Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Broken Compass

Report card day often knocks the wind out of my sails. Inevitably, I receive a phone call, email, or classroom visit from a parent seeking to understand the confusing numbers, challenging letters, and complex standards we use to rate, rank, and label children.

This afternoon I spent about twenty minutes conferring with a particular student's parents after an egregious typo sent these poor caregivers reeling in fear. My blunder in reporting an inaccurate reading level prompted a deeper conversation which left me feeling like a ship lost at sea. My pedagogical compass seems to be broken, and as I listened to a child pleading for in-class, free-choice reading time, my heart broke.

You see, for the last few weeks I have been the "picker of the text". In an effort to expose students to a wide variety of tested genres, I robbed them of of their autonomy. Without meaning to, I sent them the message that books don't matter— tests do. What should have been "read-to-self" time, quickly became "drill-and-kill" time. Did I attempt to make the instruction fun and engaging? Sure! Did my students become more proficient at answering multiple choice questions? You betcha. But at what cost?

It's time to step on the brakes and re-calibrate. My true north tells me that voluminous, voracious reading is more powerful than passages, excerpts, or carefully chosen selections. Kids who start and finish books excel at academic tasks, and more importantly, they grow up to become life long readers who think, analyze, and reflect.

Why does this happen every year? When will the testing merry-go-round stop? How can I plant my feet firmly on the ground and quit losing my way? I think I will go reread Donalyn Miller's latest book, Reading in the Wild. I need a little inspiration, and she always has a way of repairing my broken compass.


  1. Sometimes I wonder! What if I just read with groups, allow students plenty of time to read independently, and have great discussions and conferences? Would we do just as well on these tests...or better? I know we would all be happier! I often write my own novel study questions using STAAR stems which seems to help. We get to read great literature, discuss the intricacies, enjoy ourselves. Then we answer the questions I have written which are very similar to what they will see on the test. We are reading Bud, Not Buddy in fifth grade and are loving it!
    Yes, we all hate this time of year, but don't stress. The closer I get to retirement, the less I let myself stress about all of this. It's just not worth it.
    Besides, they are in your class. They will do great!!!

    Take care!
    Marian Miller

    1. Marian, you are the sweetest! Writing our own questions would be a great alternative. I just want kids to fall in love with books, but I also want them to meet the standard. Why do these two things seem mutually exclusive for some of my most underdeveloped readers? I appreciate your vote of confidence, and I keep hoping and praying this pendulum will swing soon. In the meantime, I will reach out to wise educators like you and Mrs. Barnes. Have a great week!