Friday, July 1, 2011

Practice What We Preach

I teach reading. I think I'm a fairly good reading teacher. One reason is that I really, truly love to read. My friend, The Lit Lady, and I changed our reading program this year for the better, and our students began reading more and more books. Would you like to know one reason our students read more? Because WE read.

This is a difficult post to write, but this is an idea I take very seriously and believe in very strongly.

Our students can't take us seriously if we don't practice what we preach. This sounds like common sense, but it's tougher than it seems.

If I want my kids to read more, I've got to read. A lot. They have to know it. They have to see me reading. They have to hear me talk about the books I read. They have to see a stack of books I'm hoarding on my desk because they are in my "to read soon" pile. They have to know what's in my "to read soon" pile. They have to be kind of mad that I'm reading it before they have the chance. They have to anticipate me finishing the books in my pile so they can beg to read it next. It's crucial. It happens in my classroom. 

If I want my kids to like nonfiction, I have to read a lot of it myself, and use what knowledge I gain from it. I do a lot of professional reading. I read particularly moving portions of the books sometimes out loud to the students - especially when I read something that I think the kids will have an opinion about. I have to come into my classroom one day so excited over some new method I want to try, and I have to tell them that I found it in a book! I need to show them the cover, tell them the name of the author, and point to the part of the book where I found that idea. This sends such a powerful message!

If you don't read, don't expect your students to do it. If you don't like nonfiction, don't expect your students to like it. Read. Often. In front of the kids. 

Now, I do read more things than just kids' lit and professional development. The kids know that I read books written for adults, but I rarely share titles or authors. (They do know I like Dan Brown and John Grisham, but I don't necessarily want them to go out and read their books at age 10.) They don't need to know that stuff. Nor do they care about the titles or the authors. They do care, though, that I read. It means a lot to them. If you ask them if I enjoy reading, they will say yes. And they will confirm the fact that my love of reading inspires them.

As far as reading goes, I think I do a worthy job of reading a lot and conveying that fact to my students. I want them to be  lifelong lovers of reading like I am. I need to make it more explicit, though. If I dare ask my students to set aside 30-50 minutes a night of reading, I need to do it, too. I don't accept excuses for not reading every night. Why should they expect excuses from me? I am committing to reading minute-by-minute along with my students every night. I'm excited about what this will do for our classroom next year.

Now here's where it gets even more difficult. The reading thing? I've got that down (for the most part). I talk the talk, and I walk the walk in reading. But what about writing?

Writing is a whole different story. Be honest. How often do you write something? I honestly can't say that I write often enough.

I have read many of Rafe Esquith's books (I recommend them to you). One concept he puts into practice in his classroom is "Essay of the Week." The premise is that kids will become better writers the more they practice. I love it. I've done Essay of the Week in my classroom with good results. BUT.... will the results get even better if I practice what I preach?

I think I do a fair amount of writing. I had to write several essays about myself and my teaching philosophies last school year. I had to write a few research papers for a class I've been taking. I even write blog posts (when I feel up to it). I write weekly to my parents on my class website. But I still feel like I need to do more.

So here's where this blog comes in. I want to commit myself to weekly blog updates of some kind. I expect my students to write weekly. I want them to expect ME to write weekly. When they know that I write often (and that it's relevant to me, that I do it on a weekly basis, that it makes me a better person, and that it makes me develop a stronger passion for writing and learning), then they will take my requests more seriously.

I want all learning my students do to be applicable to the real world. I want it to matter to them for life. I don't want them to do an assignment just for the assignment's sake. I don't want them to do it to please me, even. I want them to do it because they are passionate about learning for life. That's my goal. So here's my commitment to weekly posting. I hope I'm up for it! And I hope you'll read it.

What's coming soon? Our thoughts on billable hours. Discussions about assessment for learning. Relationship building in our classrooms. There are all sorts of ideas buzzing around in my head! Maybe this won't be so hard after all! :)

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