I do think it is possible for every child to learn to read.

I do think it is possible for every child to enjoy reading as an art, meaning he may prefer listening, discussing, or writing about the reading over actually reading the text.

I do think there is a time to get serious about a child’s abilities in relation to reading.

I think some children very much deserve the gift of time.

Schools in the United States today teach kindergarten like the first grade of years gone by.  Some children are simply not ready for it.  (This adjustment affects student through the grades.)  Are you willing to allow a school system to crush the potential of a child still in development?

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