At some point, as the adult in the room, we have to recognize that as long as students are reading and writing for a fabricated purpose, there is only so much energy and time that they will commit to the assignment. Churning out students who hate a subject but can perform in a standardized way isn’t doing anyone any good. While there definitely isn’t a chapter in your teacher’s manual that asks, “Why should reading and writing be authentic?”, it’s something that should be in the back of your mind while planning. Even in the context of a classroom they can (and should!) be presented and taught as authentically as possible. When we present students with an authentic purpose, and have cultivated a reason for them to read or write that extends beyond an assignment or a classroom, then we will start to see their voice and passion come alive. It may be an off the cuff assignment or look a little different from what the teacher down the hall is doing, but that is ok too.
As a fourth grade teacher, I had the pleasure of preparing our students for our state writing assessment each year. Have you ever tried to convince a 4th grade boy that writing is FUN? It was always a challenge! Realizing that the goal was to get them to find something they enjoyed writing about, or something that offered them a reprieve from a grammar worksheet became my mission. One year (pre Mrs. Teamann, of course…) we wrote letters to Troy Aikman, ℅ Valley Ranch and the Dallas Cowboys. The topic was “Why Troy Aikman should marry Miss Gattis”. Persuasive essay, check! Letter, check! We pored over and over those essays, edits and clarifications were flying through the room. No one wanted to let a typo get to Troy! (least of all Miss Gattis!)
Any subject that we teach has the opportunity to make an impact.
Motivating students to be critical readers, to read for enjoyment and knowledge, is a gift that we can give them. Reluctant reader? I genuinely believe we just haven’t found the right thing for them to read yet. Everyone has a passion, we just need to find the right book. It’s up to us, as the adults, to help model what it looks like to be a lifelong learner…a lifelong reader. My elementary colleagues, it just gets harder as they get older…it’s up to us to make elementary school not only FUN but also never losing sight of what it means to have academic integrity. Do we make that a priority? Are we giving enough time in their day to read for pleasure? Are read alouds still happening? One of my 4th grade teachers still does a read loud and she is amongst the top in the district for growing students. She wouldn’t give yup that time for anything…and the books she chooses are MEANT to hook kids into reading, it is very intentional.
We live in an incredible world, where students have the opportunity now to connect with anyone, and I mean anyone. I have teachers who tweet authors, or celebrities, and colleges, all while modeling to their students what it looks like to communicate in a digital way. Students can blog and share their reflections with an authentic audience. George Couros has shared this image with me before.
There are too many opportunities for our students to read and write, and connect globally, to not take advantage of their greatness!
I run into former students all the time…and I can’t tell you how many of them remember those letters we wrote. I bet you they couldn’t tell you one single prompt from an assessment from elementary school…but they all want to know if I ever heard back from Troy!
PS: I didn’t. Which may actually be a good, non-stalkery ending to that story! 🙂
Always a fan,