Saturday, June 09, 2007

So much more than words...

The problem need to learn to read.

The problem don't comprehend.

The problem is...they don't enjoy reading.


The problem is...

...we are so busy teaching reading, teaching comprehension, and telling them how to enjoy reading, that we forget that they need the fun experiences and the context to understand what they read so that they can read, comprehend, and enjoy it!

After doing reading assessments on our After-School Academy kids, I had a realization:

Our kids can read!

That may sound bad, but with all of the talk about how low-level inner city children are, I bought into it. I think what happens is we see the ones who struggle and begin focusing our thinking on their decoding skills (or lack thereof).

At the beginning of the school year, 64% of our After-School Academy kids were reading at or above grade level. By the end of the school year, nearly 90% of our kids were reading on or above grade level. Because of the ASA staff, the school, the parents, and the kids, we've done pretty good.

Problem solved, right?

Not quite.

I had an a-ha moment after testing three of our 6th graders. Each were tested separately; all were given the same story. All three read at an 8th grade level, with a reading accuracy of 96-97%. However, when I asked them to tell me about the story, they completely missed the main point. After coaching them on how to look for the main idea, something prompted me to ask them to tell me what a couple of key words were in the story: "the sun sears my back," "the molten pavement," and maybe one or two others. Although they pronounced the words perfectly, they had no idea what they meant and, therefore, missed the whole meaning of the passage.

Although 90% of our kids read on grade level, only 10% are at or above their grade level in comprehension skills.

Kids need new experiences.

I grew up in the country. I had never really seen "art." However, after going to a semester of college in Europe and traveling around seeing the Van Gogh museum, the Sistene Chapel, looking at Renior paintings, going to the place Monet painted his water lilies, etc., I came back to the states and passed my Art Appreciation 101 class with flying colors. I had context. I had experience.

I remember reading the Agony and the Ecstasy after returning from Italy. As I read, the references to Michelangelo, his apprenticeships, the towns that were known for their marble, Michelangelo's struggle with painting the Sistene all came alive! I could visualize the David. I had seen a pieta and now knew what a pieta was! I was tired as I read about Michelangelo walking up and down the steep, Tuscan roads; I had walked where Michelangelo walked.

The book was easy for me to read because I knew what they were talking about. Why, then, do we focus so much of our energies on drilling kids on words and quizzing them on definitions?

I don't suggest sending everyone across the world to gain different experiences. It's a little improbable (though that isn't a bad idea!). I do, however, think we should re-evaluate our approach to urban education. Learning isn't just about reading words. Decoding is important, but kids must learn to decode while gaining multiple experiences in multiple settings along the way. Our society has become global. We have to recognize that and equip our kids accordingly.

"Teach kids to read," sounds good on the surface, but there is so much more to reading than just learning the words.
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