Reflections on readicide. . .

Sitting here the morning after our four-day conversation with Kelly Gallagher on how ineffective reading practices are harming the kids graduating from our schools, I’m trying to sort out exactly what it is that I’ve learned.

Like any good opportunity for growth, I suspect that I’ll be mentally wrestling with this issue for weeks, but here are some initial thoughts that I know I’m going to hold on to:

I’m not alone:  Coming into this conversation, I was pretty embarrassed about my own instructional decisions.  You see, I have changed what it is that I do in my classroom in an attempt to produce results on standardized tests—and I feel horrible about it.  My decision was based on the pressure that I seem to face each year when it’s discovered that my students have the lowest scores on the hallway, but testing pressure is just plain difficult to ignore in today’s accountability climate.

From the sounds of it, dozens of other teachers are struggling with testing pressure at any given time.  While that should probably leave me saddened or angry, at least I know that I’m not alone.  Readicide is real—-and it requires a collective response because it’s an issue affecting schools in every corner of our country.

That leaves me confident that practitioners and parents working together might just be able to build enough political will to drive change.

Readicide is a community—not a classroom—issue:  If you go back and look at the comments that I leave throughout our conversation with Kelly, I ask the same question a dozen times:  If the solution to Readicide depends on individual teachers taking individual actions, then can we really count on seeing scalable change across schools and communities?  After all, when decisions are left up to individual teachers, we’re virtually guaranteeing that some students will be left behind while others will benefit depending on which room they’re assigned to in August.

For me, that means any attempts that we make to improve reading instruction have to be systematic.  Learning teams working together need to examine the kinds of opportunities that their students have to interact with text.  Media specialists have to design ways to create book floods for every classroom.  Principals need to decide just how much professional freedom and flexibility that they want to afford the instructional experts in their buildings, and parents need to make sure that school efforts extend into the community.

Ending Readicide is one of those issues that depends on everyone—not just classroom teachers.

Leadership–as always–remains the forgotten key:  In an overlooked comment near the end of our conversation, a participant named FlitterFly mentions how important the support and modeling of her principal has been in driving change in her building.  That comment has been lodged in my brain for the past 24 hours because I realize exactly how true it is.

Here’s what I mean:  School leaders have been sending mixed messages about reading instruction for the past decade.  “We’re all reading teachers,” they’ll say while cutting student access to electives and slashing the time that students spend in social studies and science.  “Sustained Silent Reading is important,” they’ll say while sitting behind their desks answering email during their building’s collective reading hour.  “We care about more than test scores,” they’ll say while panicking when numbers are published by the press.

Until building principals, district superintendents and local policymakers buy in to the idea that we’re killing reading, nothing is ever going to change.  And that’s frightening.

Now it’s your turn to reflect: If you downloaded Readicide or stopped by our conversation this week, what lessons are you walking away with?  What ideas resonated with you?  What do you still need to wrestle with?

Most importantly, what do you plan to do TODAY to improve reading instruction in your building or in your community?  We can’t just walk away from this conversation and return to business as usual, can we?

On a side note:  While commenting is now closed, know that our conversation will be available for viewing until the end of time!  You can share the link—-found here—-with anyone at any time who you think needs to learn a bit more about what effective reading instruction should look like.