Published by the Penguin Group. Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Hudson Street, New York, New York , U.S.A. •. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton. TEACH LIKE YOUR HAIR'S ON FIRE ALSO BY RAFE ESQUITH There Are No Shortcuts TEACH LIKE YOUR HAIR'S ON FIRE The Methods. Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. Starred Review. Esquith might be the only public school teacher to be honored by both Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai.
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Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire. The Methods and Madness Inside Room Rafe Esquith. (New York: Viking. ). In a Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by. TEACH LIKE YOUR HAIR'S ON FIRE reasons. This alone is a tall order. Given a school environment in which kids urinate allover the bathroom floor, write on. Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith. Read an Excerpt. download. Look Inside. Read an Excerpt download the Ebook: Kobo · Barnes & Noble · Apple · Books A.
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LitFlash The eBooks you want at the lowest prices. The problem though is because it is a hybrid, I feel it doesn't cover nearly enough of either section.
I love many of his concepts though, and to take this as a book that gives you a better idea of how t Teacher books are either, how to books that include lesson plans, methods, etc. I love many of his concepts though, and to take this as a book that gives you a better idea of how to approach your class i.
It is also quick, you can devour it in a day. Feb 14, Kt. This is an incredibly inspiring book for parents and teachers who want to bring out the best in their charges. I have to admit that my awe is tinged with just a bit of cynicism however. The implication is that someone who does have discipline problems is doing something wrong -- or more precisely isn't doing something right. That may be true in most cases but unless Rafe is Midas is a gravel pit, there This is an incredibly inspiring book for parents and teachers who want to bring out the best in their charges.
That may be true in most cases but unless Rafe is Midas is a gravel pit, there have to be some kids who don't respond perfectly to even his admittedly top notch teaching style. Also, I'd like to know how many hours are in Rafe's not to mention his students' day. He begins teaching an hour and a half before school starts and ends when the sun goes down -- and that's not when he's taking them to DisneyLand, New York, Chicago, or Oregon.
His students practice music, poetry, and baseball in their "free" time. He is awe-inspiring but I guess I'd like a peek at the mechanics of how he fits it all in. But read it yourself and decide. Aug 12, Melanie rated it it was ok Shelves: This book was really inspiring But as Esquith continues to describe all of the areas in which his students excel and all of the things he does to help them, it started to sound much too good to be true. How can one man help his students to excel in so many areas; how does he have the time and energy and money to do it all?
He arrives early to teach problem solving lessons; teaches math, reading, science, art, music, physical education, and history pretty much ev 2.
He arrives early to teach problem solving lessons; teaches math, reading, science, art, music, physical education, and history pretty much every day; leads the students in year-long preparation to put on a work of Shakespeare; helps 10 year old students learn to read music, play a variety of instruments, and sound like professional musicians; stays after school to provide extra help; leads a film club during lunch; takes groups of students on trips all around the country; sets up community service projects during Christmas; and teaches special lessons on holidays.
I'm not saying I think he's a fraud, but I can't help but be a little incredulous as to how this is all possible! I wish we all had the monetary means to be as awesome a teacher as this guy is. Didn't anyone else find that this book was totally unreasonable, especially for Catholic school teachers?
I barely make enough money to pay my mortgage and bills, so if I took on 4 extra jobs, it would not be to take my whole class across the country. It would be to pay off my car note or my credit card, or to go back to school to finish my master's, or to start a family. I feel like this book was written to make Man. I feel like this book was written to make me feel like an inadequate teacher. Nyah nyah, I download my kids stuff and go in earlier and give give give of myself physically, monetarily, emotionally Didn't anyone catch that he has a wife and at least one kid?
He doesn't address how he fits them into his hour work-days. Yeah, it's good to help the less fortunate I had to stay at school for that long yesterday, because I had morning duty, a full day of classes including a spirit points kick-off assembly, a committee on which I serve and helped form, and to which I give tons of time , conduct play rehearsals, and have parent-teacher conferences after the rehearsals, and I have a husband but no children.
I felt as though I neglected him, which was not fair, and that was only one night. Also, as a high school teacher, I have either 50 minutes or 90 minutes each day to attempt anything with learning different children.
Plan a lesson that takes 1 class in a regular classroom setting, and it will take them 3 days to finish the first part. All of his wonderful things funded by his own money , can't really translate into my classroom.
God I wish it could. But his things that take 6 weeks to do would take an entire semester with my students. I'm not complaining I love my kids, my job, and the extra time I put in including setting up fundraisers to help students pay for their trips either across the country or around the world, as opposed to working extra jobs to download supplies. I guess this book was his application for canonization. Hail Rafe, full of grace View all 3 comments.
Let me be absolutely clear: Rafe Esquith clearly is a marvelous teacher. He seems to be a transformative, inspiring motivator of young minds who crafts lessons like an artists and expects his students to bring their best selves to every part of their day.
The title isn't about passion, it's about dedication, shrugging off minor inconveniences like a singed scalp for the sake of students. There are many fine lessons to take from the book, and I'm glad to have read it. However, I'm not reviewing Let me be absolutely clear: However, I'm not reviewing Esquith's teaching, I'm reviewing his writing in this book. And Esquith's writing suffers, terribly, from a martyr complex.
Amongst his cheery, gung ho, rallying cry for great education for all, He offers snide slaps at well intentioned but ineffective teachers. I think, no matter how much I want to grow, or sought his guidance, if we shared a building, he would ignore or dismiss me as a colleague.
He bemoans staff meetings as though they were a grisly he'll rather than a part of structuring any organization. He consistently hurls "Orwellian" at administrators and those offering professional development. While I've had my share of clunkers in both departments, I see no need to ascribe malice or machinations to their efforts.
Worst of all, I'm at a loss to understand how any teacher, especially one as inspirational as Esquith, blithely dismiss an opportunity to learn even from other adults, even in a staff meeting.
If you believe you have nothing left to learn, maybe you don't need to be in a classroom. I'm glad I read this book. I feel inspired to try, to strive, to be the best teacher I can be. I just wish the style lost some of the martyrdom and let me see it for what is being discussed, not who is discussing it. Jul 23, Julie Ruble rated it did not like it Shelves: Rafe Esquith is doing a great job and I appreciate his work.
His teaching is effective, but this book isn't! As in, there is very little useful content for me whatsoever. I guess I've been reading teaching books lately that are PACKED with impressive experience and wisdom, and this seems more like Esquith just trying to put out another book but not wanting to get too involved in the writing of one.
Sometimes this book seems like it was tos Rafe Esquith is doing a great job and I appreciate his work. Sometimes this book seems like it was tossed together as a context for a few carefully situated product placements! I strongly agree with the reviewer who notes that some teaching books are inspirational and some detail methodology, and this book tries to straddle the fence, failing to give enough of either side. The book is loosely divided into sections of a primary classroom: In each chapter Esquith will mention a couple of tricks or games he does with the students -- definitely nothing incredible, in my opinion -- and then throw in a website or product he uses that you should download so far, number tiles, a national parks booklet, a Science kit, a poster, etc.
As I mentioned, his hints don't seem that groundbreaking: Play a math game similar to Around the World called Buzz. Show students films. Play historic speeches for students. Play audiobooks for students and add commentary. He describes a few of his art projects. Redeeming features so far: If you ask me, the key to Rafe Esquith's success boils down to two things: I think this book tries to imply that his actual content and techniques are impressive, but so far they don't seem to be.
And actually, the more I read this book the more I'm convinced his culture relies on an "Us vs. THE WORLD" mentality, asking his students for horrible teacher stories, talking about how lame other classes are, making fun of the way the school and outside world runs, making his students feel like they're on a special elite team together and everyone else is slacking off.
Fine, but if that's how you manage your class, what may be the cost? The students' respect for all other teachers? Apart from all of this, as other reviewers have noted, Esquith is QUITE self-congratulatory despite all the remarks he makes about being "ordinary. One example is how he criticizes others for not bringing their classes out to recess and posits unflattering reasons why they don't maybe they're punishing their classes, maybe they're punishing classes for something only ONE student did!
Another great example is when he literally makes a list of the things a "friend" of his not anymore! I LOLed. There Are No Shortcuts is a better read, in my opinion. View all 4 comments. Aug 20, Eleanor rated it it was amazing. I read this book because I recently began working with the kids in this program and I could not believe how polite, prepared, respectful and kind these children were. I was told repeatedly before I began that I would love the kids and that they would work very hard for me.
Okay, I thought, I think I know what most urban public school kids are like, so it seems like a bit of an exaggeration. I don't think I would believe the kids described in this book were real unless I had seen them myself. Aft I read this book because I recently began working with the kids in this program and I could not believe how polite, prepared, respectful and kind these children were.
After my first day of work with these kids I just kept thinking to myself "How?? How do you teach so that the kids turn out like this? They're more respectful than most adults I know, focus with their undivided attention, they're kind and committed.
After this first day of teaching I did a little research. Their program is, as it turns out, somewhat famous. Esquith, as it turns out, is world renowned as a teacher. He's written four critically-acclaimed books on the subject of teaching this book being the most popular , is the only teacher to have been awarded the National Medal of the Arts, has been honored by Oprah, the Dali Lama, the Royal Shakespeare company, and on and on and on.
What is his secret?! It's all in here: He takes an enormous amount of pride in his students' ability to devour and absorb each subject with abandon. It's clear that he also cares intensely for all of his students and their development into knowledgeable, moral human beings. I saw some criticism of his book before I had read it and was specifically tuned in to try to detect anything that seemed amiss. My impression of the things other readers criticized - the fact that he occasionally criticizes administrators and other teachers - was ultimately one of compassion for the reader who is probably a teacher or parent.
It's compassionate to share stories of conflict with others in the field because it's helpful to hear that if that's something you're struggling with, hey, you're not alone! Other criticisms seemed similarly unfounded - I didn't find his tone unduly proud.
He's good at what he does and pride in one's own work is not wrong. I noticed another trend among critics of this book: I hardly think most teachers could live up to the standards set by Rafe Esquith. But rather than feel put down by this fact, why not feel inspired?
It's not a competition! I would recommend this to any teacher.
While I can admire his desire to reach his students and spend the time required to do so, I thought his tone was self congratulatory, smug, and condescending. I agree that teaching is definitely not an Monday-Friday job; if that is all you are willing to put in as a teacher, you probably aren't getting everything done and reaching as many students as you could be.
But, I also feel that teachers, as anyone else, have a right to a personal life and that having a balance between work and life i While I can admire his desire to reach his students and spend the time required to do so, I thought his tone was self congratulatory, smug, and condescending.
But, I also feel that teachers, as anyone else, have a right to a personal life and that having a balance between work and life is essential to be successful in any profession. Esquith teaches in a school with a high poverty rate, many single parent homes, kids who come home to empty houses, etc. As I was reading, I kept feeling frustrated that he was, in my eyes, ignoring his own family to be at school. Of course, we don't hear his family's perspective, so I could be wrong, but spending 12 hours a day 6 days a week and then traveling the country with his students in his off time doesn't leave much time for his own family.
He also writes about the fact that he takes his weekly essays and monthly book reports home to grade over the weekend with detailed comments and suggestions. Again, that is something that good teachers will have to do on occasion, but it takes more time from his family. Throughout the book, I was waiting for him to mention some kind of discipline problems, issues with students who don't get with the program and jump on board to spending 72 hours a week at school, but they only get a cursory line here and there.
I find it hard to believe that even with all of his amazing tactics, all students rise to Level XI and are constantly putting others first and thinking before they act so as not disturb others. His smug attitude also translated to his colleagues, most mentions of them seemed to be about how they were lazy and ineffectual. Even though he doesn't mention names, I would think that he isn't rising the Level XI in his own moral development by badmouthing the people he works with seemingly because they don't choose to sacrifice their whole lives to the classroom.
Yes, there are poor teachers who use movies to babysit, teach to the test, help kids cheat on standardized tests, etc. Overall, I can see that he is clearly passionate about his career and I'm sure he has touched many lives and encouraged students to reach for the stars. I'm sure he has many success stories, but it might have been interesting to hear about some of the ones that weren't so successful.
The fact is, even the best teachers have bad days, days when the plans don't go as planned, or times when life interferes and there are no plans and you have to wing it.
Hearing some of that would have made all the 'I'm not a great teacher, but I work hard' rhetoric a little easier to swallow. I read this book because I was required to by my school. So it's possible I may have started it with a slightly negative attitude. Am I supposed to be getting great ideas to use in the classroom? Because there really are some fun games and effective procedures to be found here.
Or is it instead, as I more strongly suspect, meant to convey the message of, "See all the wonderful things you could I read this book because I was required to by my school. Or is it instead, as I more strongly suspect, meant to convey the message of, "See all the wonderful things you could accomplish if you were just more dedicated?
Esquith's tone seems a bit self-aggrandizing and patronizing at times. I was completely turned off by the supposedly humorous story about how he took an irate note from a colleague and had his kids grade it for composition. Come on, that's not professional.
Even if you don't use the name, you're still poking fun at a colleague. And then there are the little snippets of dialogue where he evidences the superiority of his program by sharing some other teacher or administrator's clueless questions, that we are presumably supposed to join him in chuckling over.
It is a catch to be a humble person asked to perform a task intrinsically prideful. This is not really a bad book. However, it is pretty much like any other teacher-as-hero book or movie, where the teacher succeeds against all odds through a combination of righteous fortitude, love, real caring, perseverance, and a willingness to give up any semblance of a personal life.
Rafe Esquith sounds like a great teacher. In ways he reminds me of all the great teachers I had when I was in school. In fact one of the teachers who strongly influenced me in high school wrote an editorial some years back that I'm sure Esquith would like. The winning class gets a prize at the end of the year. Apparently this teacher has forgotten that a knowledge of history is supposed to be the prize.
When I spoke to the class that did the most homework, I learned that they were terrific at completing assignments and turning them in, but their understanding of history was shockingly limited.
This allowed me to trick myself into believing I had done a good job with my students. Okay, go easy on me. I was young and inexperienced. Parents also need to be wary of encouraging Level II thinking. The danger, however, is giving children gifts or money for behaving the right way. We need to show our children that proper behavior is expected, not rewarded.
These payoffs are common in classrooms across the country. As someone who is on the front lines every day, I am well aware that getting kids to behave is one of the toughest jobs in the world. But it is no longer good enough for me. I think we can all do better. Level III. I Want to Please Somebody As they grow up, kids also learn to do things to please people: But they do it for all the wrong reasons. Young teachers are especially susceptible to this phenomenon and I speak from personal experience here.
When kids want to please you, it gives your ego a jolt. In one instance, when a teacher returned from a day of absence, something also sadly funny happened. The substitute left a note and the teacher was thrilled to learn that the class had been fine, but one student in particular, Robert, was fantastic.
He helped run the class. He showed the substitute where everything was kept. He was an assistant teacher. But here comes the ironic part. The teacher was so proud of Robert that he offered his prize student a reward—perhaps it was extra points for a test or a piece of candy.
Robert refused it. He was thinking above this. He did it for the teacher. He was proud of himself. And the teacher was proud of himself, too, because he had a little guy worshipping him.
They were both proud of themselves and felt good. This is far better than the situation in most classrooms. This is a point on which I simultaneously tease and challenge my own students. Do you brush your teeth for me? Do you tie your shoes for me? Do you see how silly that sounds? And yet many children still spend their days trying to please their teachers.
The desire to come through for parents is an even greater pressure. Many children are so desperate to please their parents they will even pick their colleges and majors to keep their folks happy. Well, at least they were trying to please someone.
But I think we can do even better. Level IV. With so many young people behaving badly, most teachers are trained to lay down the law on the first day of class. After all, it is essential that kids know the rules. The theory is that kids who are involved in generating classroom rules will be more invested in following them. There is truth in this. There are charts hastily scribbled by a teacher with too much work to do and other charts that would impress the board of a Fortune company.
Well, to each his own. The fact that different classes have different standards can actually be good—it teaches students to adjust to new situations in new environments. I have no problem with rules. Obviously, children need to learn about boundaries and behavioral expectations.
I am certainly not an anarchist. And when I come back from my day at the staff development meeting, am I glad that Robert behaved himself with the substitute? I am thrilled. This already puts Robert on the right path to success and far in front of his more mediocre peers. It tells me that Robert knows the rules not all children do , accepts them even fewer do , and is willing to carry them out.
One could argue that these good ends justify the means. But if we want our children to receive a meaningful education, do we really want Robert to do things because Rule 27 says he should?
And it worked. The kids said it constantly. The only problem was that they had no real appreciation for the gifts they received. They were merely following a rule. One night I took these same children to see a play, and they were no more or less gracious than other children in the theater.
They did not thank the ushers who handed them programs or helped them find their seats, and they did not thank the people who served them drinks at intermission. Their class rule was just that—a way of behaving in one class with one teacher. I teach my students that while rules are necessary, many of our greatest heroes became heroes by not following the rules. We have a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.
Courageous labor leaders broke rules to help their workers. Extraordinary people throughout history have done this, and if we want our children to reach such heights, they need to know the rules but see past a chart on the wall. There will be times when the chart is not there. More important, there will be times when the chart is wrong.
Level IV is a good place to be, but we must try to do even better. Level V. Just imagine a world of Level V thinkers. Noisy neighbors would never disturb our sleep in a hotel at 2: What a wonderful world it would be, indeed. After many years of trying to get this idea across to my students, I finally found success by introducing them to Atticus Finch and To Kill a Mockingbird. At one point in the novel, Atticus gives his daughter, Scout, a piece of advice that perfectly illustrates Level V thinking: Soon almost all of my kids were becoming extremely considerate of others.
Kindness really is contagious. During these years, I received extraordinary thank-you notes from my substitute teachers. They were amazed that my students were able to modulate their voices throughout the day. When one sub asked the class why they spoke in whispers, the kids told him they did not want to disturb the students in the next room. When the teacher remarked that he was hot, several youngsters offered him cold bottled water they knew was stored in our small refrigerator.
Hotel employees also remarked that my students were the kindest and best behaved they had ever seen. Announcements were made by grateful pilots on airplanes that the Hobart Shakespeareans were on board, and planeloads of people applauded their quiet demeanor and extraordinary manners. I was very happy and proud to be their teacher.
But…you guessed it: I still think we can do better. While few things make me happier than encountering a young person who has reached Level V, I want my students to reach even higher. For a teacher, there is no more difficult assignment. But the fact that it is difficult does not mean we should not try. It can happen, and when it does, the gratification I feel makes up for every heartache, headache, and small paycheck I have ever received because of the crazy world of education.
Level VI. Level VI behavior is the most difficult to attain and just as difficult to teach. This is because a personal code of behavior resides within the soul of an individual. It also includes a healthy dose of humility. This is how you should behave.
I teach my students about Level VI in several ways. Since I cannot discuss my own personal codes, I try to help the kids identify them in others. There are any number of outstanding books and films in which the Level VI individual exists. Let me tell you about a few of my favorites.
Although he has never trained as a swimmer, he tells his friend Gene that he thinks he can break the record. He limbers up briefly, mounts the starting block, and asks his friend to time him with a stopwatch. A minute later, Gene is shocked to see that Phineas has broken the record. Phineas declines, and he also instructs Gene not to tell anyone about his accomplishment. He wanted to break the record and did.
Gene is dumbfounded, but my students are not. Later in the play, as Willy desperately tries to understand his failures and those of his own children, Bernard shows up but is in a hurry. He is a lawyer and has a case. I try to quietly show children a different way. I also use films that feature Level VI thinkers. Gunmen come to kill him, and everyone in town wants Kane to flee, for different reasons.
Some want the gunmen to control the town so business will be better. The deputy wants Kane to leave because he wants his job. But Kane has to stay. I am well aware that most elementary-school children are not ready to watch this mature film, but Room 56 is a special place and we watch it after school each year.
Red is in prison, serving a life sentence for murder. Every ten years or so he comes up for parole. He faces the parole board a number of times during the film, and each time he tells the board he is a changed man. His appeal is always rejected. But in one glorious scene, after spending most of his life in prison, Red finds his voice. When he is asked if he feels regret for what He has grown into a man who knows himself and has reached Level VI.
He does not base his actions on fear, or a desire to please someone, or even on rules. He has his own rules. And he is released from prison. Any teacher who is sincere and ambitious about what he does opens himself up to colossal failures and heartbreaking disappointments. A while back, two former students returned to my school.
Only a few years earlier, they had been smiling in my classroom. They had participated in extracurricular activities and performed Shakespeare. I took them on trips to Washington, D. I still have the thank-you notes they wrote me when they graduated from the class. Both promised to continue to be nice and to work hard. Yet they came to our school one afternoon armed with smoke bombs. They ran through the halls and threw the smoke bombs into classrooms, destroying property.
Mine was the first one they chose. We ask a lot of our kids and do the best we can.
We need to raise the bar for children precisely because so many kids are behaving so badly. We cannot allow incorrigible behavior to make us lower our standards.
I refuse to go back to telling a child to do something because I said so. A few years ago, I missed a day of school in order to speak to a group of teachers in another state. As is my custom, I told my class in advance and did not discuss consequences if they behaved poorly for the substitute. I did not promise any rewards if they behaved well. When I returned, I found a note from the substitute to the effect that my students were wonderful. I gave it a quick glance and began setting up for our day.
About an hour later, during math, the kids were working quietly on some word problems involving fractions. There was a knock at the door of my classroom, and a short woman came in, holding hands with her six-year- old son. She spoke Spanish and asked if she could talk to me. Something had happened to her little boy, a first-grader, the day before. Walking home from school, he had been beaten up and robbed of his backpack. While this was happening, other students, as is so often the case, only watched or continued on their way home.
But a little girl who was walking by had picked him off the sidewalk, taken him to a fountain, cleaned him up, and walked him home to make sure he arrived safely. She wanted to thank her. I asked my class if anyone knew about this. Nobody knew anything. Having been absent the day before, I was clueless. I told the mom about some other classes to check and tried to comfort her little boy by telling him to remember that while there were mean kids in the world there was also a nice one who had helped him.
They left and continued their search. As I shut the door I noticed that most of the kids were talking to one another, speculating on which school bully had perpetrated the crime—some bullies seemed more likely than others.
Out of the thirty-two kids in my class, thirty-one were involved in the discussion. Brenda kept working on her math, head bent closely over her paper.
I noticed this because Brenda hated math.
She was a marvelous reader, and she used to joke with me that try as I might, I would never convince I stared at her as she hunched over her math problems in the back corner of the room. And for one oh-so-brief moment she looked up, unaware that I was watching her. She looked up because she had a secret and wanted to know if anyone knew it. Her eyes narrowed and she gave me a serious shake of her head that told me to mind my own business.
It was Brenda. She had helped the little boy, but her plan for anonymity had been foiled by the mother and my brief glance. I asked the other kids to get back to work and resumed my business. The rest of the day was a blur. Brenda had reached Level VI and no one would ever know. She and I have remained very close over the years, but we have never discussed that day.
No, not thumbscrews and the rack—worse. It is time for the weekly staff meeting. I have struggled for years to convey to outsiders just how horrible these sessions are. Recently, a fellow teacher and friend helped me make the nature of our meetings understandable to others. He is battling cancer, and his chemotherapy treatments take place each Tuesday after the meeting.
One day, I almost broke down and had a seizure. I am not ashamed to admit this. Senator John McCain, who survived imprisonment and torture during the Vietnam War, could not endure the torture we withstand in these meetings. You see, the children at our school do not read well. They do not like to read. This means one of two things: Either we have the stupidest kids on the planet, or we are failing these children.
Please believe me when I tell you that the vast majority of our students are perfectly capable of learning to read. No one wants to admit it, but a systemic conspiracy of mediocrity keeps these children on the tread-mill of illiteracy.
At one staff development meeting, a supervisor of these literacy coaches came in to inspire us to help Johnny read. She began her talk sagely by holding up a rather large book between her thumb and forefinger, as if it was a turd. Teaching our children to read well and helping them develop a love of reading should be our top priorities. People seem to understand this.
Millions are spent on books and other reading material, celebrities make public service announcements, and thousands of hours are spent training teachers. The spin doctors at various publishing companies tell us that our students are doing better, but honest people know this is simply not the case. Concerned teachers have learned not to bother raising their voices, because powerful textbook companies have carefully prepared answers to anyone who points out that the emperor has no clothes.
Young teachers are afraid of being crushed by bureaucrats whose only real mission is to keep selling their product. As testing services compete to rake in millions of dollars, nervous school districts anxiously await the latest test results. And year after year, most children do not become passionate lifelong readers. There is a lot of finger-pointing. These forces include television, video games, poor teaching, poverty, the breakup of the family, and a general lack of adult guidance.
I am not oblivious to the challenges that many good and caring administrators face. The teachers they supervise are often apathetic or incompetent or both. As a result, districts have turned to monotonous shared reading texts and have ordered all teachers to teach the same material at the same pace to all students. Such directives come with robotic automatons whose purpose is to make sure teachers are following the program.
Of course many bad teachers benefit from such regimentation. But good teachers do not. We are no longer supposed to introduce our students to powerful, challenging works of literature. We are punished for the incompetence of some teachers. The real losers, however, are the kids.
No one has all the answers. Not all of my students develop a love of reading. But all of them improve and most of them have an exciting year reading with me. Some succumb to the aforementioned forces when they leave my class, but many become hooked for life.
Here are some strategies that I use in Room A Different Focus Schools have lost sight of why we read. Like many school communities, the Los Angeles Unified School District uses scripted basal readers to teach children to read. The objectives always focus on fluency, comprehension, and other necessary but deadly dull goals.
I think they should. I read every day, and it is not because of a test coming up or because I want my achievement scores printed in the paper to demonstrate that my school is improving. I read because I like to read. I read about good books in the newspaper, hear about good books on the radio, or overhear strangers discussing their new favorites in a public place. I was the same way as a child. I spent those hours reading great books. Those books made me hungry for more books.
My appetite for literature and trips to the library were a better assessment of my progress than any standardized test. My fifth-graders laugh because they made up their own reading test consisting of only three questions. According to them, it is a far more accurate test of reading proficiency than anything designed by some testing service.
Have you ever secretly read under your desk in school because the teacher was boring and you were dying to finish the book you were reading? Have you ever been scolded for reading at the dinner table? Have you ever read secretly under the covers after being told to go to bed? My students and I agree that if a child answers yes to all three questions, he or she is destined to become a reader for life.
I want my students to love to read. Reading is not a subject. Reading is a foundation of life, an activity that people who are engaged with the world do all the time. It is often exceedingly difficult to convince young people of this fact, given the world in which they are growing up. But it is possible, and when you consider what is at stake, the effort is worth it. If a child is going to grow into a truly special adult—someone who thinks, considers other points of view, has an open mind, and possesses the ability to discuss great ideas with other people—a love of reading is an essential foundation.
A terrific boy named Timmy had not been feeling well. The evening before he had been up all night with vomiting and diarrhea. In the morning he had felt strong enough to go to the museum, and indeed he seemed to be recovering. As we walked into the food court for lunch, I pulled him aside. How ya feeling, buddy?
A little weak, but I'm okay, Rafe. That's great. I think you know you need to be careful about what you eat. What do you think?
Well, no sodas today, Timmy. Let's stick to bland stuff like soups, veggies, and bread until you're feeling a hundred percent, okay? I watched my students get their trays and begin choosing their meals. Some were getting chicken, some pizza, and still others were choosing salads. I had to laugh: I intercepted him at the beverage cooler, where he was reaching for a chocolate milk. Now, Timmy is a wonderfully bright kid and I love having him in class.
He needs to be guided. I took the junk food off his hands and helped him make some wiser selections. He soon felt better and went on to have a good day. Children—even very bright ones—need guidance. Whether they are selecting food or literature, kids need our leadership to help them find the right path.
I am not smarter than my students. But I know more than they do because I am older than they are. I know about fabulous books that they might not yet have come across. It is my job as their mentor to put these books in their hands. Because the kids trust me, they are more likely to try a book I suggest.
The joy of hearing one of the children laugh out loud while reading The Phantom Tollbooth or ask if she can borrow the next installment of The Chronicles of Narnia remains a thrill for me. I get chills watching their minds try to comprehend the layers upon layers of Alice in Wonderland. Sharing the joy of great literature can be a cornerstone of a relationship between an adult and a child. It is through literature that young people first begin to look at the world differently, to open their minds to new ideas, to journey down an avenue of excellence.
To complete the metaphor: Reading nothing but basal readers often leads to a dead end. Occasionally, I use books on CD. Each of these classic memoirs is told in the first person, and hearing a professional voice tell the story helps to hook the kids. With certain books, this approach is more effective than having students trade off reading sections.
There is a danger here, however. I have seen teachers play a book on CD and take a break. This is tantamount to using a television as a babysitter. It takes a master teacher to use an audio book effectively. A good teacher always stops the CD at intervals, either to make sure the kids understand a point or to lead a discussion on a crucial issue.
This is especially important when listening to difficult material. At the Library Parents need to take their kids to the library. For many families this has become a vanishing activity. With the rise of home shopping on the Internet, more and more kids order books online. We are trying to establish a set of values in our children; it helps when they are surrounded by others who share a fervor for reading. These days, children who read are often mocked by ignorant peers.
He can think to himself, Maybe no one you know reads, pal, but I know you are mistaken. The best way to combat the indifference that surrounds our children is to take them to places where intelligence, enthusiasm, and a joy for reading are standard operating procedure.
The library is the best place to begin. But our job is not done once we walk in the library door. Adults must serve as guides. One day, my students and I were in our school library when a group of about twenty fifth-graders rumbled noisily into the room. I looked up and noticed they were unsupervised.
The group spent about thirty minutes in the library. Some went online and looked at Web sites that had nothing to do with reading. Some sat and talked with friends. Others looked for books with no supervision or guidance.
Like so many tragic moments, this was a scene of missed opportunity. Here were students losing out on a chance to find books that might help them discover the joy of reading.
Instead, most returned to class with books they had already read or no book at all. Their teacher was still on the phone when they returned. The schedule in their room noted that the children had gone to the library. Choosing Literature There are many ways to find terrific books for children. Of course the simplest way is to share books you love and continue to enjoy.
I have yet to find an elementary school child who has not discovered the joy of reading when presented with such classics as Bridge to Terabithia, The Westing Game, or Number the Stars.
A list of Caldecott Award winners is a good place to begin when searching for books for very young readers.
Librarians also have all sorts of lists from which both parents and teachers can begin their quest to find books that will be remembered forever.
You may be an elementary-school teacher whose district guidelines force you to use some terrible basal reading series and discourage reading great literature in its entirety. Many reading companies falsely claim it is not necessary to read entire books because there are samples of fine prose in the chapters that fill up their texts. The argument that placing portions of literature within basal readers is good enough for our children is laughable. Just last year I witnessed what can result from this strategy.
Our school uses a school text whose selections include a fragment of Anne Frank: