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The most common excuse teachers use for not giving children a time each day to pursue their own reading interests is that there is just too much to do in order to prepare them for standardized tests and fulfill curricular demands. Really?
I think about the unit in Canada I used to do every year, faithfully. The activities I put together for it, the implementation...it was not a bad unit, but always in the back of my mind I would wonder what the heck they were going to know about Canada next year. My thought on that was probably nothing.
It had me really thinking about what the kids would remember. What they would appreciate in their day. The state curriculum is well intentioned, but let's get real. Much of what the state lists as being expected in any given grade for any given year, one teacher couldn't accomplish in six years even if they wanted to! And, when one analyzes some of the state curriculum content, it's hard to believe anyone would want to.
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What's Important in the Curriculum
I think teachers need to discover what is important in the curriculum and implement that.
The state's not going to know if you offer a daily silent reading period, in place of a Canadian unit. Let's face it, nobody really gives a hoot about Social Studies anyway. (I'm not picking on Social Studies, there are lots of items in the Elementary teacher's inflated curriculum that could be reasonably sacrificed for better things.) Besides, reading current affairs and nonfiction literature with historical context will provide some great information for the historical buffs. Once the fifth graders in my class pass the New York State test in November, I don't even bother to think about it.
What do I think about then? Silent Reading.
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Make DEAR Time a Priority
My classroom library has hundreds of books, magazines, and newspapers. They are organized into baskets by genre, displayed prominently on little stands around the room. I have two spinning book cases, a nice carpet, pillows....I'm not going to let that space go to waste.
Every day I read aloud to the children, then send them off to select and read their own material. It's often referred to as DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time and it is not sacrificed for some other nonsensical task. Kids love it, and research can only support that reading independently helps develop fluency and intrinsic appreciation for the act of reading. If not, then why bother having children read at home at all?
I'm not necessarily trying to tell people about DEAR time. Anybody who is anybody in education has heard of this practice and it goes by other names as well. What I do want to emphasize is its importance.
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No Classroom Library? No DEAR? Shame on you....
I want to say shame on the elementary teacher who does not provide a classroom library and a daily drop everything and read time. Don't go there. Put it into your curriculum faithfully each day.
On many occasions I meet with children individually during DEAR time and discuss what they are reading, listen to them read, complete a reading assessment, or sometimes even read quietly myself.
Put on the soft music in the background and it's like a day out at Barnes and Noble. A piece of reading heaven each day.
The kids won't argue with that.
- Thomas Styles has his degrees in Elementary Education and Developmental Reading. He is certified in Elementary Education and 7-12 Mathematics. Mr. Styles has taught in public and private elementary schools for twelve years.