Tag Archives: reading

Reaching Young Minds Through Literature: Yes We Can!

by Andrew Palmer

Conservatives often wonder how they can make an impact on the youth of America. When it comes to the youth and political ideology conservatives tend to believe that it is inappropriate to force political viewpoints onto children and teens. As educators, we acknowledge it is both unethical and unprofessional to push a political agenda in the classroom (of course, this never stopped many of our college professors and teachers growing up).

Admittedly, all educators have political biases. At a fundamental level, some of these ideas are tied to who we are as people. It is impossible for biases to not bleed through at one point or another in our classrooms, that is human nature. I don’t expect perfection of any teacher, liberal or conservative. I do expect them to operate out of a character ethic that respects the development of the students in their classroom.

The question becomes, how do you expose teens to ideas that we would classify as conservative while still being ethical and professional? I have always believed that if you truly teach a child to think critically, to question with boldness, and to use logic and reason instead of emotion they will arrive at some point on the right side of the American political spectrum. The reality is that many educators in our schools do not teach children to think critically, to question with boldness, and to use logic and reason instead of emotion.

So, we are left with a bit of a quandary.

I have a solution, and one I think we, as conservative teachers, can play a large role in. It is an area I would like to see this website focus on. And it is an area that I am going to need your help with.

I think our solution lies in young-adult literature.

The left is successful in this country often because they prey on both the illiterate and alliterate. If you are wondering, alliteracy is the concept that people can read, they just chose not to. I believe that alliterate people are just as dangerous as illiterate people. At least illiterate people know they aren’t educated. Alliterate people often are arrogant know-it-alls that think they have all the solutions for life although they do not have one piece of evidence to back it up.

If you have ever truly examined a liberal argument, on most issues you will find that it is based upon emotion and feeling. Rarely, are their arguments based on statistics and deep study of an issue.

I have read voraciously my entire life. I probably consume somewhere between fifty and seventy-five books a year. I tend to read a wide range of books. As a middle school English teacher, I require myself to read at least thirty books during the school year and many of these books are the same books my middle school readers read.

It is my hope to turn Conservative Teachers of America into a site for some of the best book reviews for young adult literature in the country. Who are the conservative authors for young adults? What books promote the principles of freedom? What are the young-adult books that tell the American story, both good and bad? What are the books that challenge young adults to think? What are the books that encourage students to develop moral principles? I know they are out there because I have read some of them myself. Once we start to identify these books, we can do our part in our local communities to get these books into young-adult hands.

I need your help to do this. Please consider sending me an email at conservativeteachersofamerica@gmail.com with the subject line “YA Book Reviews” if you are interested in helping out with this project. It is my hope to get as many conservatives (teachers, homeschoolers, parents, high school students, etc.) out there to join in on this. The more reviews the better. You will start to see some of my reviews come up here over the next couple of weeks to get an idea of what I am looking for.

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Teachers, It’s Time to Spark a Literacy Revolution in America!

This is the first of what we hope to be many articles focusing on professional development. This article is written by Annie Palmer, a 3rd Grade Elementary Teacher and Instructional Leader in the Kearney, Missouri School District.

It is time for teachers across the nation to join a literacy revolution.   Many of us have heard the alarming statistics about reading and literacy in America.  Among the numbers to worry about are the facts that two-thirds of eighth-grade students do not read on grade level (NEAP, 2009) and students with below grade level reading skills are twice as likely to drop out of school as those who read on or above grade level (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis). Are you convinced yet that we need a literacy revolution?

The components of this revolution are not in a basal program.  The answer is not more book reports, more ditto sheets, and more whole-class novels.  The answers lies in the fact that our kids are severely lacking in a motivation to read when we drown them with these traditional ways of teaching. We must first ask ourselves what will motivate our students to read.  According to Krashen (2004), 51 studies prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program. Not only does research back this claim up, so does evidence-based research conducted by Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade Texas teacher and author of The Book Whisperer.   Miller’s students are passing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test with flying colors, and more importantly, they are motivated and inspired to read. I have to admit, after reading The Book Whisperer three years ago, I doubted that free voluntary reading (FVR) could make such an impact. I was proven wrong.  After implementing FVR through an 18-book challenge in fifth grade and a 40- book challenge in third grade, I am convinced this is the key to our literacy revolution.

My classroom was transformed from mundane skills-only instruction to a classroom where students took part in daily conversations about higher-level questions about their reading, excitement about what they were going to read next, and a sense of pride simply from the sheer amount and depth of reading.  And yes, that was without any extrinsic incentives!  The reward was the reading itself. (Yes, kids do read without extrinsic rewards). 

There was definitely an adjustment period for the students, parents and for me as we underwent this new approach.  Questions from the students included “You mean I have to do 18 book reports?!”  No, was the answer to that; they did not do book reports.  One does not need a book report to know whether students are comprehending text or even to know whether they can summarize.  Suggestions from parents included making the kids take an Accelerated Reader test.  Again, one does not need a test to know whether a child comprehends or even to figure whether they actually read the book.  The point of free voluntary reading is to get students excited about reading, to make them life-long readers and to facilitate intrinsic motivation to read.  I used my classroom lessons and assessments to gauge their ability to comprehend text.  Free voluntary reading was about creating the love of books, which is way more likely to encourage someone to read the rest of their life than a book report, an Accelerated Reader test or any classroom lesson.  Lessons, assessments, and comprehension checks need to be a part of a communication arts classroom, but without free voluntary reading, a classroom teacher is only helping students pass their class, not helping them be a life-long reader and thinker.

The first year I took this approach was the first year I started receiving notes from parents, saying “thank you, my child now loves to read.”  One of the most impactful responses I received from a parent and her child was as follows:

“My son and I we were discussing his day at school and if he had homework this evening. He mentioned that he needed to read, which lead me to tell him that I have noticed an increased interest in him wanting to read. His response was enlightening! He said, “Oh yes, mom, Mrs. Palmer has changed my life”. It was a very sincere statement and just wasn’t quite what I was expecting in reply. He continued to say that he likes to read and when he gets a good book, he just can’t put it down. Jake has always read books because he needed to and because we’ve encouraged him to; however, he has never enjoyed reading or picked up books at the spur of the moment until this year. Thank you!”

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Problems with the Common Core English Standards

I came across this great article from University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky on the Common Core English Language Arts standards. She really hits on something I have been struggling with in figuring out how to approach with my middle school students. While some of my advanced students will probably be able to eventually grasp the writing expectations, the bulk of the students, I would argue 50-75% of them, will never quite get there. The writing standards are set ridiculously high with regards to the cognitive ability of the average middle school student.

At first glance the standards don’t leap out as a problem. Take, for example, Common Core’s first writing standard for grades six, seven and eight (almost identical across grades): “Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.” This goal undoubtedly sounds reasonable to adults, who have a much better idea of what “claims” are, what “relevant evidence” is and even what an academic “argument” is. But most children have a limited understanding of this meta-language for the structure of a composition.

So I explored Common Core’s standards for reading informational text in grades three, four and five (and then in grades six, seven and eight) and discovered nothing on what a claim or an argument is, or on distinguishing relevant from irrelevant evidence. In other words, the grades six, seven and eight writing standards are not coordinated with reading standards in grades three to eight that would require children to read the genre of writing their middle-school teachers are expecting them to compose. Middle-school teachers are being compelled by their grade-level standards to ask their students to do something for which the students will have to use their imaginations.

The whole article is very much worth your time: Common Core Standards: Which Way for Indiana

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