Launching the Reading Workshop Highlights and a Few Freebies

At Tuesday night’s board meeting, the subject of the middle school’s Lucy Calkins-style reading workshop came up, sparking an interesting exchange between board members and the curriculum director.

Board members raised the possibility that having students choose their own books, effectively designing their own curriculum, might be related to the middle school’s poor ELA scores. (See here, here, here and here.)

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Curriculum director: Students don’t choose their own books.

Board members: Yes they do choose their own books.

Curriculum director: No they don’t choose their own books, they’re guided to choose certain books.

Board members: Yes they do choose their own books….

And so it went until the curriculum director prevailed, and no discussion took place of the merits of having 7th grade students read only two whole-class books in an entire year of school, or of the fact that close reading requires whole-class instruction (and quite a lot of whole-class instruction at that).

Mini-lessons and 20 kids reading 20 books in the same class are incompatible with the Common Core’s emphasis on close reading. Thus middle school students will be tested on their ability to do close readings of challenging texts, but they will receive very little in the way of explicit instruction and practice in how to do close readings of challenging texts.

Books 7th grade students chose for themselves (or were guided to choose for themselves) in school year 2011-2012:

(Click on screen shot to enlarge)

The other issue that did not come up is the question of community values.

What is the community’s goal for English class?

(Or, if different segments of the community have different goals, what are those goals?)

My own goal, which I shared and share with many parents, was that my child should not only read well but become well read, a concept that disappeared from public schools approximately 20 years ago, according to Sandra Stotsky’s The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum.

Being “well read” means having read (closely!), understood and, if possible, appreciated or actively enjoyed a comprehensive selection of canonical texts drawn from the standard literary time periods, preferably in coherent, sequential survey classes.

Irvington schools do not provide this option. Very few public schools do.

This situation needs to change because the idea that students should be well read is a value, and the community, not administrators, determines the values their schools should serve, or should.

Boards set the vision; administrators execute the vision.

College Preparatory Reading List: What College Chairpersons Wish Incoming Freshmen Had Read (1986)

1. The Bible 11. Gulliver’s Travels
2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 11. Hamlet
3. The Scarlet Letter 11. Moby Dick
4. The Odyssey 11. Paradise Lost
5. William Shakespeare 11. Pride and Prejudice
5. Robert Frost & other 20th century poets 11. Ernest Hemingway
8. The Iliad 21. William Faulkner
8. Charles Dickens 21. David Copperfield
8. Macbeth 21. House of the Seven Gables
8. Prologue to the Canterbury Tales 21. Return of the Native
11. The Aeneid 27. Romeo and Juliet
11. T.S. Eliot 27. Emily Dickinson
11. Walt Whitman 27. William Wordsworth
11. The Great Gatsby 27. Red Badge of Courage

Should Students Be Well Read or Should They Read Well? by Anne
..McCreary Juhasz & Leslie R. Wilson NASSP Bulletin March 1986