Sunday, October 19, 2014

Parents, Passion and Summer Slide

This is the penultimate post in my reflection series on summer reading. 
Link up in comments if you'd like to talk about it.

In this penultimate post reflecting on summer reading, I consider how the research and my community context influence summer reading assignments.

I'm an avid Science Friday fan. The show makes my Friday afternoon commute. Last Friday Science Friday hit a triple with segments on the "Live from South Bend" show: electric engines, forensic entomology, and art detectives (links below). Performances by the Notre Dame Glee Club between segments were happiness boosters--the song we heard about the Periodic Table, awesome.

"The 'First' Battle of Gas Versus Electric"

"Forensic Entomologists Hunt Down Insects to Help Catch Criminals"

"Is Your Priceless Painting a Fake"

The entomology segment with Dr. Anne Perez from St. Joseph's College reminds me how important parents' passions are to childrens' development. A hunter and scientist, Perez's father, kept a living fence (overgrown boundary area) on one side of their property. He was a hunter and he would put the heads of animals he hunted in the living fence area. Perez would visit the heads as they decomposed and collect the insects she found there. Children learn through observation and experience. Parents, teachers, coaches, the caring adults in the lives of children and teens are living lessons.

What lessons do students learn about reading and writing from the adults in their lives? What happens when adults must work two and three or four jobs in order to provide for their families? Adults working sixty, seventy, even eighty hours a week may not have the energy, not to mention time or resources, to model joyful reading. Not everyone leaves school a life long, joyful reader. Not everyone carries the torch for books and story. Not everyone is afforded the luxury of sitting to read a an hour or two a day. I believe reading and writing--modeling it, practicing it, doing it--with and in front of children is as necessary as food and shelter, but I have never lived the lives the working poor live. I can see how a trip to the public library between shifts or bus schedules may be a near insurmountable challenge.

Students who grow up in poverty also grow up in word-poor environments. Research on summer reading documents this, connects the phenomena to learning loss (the summer slide) and traces the gap or learning loss from elementary school to senior year.

So what, right? What does all of this mean for me and my students? If I serve students living in poverty, if I serve students growing up in word poor environments then I know I need to create a print-rich, word-rich classroom at school. In terms of summer assignments I need to realize that such students are likely home alone quite a bit. Many students tell me they do not have quiet places to read or write. Uninterrupted time and relative quiet are supports I have at home.  Many students at my school do not. Without relative quiet I have trouble with complex texts. 

Simulate the experience of those students. Turn on your least favorite television channel. Set the volume a number or two higher than you usually do and read a new-to-you, densely- descriptive page of a text someone else chose.

Did you try it? What happened?

I know what happened when I tried it. I snapped at the dog. I had to restart my reading a couple of times. I felt interrupted and annoyed. I could not have written a coherent summary or have done any sort of written assignment without looking back and re-reading.

I empathize with students when they are given assignments that are meaningless in the face of their lives. Yes, adults do need to read all sorts if texts. There are times we must swallow the bitter or the trudge through the boring. Those are not the texts that keep us connected or keep our skills as readers, writers or thinkers nimble.

What keeps us agile, what keeps us flexible and useful is practice over time. We are what we repeatedly do. We repeat what we enjoy. The brain seeks pleasure.

If the titles assigned for summer reading offer zero pleasure, our students will not read them.  Thus, the gap grows and stretches into school year's start.

Most of the students at my school come to us from Title I middle schools. These students need more choice not less. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the common read and several of my peers commented on the value of such an exercise. I love talking with readers about books we have all read. I believe students gain valuable experience, on many levels, from a common read. But I'm starting to think that the common read should happen in community, when school is in session. If we need to maximize choice to maximize engagement in summer reading then it seems as if the best time for a common read, a one book one grade sort of read is at school's start not during the summer.

1 comment:

  1. While you don't state it directly, you seem to hint that there is an aloofness, a snobbery at work among some readers. The time we give students to read in class, both independent reading and assigned reading, may be the best investment we can offer students. Teachers need to revisit Maslow every year so we can remember the hungry years. We can't expect our students to dine only on poetry when their bellies are growling.

    Anyway, here's my final post on Raising Readers: "I Am Now a Reader"