Friday, August 24, 2012

If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher

Reading is hard! But you don't have to take my word for it.

"Teaching reading IS rocket science." -Louisa Moats

"I was gonna get a candy bar; the button I was supposed to push was "HH", so I went to the side, I found the "H" button, I pushed it twice. F-in'...potato chips came out, man, because they had an "HH" button for Christ's sake! You need to let me know. I'm not familiar with the concept of "HH". I did not learn my AA-BB-CC's. God god, dammit dammit.

Xylophone is spelled with an X, that's wrong, xylophone's zzzz, X? I don't f-in' see it. It should be a Z up front, next time you have to spell xylophone, use a Z. When someone says, "Hey that's wrong," say, "No it ain't. If you think that's wrong, you need to get your head Z-rayed." It's like X wasn't given enough to do, so they had to promise it more. Okay, you don't start a lot of words, but we'll give you a co-starring role in tic-tac-toe. And you will be associated with hugs and kisses. And you will mark the spot. And you will make writing Christmas easier. And incidentally, you will start xylophone. Are you happy, you f-in' X?!" -Mitch Hedberg

English really is a crazy language, its no wonder kids have trouble learning to read. What makes it even harder is not having extra support and encouragement at home to read, or even simply not enough money to have books at home. Reading is probably the single most important thing for a child to learn at school, because so much learning, in any subject-- math, science, arts--requires some reading. Reading Corps focused on grades K-3 because from age 3 to grade 3 kids are learning to read, but after grade three kids are reading to learn. And compared to Spanish, which is relatively phonetic, and French, where you might not pronounce half of the letters, but at least there seem to be fewer exceptions to the rules, English has a crazy amount of rules that can change all the time.

I think that, while Mitch Hedberg addresses some of our issues with his discussion of "x", Brian Regan hilariously illustrates the craziness of our rules:

"Brian, what's the i before e rule?"
"I before e....always."
"What are you, an idiot, Brian?"
"I before E, except after C and when sounding like "ay" as in neighbor and weigh, and on weekends, and holidays, and all throughout May, and you're going to be wrong no matter what you say!"


So she asked this kid who knew everything, Irwin. "Irwin, what's the plural for ox?"
"Oxen. The farmer used his oxen."
"Brian, what's the plural for box?"
"Boxen. I bought 2 boxen of doughnuts."
"No Brian, no. Let's try another one. Irwin, what's the plural for goose?"
"Geese, I saw a flock of geese."
"Brian, what's the plural for moose?"
"MOOSEN! I saw a flock of moosen! There were many of 'em. Many much moosen. Out in the woods--in the woodsen."

Funny, yes, but also the reality for a lot of students. It's confusing, and if you missed one important lesson, it's going to get a lot harder. As I worked one-on-one with kids last year, I read with so many kids who had some gaps in their phonics knowledge. And this year, I'm working with some 2nd graders who can barely blend words together, much less able to read any word that requires any rule past simply knowing letter sounds. Most kids can learn to read words like "cat" or "run" relatively easily, but a word like "cake" or "rain"? Totally throws a wrench in things. But at least those words follow a pattern--the silent "e" makes the "a" say its name, and the 2nd vowel (i) makes the first (a) have a long sound. But then there are words like "wild" or "was" or "character" and you've just got to know what's going on.

And this is before you factor in things like dyslexia or ADHD. And with budget cuts, bigger class sizes, fewer support positions in the classroom, some kids just don't stand a chance. Last year there were so many kids who I never got a chance to work with who could have really used the help. And this year, I don't have the time to work one-on-one a ton, because I'm focused on the class as a whole. Good grief. It makes me sad to see students struggling, especially coupled with behavior problems and just not having enough hours in the school day, much less enough of me to go around to give each student the attention they deserve.

So many kids fall through the cracks for various reasons. They might be hovering around grade-level, so they don't get as much attention as the lower kids in terms of extra help. They may have quiet personalities. It is the squeaky wheel that often gets the grease-cliché but true. They may desperately need an IEP/extra interventions, but have so many hoops of paperwork to jump through that by the time they get it it's almost too late, or there's a long line of other needy kids in front of them. They may need to be held back, or meds, or other help but the parents aren't supportive. It shouldn't be so hard to get a child an education!

What's a teacher to do? Besides the need for smaller class sizes, one of the other biggest needs for schools is more adults in the classroom. So if you have a consistent hour one day a week during the school day, find a local elementary school and volunteer! Besides the fact that it's so rewarding working with children, you could change a child's life. Even if all you're doing is reading with them, it could be more attention than they get at home, which can help for confidence/self esteem. Plus it could help fill a gap that a teacher, though (s)he's trying, simply hasn't been able to fill due to the twenty-some odd other bodies in the room. (Plus, volunteering will actually benefit your happiness! I'm not just saying that--I've read a bunch of psych studies that backs me up).

I'm just going to leave you with this: