Tuesday, December 23, 2008

John Merrow Writes a Commentary

I'm a big John Merrow guy. Everyone should be; the videos that he puts out for the NewsHour on PBS are a great resource and an important voice in the chorus.

In the December 3rd issue of Education Week John gets the back page commentary to talk about some of the things he's witnessed in the New Orleans Recovery District. He talks fondly about a classroom he observed where the 1st graders were reading fluently from Nate the Great; he contrasts that with another classroom in the city where the kids droned through what little reading they could do. It's a nice story, and you can watch the video the article is based off of here.

The bridge too far that he goes, though, is towards the end:

Our national goal—all children reading by the end of 3rd grade—is a ludicrously low floor that may have become a ceiling. Children don’t learn to walk to get somewhere more efficiently. So too with reading: Children want to learn to read so they can make sense of the world around them. Good teachers capitalize on that intrinsic motivation.
This is an assertion that sounds great on the surface, but doesn't always stand up to the reality of the classroom.

This is my 8th year of teaching first grade. In my time I've bent over backwards to try to get some of the kids to read, but it doesn't always happen despite the best efforts of every adult in that child's life. The trick is that for a good percentage of them, by the time they got to 3rd grade they were doing....OK. I've never had a struggling first grader become an advanced reader by 3rd or 4th grade, but I have had bad readers become average readers, and sometimes that's a laudable accomplishment in and of itself.

I reject the idea that Merrow puts forth, then, of 3rd grade as a floor. It's a realistic goal with some legitimacy behind it that acknowledges the different rates that kids develop at, and it's something that I think teachers can legitimately get behind. Where Merrow is going above--"If we'd only build on their motivation, they'd all be reading like the one class I saw!"--is a dead-end path.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


You reject an anecdote!!



10:37 AM  

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