Thursday, February 18, 2016

Learn Like a Baby

Learn Like a Baby

Discuss education with me and you’re not going to have to wait long to hear me talk about Accelerated Reader.  Typically, I’m not one to go out of my way to endorse products, but my advocacy of A.R. comes from both personal experience with the program, both in my classroom and as a trainer,  and what I’ve learned about learning through years of professional reading.  Note that I highlighted the words “product” and “program” in the last sentence.  I don’t endorse products, but a program that works for students will get my enthusiastic support.

It’s sad to me that less and less teachers are formally trained in the A.R. program.  So many have been taught second hand, at best, from teachers who may or may not have had formal training in the elements of the program and how those elements fit together to benefit students.  Although I think the most important part of the program is that students read books that are at their diagnosed reading level, I’d like to comment on another feature of the program today:  self-choice.

I’ve known a lot of teachers who’ve given a great deal of thought to selecting and assigning so called “class books” for their students.  Typically, the stories are rich with great characters and content.  They’re the kind of books that the teacher can read annually and for which they can maintain their passion.  There’s just one problem.  The books are seldom at the diagnosed reading level of most of the students in the class.  Consequently, armed with insufficient background knowledge, vocabulary, or working memory to decode complex construction, students drag through the text with low comprehension and likely lower enthusiasm.  What might make a terrific read-aloud book becomes a burden as a class assignment. 

You may be wondering about the title of this piece.  I’m getting there.  Babies are programmed to learn.  They learn with all their senses.  They listen, look, touch, smell, and taste just about everything in their environment.  They throw all they have at each new object and experience.  By the time a child arrives at about third grade, they can decode with some level of reliability and given the opportunity, can experience some the world through books.  Given the opportunity, they can, like the baby, throw all that they have at gaining experience through books.  Clearly, some children have more background knowledge and can read more challenging text, some have more modest reading skills and background.  A.R. helps the child and teacher approximate the child’s ability level, and the teacher must use A.R. reports to make sure that interest doesn’t over-reach ability.  Only the child can decide what is captivating enough to make the effort worthwhile.  Like the baby, the precondition is interest, personal interest.  With the teacher making sure that the child has the ability and the child deciding what is of interest, the child is in a perfect place to learn.

Were the classroom just a little bit more dedicated to children pursuing their learning and a bit less dedicated to teaching to the dictates of whole-class materials, I think students would take more from their school day on a regular basis.  

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