Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Importance of Reading Skills

I recently read this article “Reading Skills remain the basis of success” the other day that had me thinking about reading skills in schools and how we teach these skills. I would like to make a few observations and comments about some of the things this author says.

“But technology such as text messaging and chatting online has created new challenges for teachers and parents, especially when it comes to encouraging children's reading and writing skills and preparing them for future jobs.”

Isn’t it wonderful that new challenges happen every day? Isn’t that how we grow as learners? Hopefully soon technology won’t be something new in the classroom and will be the norm instead. As I worked with employers to prepare my students for future jobs, all of them said that computer skills were vital whether it was in auto mechanics or working in an office. Employers have been saying this for years and employers are using tools such as Second Life and online chats.

“But regardless of how we communicate today -- or 10 years from now -- basic reading skills will continue to be the foundation for student success in school and in the workplace.”

This is absolutely true but we need to look at how we are teaching students these basic reading skills. We need to show students the relevance of learning these basic reading skills. I still hear of young children reading Dick and Jane books (which I learned to read with almost 50 years ago). Wouldn’t it be better if we teach them to make up their own stories and read their own words because this would show them that reading is a way of communicating and sharing ideas? I wish I had all the opportunities learning to read that students have today. If we have all these opportunities, why aren’t teachers taking advantage of them?

“Books are still the key to developing reading proficiency. The teacher is the most valuable resource in the classroom, and when you equip that teacher with up-to-date textbooks, the combination is unbeatable.”

I think books are great and I am an avid book reader but I disagree with this because I don’t think textbooks are the essential tool in the classroom. In fact, I have taught many classes without a textbook because the textbook almost becomes a crutch. I would rather start with the objectives that need to be taught and find materials that will engage and interest the students in learning to master those objectives. By making learning meaningful and relevant, students will learn and remember the knowledge more than just reading a textbook. I don’t feel that textbooks make students invest anything in them and the knowledge is just pushed out of the book with hopes that a student will pull it in their minds. If students can take information and create something of their own with this knowledge, they are actually pushing their new knowledge out and this is what will help them remember this new knowledge. It is more active learning where reading a textbook is more passive learning.

“But we also need to meet students where they are; and while many of us may find new technology intimidating, it's the key to reaching today's students.”

I agree with this statement but it is almost a contradiction to what she says about the importance of textbooks. If technology is the key, then we need to move away from textbook learning and using textbooks as supplemental materials.

“School districts and the state should do everything they can to assist teachers in incorporating new technology as classroom tools that help build proficiency.”

We need to be saying this over and over until it is incorporated in every district. We need to get legislators on board with this also because I have talked with many legislators who don’t even know how to do email. When I talk about technology with some of them, their eyes glaze over or they have this look of fear cross their face. I have helped one state senator actually set up a blog because I was telling him about the power of blogging. Once he tried it, he loved it and realized what this could mean for students in the classroom. I don’t know that there was an immediate impact on education by doing this but if something comes up about technology in the classroom, I hope that this will influence him in any decision making about technology in the classroom. Just like I have said about changing one teacher at a time, maybe we should try changing one legislator at a time too.

What do you think? Am I off track here? Feel free to comment about this.

Photo credit: Reading by Maxey


Clix said...

Isn’t it wonderful that new challenges happen every day?

I so heart this attitude! Thank you. :D We often see things as "challenges" or problems or whatever, when really they're opportunities.

Hopefully soon technology won’t be something new in the classroom and will be the norm instead.

Maybe this is splitting hairs, but to me, the word "technology" has taken on the implication of "new and unfamiliar," although I don't think it's technically in the definition. Frex, most people don't refer to, say, cars or televisions as "technology" anymore.

I would rather start with the objectives that need to be taught

These days, the most up-to-date textbooks are aligned with standards. OTOH, if we as teachers don't begin OUR planning with standards & objectives, I don't know how much help that'll be ;D

while many of us may find new technology intimidating, it's the key to reaching today's students.

I would agree with this if the word "the" was changed to "a." It is certainly not the only key, nor is it even the most important among others. Not remotely.

Clix said...

PS: great post! I needed this early in the AM to kick-start my poor beleaguered brain ;D

heather said...

Thank you SO much for your blog Pat! I am on the ICT team at my school and we are fighting teacher indifference all the time. Our government here in Australia has a big technology push at the moment, but it's getting teachers to change which is the hard part. I am working towards getting a Teacher ICT accreditation and I'm finding everything you write about ICT very relevant. Keep up the good work!! Heather

loonyhiker said...

Clix and Heather: Thanks for your comments. It always makes me feel better when I see comments like yours so I don't feel like I've gone too far out in left field. :)

Bill Gaskins said...

I am glad we have these challenges. I think technology as tool can do so much more than we can comprehend at the moment. That why I think technology as tool in the classroom must be the norm. We are still going to face the challenge of teaching reading to a child, but we now have a much more powerful than we did before. It is a tool that has not been completely transformed in to the powerful tool it can be.

M-Dawg said...

I teach at an inner city high school and I have 9th graders that can't read above a 2nd grade reading level. I've been pushing for remedial reading and math programs at my school for the past two years.

I don't use the World History textbook since the reading level is so above most of the kids. I make major accomadations for the kids so they can understand the material.

Thanks for your post - you got me thinking! :-)

loonyhiker said...

Bill: Now if we could only get the school districts and the legislators to agree with on this, we would be set! The other day I heard a podcast (I apologize for not remembering whose podcast it was but I think it was on WOW 2.0) that talked about how techology needs to be embedded in our lessons and not seen as a separate lesson and I really liked that thought.

loonyhiker said...

m-dawg: I know exactly what you mean. I had to find high interest low reading level things for my students and it was definitely not in the textbooks. I found myself practically rewriting the textbooks so my students could still get the information and also find it interesting. Now with all these Web 2.0 tools, life is much easier.