Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm not going to quit trying

OK, Shannon, here is my case study.

Case study #1

Situation: Young girl lives in a home devoid of books, but full to the brim of movies and flat screen TVs. The shelves in her room are filled with VHS tapes by the time she's ready to start school. She has this aunt who can't stand the thought of a child growing up without trips to the library, and books to fill her imagination. So the niece gets books every birthday and Christmas, and sometimes in between. The niece and her aunt go to the library together often, and the niece learns the joys of the look-up computer, the nice librarians, exploring her passions, and checking out the same books over and over. Then the young girl hits fourth grade, and her school uses Accelerated Reader. Reading is for tests and points, nothing is read that doesn't "count," library visits fall off. The birthday books this year were CHASING VERMEER and THE FAIRY TALE DETECTIVES. On a recent road trip, niece and aunt listened to the audio version of CHASING VERMEER for about 10 minutes, and then the niece was fast asleep.

Result: Final outcome for niece: unknown. Current status of the aunt: I'm not going to quit trying.

(And just FYI, no link will be provided for Accelerated Reader. If you want to go there and find out what they think they are and what they think they do, you can type it in your browser yourself.)

(OOOoooh. I think we hit a nerve!)


  1. No need to give up--I have a son who refused to read anything until I gave him "House of the Scorpions" in 5th grade. It would help, though, if you had reinforcement from the parents. They could give rewards for reading, for example. Anyway, the book she will love that might turn her into a life-long reader is just around the corner...

  2. Anonymous11:57 AM

    As a homeschooler, I have decided against assigning book reports or study guides to go with my children's reading. How do I know they're understanding what they read? We talk about it! We talk about books all the time, we read them together, we share passages we thought particularly wonderful. I want my kids to love reading, not see it as just one more thing on a list of assignments.

  3. Carrie,
    I struggle with this all the time in my classroom. I was working with some teachers in New Orleans earlier this year and they about fell out of their chairs when I told them I don't test my students on their reading. Apparently, not all public school teachers have that option. Maybe I don't either, but I close my door and teach.

    Just like you, I want my students to love reading in an authentic way that will ensure that they are life-long readers, and that they will continue to CHOOSE to read even when some other teacher down the pike makes reading a chore. And just like you, we talk and talk and talk about books. (In literature circles, in line for lunch, during read-aloud, you name it!)

    In the end, when the state test scores come in, my students are neither all at the top of the charts nor are they all failures. Based on what I know about them as readers, I probably could have pretty accurately assigned a score and saved everyone the pain of the test. But here's the thing: HOW DO YOU TEST AN ATTITUDE OR A PASSION?!?!?!

    As you can see, you hit another nerve.

    We've got the state achievement tests hanging over us; what pressures are there in the homeschool world that a public school teacher might not be aware of?

  4. Anonymous1:56 PM

    "We've got the state achievement tests hanging over us; what pressures are there in the homeschool world that a public school teacher might not be aware of?"

    Oh, boy. There are so many ways to answer your question. And each state has different requirements concerning homeschoolers. Washington State, where I live, requires me to submit a form that says I intend to homeschool and to test my kids annually. So, yes, there is some pressure to make sure they are testing up to grade level. That has not been a problem for us, though.

    Within the homeschooling community, there is pressure of different kinds. First, I must say that most homeschoolers are supportive of other homeschooling parent's choices. But there are a few...

    The pressure can come in a lot of different forms. For instance, I have one homeschooling aquaintance that is horrified that my family reads and loves the Harry Potter books. I've come across people who think we don't do enough hours of school - and people who think we do too many! Some unschoolers think I'm much too structured and inhibit my children's natural love of learning. Very structured school-in-a-box type of homeschoolers think that I am much too relaxed about some subjects - like reading. We abandoned the readers that go with our phonics program as soon as my kids started reading independently. The only guidance I give in what they read is that for every three books they choose, they must choose one off of my list - which is a very broad list of books that I'm not sure they'd pick on their own. (My daughter tends to gravitate toward all mysteries and my son toward one Garfield comic after another. My younger two aren't reading independently yet.)

    Some homeschoolers that are very anti-public school say that I'm not actually a homeschooler because I homeschool under an "alternative learning" program through a public school, which gives us access to funds and classes and resources. To me it's just semantics. I still pick our curriculum and teach my children every day.

    Our science and history studies usually take the form of read-alouds and movies from the library with craft projects and occasional science experiments thrown in. I will worry about more formal science and history studies when they reach middle school. And even without actually "teaching" those subjects, they test at or above grade level. All because we read and read and read - non-fiction, fiction, biography, history, etc.
    It's my opinion that a person who loves to read can learn just about anything - and will retain much more than if it was forced on them. One of the reasons we chose homeschooling, I guess.

    Great topic, by the way. I'm enjoying the conversation.

  5. I agree -- great conversation! I don't think public school teachers and homeschoolers often have the opportunity to chat. As you said, there is often animosity (which can run both ways), but if we're focusing on what's best for kids, it seems we might be able to learn a couple things from each other! The other roadblock to public/home school conversations seems to be that there are lots of homeschool bloggers with well-established networks, but I haven't been able to detect the same for public (elementary) school teachers. GREAT children's librarians, not so many teachers. Wonder how come? Have I just not found them? (Or them us?)


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