SMART ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS by Elaine Garan
is one big gift to teachers from Elaine Garan.
It is hard to teach well these days. With the pressure of testing and standardization, so much of what we know about how best to meet kids' needs is being lost. As teachers, we know the best research-based practices but lately, we have been being asked to go against much of what we know to follow scripted programs, give more and more tests, and include more isolated skill and drill that never seems to transfer to real reading and writing.
In Elaine Garan's new book SMART ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS, Garan tackles many of the questions that we, as classroom teachers, are being asked--questions like "Why do you allow students to read on their own during class? When they are reading silently to themselves, how do you know they're really reading? Shouldn't you be testing them to make sure they're reading the right level of book? It seems to me there are a lot of problems with just having the class read on its own."
The questions are tough questions and they are questions that we get asked often. Elaine Garan has helped us answer these questions. She has not only provided an appropriate response to each question, but has also gathered important research that we can read in support of each of the best practices she describes. And she has put it all in one place for us.
Garan begins her book with a letter to teachers. She lets us know that parents most often trust their child's teacher. She gives us the tools we need to better participate in decision-making and to help educate parents on research-based best practices.
Throughout the book, she includes proof of her answers, research studies that she encourages us to read, things to think about, and ways to help parents see that the things happening in the classroom are in support of their child's learning--even if it is not what they did when they were in school.
An added feature throughout the book are thoughts specific to administrators and literacy coaches--ideas for working with staff and parents in staff development sessions to create conversations around these important issues.
The other thing I appreciate is how respectful Garan is of the people asking these tough questions. She is never critical of thoughts of the public, but is clear that, as educators, we do have knowledge about student learning and that it is our responsibility to share those with parents and community members so that we can work together for each child.
Actually, Garan's acknowledgments sold me on the concept of the book. Her last acknowledgment is to her parents. She says, "My parents gave me many gifts, but the one I treasure the most is their integrity and the model they set for us. They are both still writing letters to the editor, and neither will let an injustice or a lie slide by without at least trying to fight the wrong and maybe even right the wrong."
Elaine Garan sees the wrongs that are happening because of the misinformation about how students learn. With this book, she has give teachers the gift of answers and research to support quality classroom practice.