musing about pregnancy, parenthood, education, play, & learning from birth until now
Homeschooling Reason 1- Over-testing & Literacy
Rigor. Standardization. More reading. More writing. More math. With the advent of No Child Left Behind and then the Common Core State Standards, we saw a shift in accountability. As NCLB was replaced by Obama’s Race to the Top Initiative, we continued to see the pressure to test proficient on standardized tests trickle down from policy to superintendents to principals to teachers (Ravitch, 2013). Ultimately, the message was this: if your students fail, that means you’ve failed as a teacher. It is obvious, then, that if the measure of student success was standardized testing started at grade 3, and a successful measure brought more federal funding or, at minimum, kept the school open, that the only common sense solution was to teach to the test. Teaching to the test meant more math and English at the expense of arts, physical education, and any other untested “elective” (Ravitch, 2013).
The problem is, kids are kids, and to develop academically and socially, they need time to play, both in the artistic sense and the physical sense. Some might see a child playing on a playground with their friends and think nothing of it. I see that child learning social emotional intelligence, getting physically stronger, learning problem solving skills (e.g. maybe if I swing harder I might be able to skip a bar on the monkey bars), and, well, getting physically worn out and exercising.
As teaching to the test became more rampant, so did scripted curricula that prepared students for these tests. “Prep” tests are now given in some states as early as Kindergarten. The idea is that if students learn to read better and faster, then they will pass the tests. Obviously this is a flawed premise—pushing students to read faster and move through programs like accelerated reader, where students are awarded extrinsic “rewards” for reading as many books as possible, kills the love for reading. It kills motivation for reading. It kills the aesthetic value of reading (Gallagher, 2009). Yet, when students walk into Kindergarten in 2019, they will have, on average, 20 minutes of recess, 20 minutes of art, 20 minutes of science, and at least 120 minutes of reading/writing.
As someone who teaches English and English education for a living, of course I’m thrilled that we are dedicating so much time to literacy. But, the problem is that this time isn’t spent simply having students marvel at the pictures in a really artfully crafted book. Students often don’t have much choice as to what they read, and if they do, they still have to submit that book report or answer reading comprehension questions. In some ways, yes, it is important to see if students are able to read phonetically—testing using, say, running records, is an important way to know whether or not, formatively speaking, students are having any issues with phonetic awareness that can be “diagnosed” and solved. The problem is that our attention in our schools is placed on rigor, not aesthetics, and while our students might come out of Kindergarten often knowing how to read, they already hate it. I’m all for rigor, but we are doing it the wrong way.
It is ironic that the teacher educator has chosen to homeschool her kiddo. Yes, I get the irony. If I could simply send my child to school with my former preservice teachers minus the bureaucracy of public schools, I would. I trust the preservice teachers I work with immensely. The problem is, often their hands are tied. How creative can you get when you are told in your scripted curriculum that you need students to complete pages 78-80 in their worksheets today? How much can you argue with test prep if your job depends on it?
When S. will be ready to read, she will learn to read through phonetic instruction (not whole language instruction—we’ll take elements of this instructional approach, like learning sight words, but as a whole research points to phonetic instruction as a more effective practice, although slower). She will have a choice of reading what she wants, and I’ll fill in the gaps by reading out loud books that might be a bit too advanced for her to read on her own. This way, she continues to develop her vocabulary (a key to building reading comprehension—see Kylene Beers and Donalyn Miller) but doesn’t struggle so much that all hope for reading comprehension is lost. The idea is to scaffold instruction just so that she is constantly between the two rungs of the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky) of being easy enough to complete without facilitation and just hard enough to not be able to complete without facilitation. In plain English, this means that she’ll need to read books that she can easily read independently PLUS books that might require reading aloud because the vocabulary is just complex enough to learn new words but not too hard as to lose motivation because NOTHING is understood.
I know I’m “mixing” learning to read instruction with reading instruction, but the two really go hand in hand. We begin developing literacy skills in our children from birth, right—language is the key starting point for developing literacy skills. The more we read to our kids, the more vocabulary they are exposed to. They are also exposed to differences in tone and inflection with written word. Think about it—you don’t ever talk the way that you read, unless you are loony. From reading aloud you move into reading letters aloud along with phonetic blends. This sounds fancy, but often is intuitive. You want them to say mama? You usually sound this out, right? That’s a phonetic blend—MMMM----AAA. Ma-ma. Go on, baby, say it—mama. Ma-ma. Maaaaaaa---ma. This is the very basic and essential example of phonetic instruction!
Eddie and I have many more reasons for homeschooling S., and I’ll continue to reflect on these ideas here, but for now I’ll leave you with the reading that I cited in the above post, along with the idea that it is NOT our teachers NOR our principals that are often at fault for the state of our over-tested public schools these days—it starts out with policy makers who are both too far removed from public education to know better AND often "bought" by companies who profit hugely through the education market.
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