July 26, 2016

Why We MUST Reexamine our Reading Series

This week I’m using my reading series story Sled Dogs Run.  It is a wonderful story written in a way that oozes author’s purpose.  Yet, it is in the WRONG spot-a totally WRONG spot.  It is in the second unit (first week) of my reading series, in the anthology, in the WRONG season, and, above all, tied to the WRONG skills!  And this has happened over, and over, and over- WRONG stories tied to WRONG skills!  This is why we MUST reexamine our reading series!  Let’s take a closer look!
            Sled Dogs Run is tied to the following curriculum goals:  character, setting, plot and making predictions.  NO!  This is not what this story is about.  So, how do we go about thinking of the curriculum in a different way?  First, you will totally have a feeling about a story!  Really, that’s what happens!  If you REALLY know your standards, you can read a story, and examine your feelings about how the story fits, how the story breathes.  This story breathed Author’s Purpose to me.  It breathed of a love that brings in Author’s Perspective.  Sure, it had characters, a setting, a plot, all stories do-but it had MORE!  What else-let’s look closer!

            Language!  Words that mean so MUCH MORE!!  Rich, deep language that a beginning second grader CANNOT pull out or appreciate!  A language that was foreign in so many ways-terms that needed to be understood through a skill set that most teachers and students could never understand.  They are mushing terms.  Things that the average kid in America in second grade will never experience in second grade!  There had to be a deeper understanding than just “Let’s read it for character, setting, and plot!”  They need a specific vocabulary set to really understand this story!  Want more?

            You can’t predict this story!  You can’t! Unless you have ridden with a sled dog team and have intricate knowledge of sled dogs, you are out of luck-PERIOD!  Beginning of the year second graders can’t guess that there will be a moose on the journey.  They can’t guess that there will be a whiteout!  They can’t guess the dogs will lead her home!  They can’t break down the information and predict that trust is key!  They CAN’T!

            How do we fix this HUGE issue with reading series?  How do we get the best out of a story like Sled Dogs Run!  REEXAMINE IT!  CAREFULLY! 

1. Read the story and ask yourself, “What are the standards that go better with this story?”  There are lots of standards that can fit many stories but it often seems like reading series makers guess and apply.  You just can’t see how that standard makes sense.  Yet, we teach it anyways.  We teach it that way because “experts” say so.  I always wonder, “What experts?”  I’ve never heard of any of the people who put these series together.  They don’t offer any real reasons as to why they pick skills this way besides, “Because that’s where we put it.”  Should I stand on “because”?  I think not.  

2.   Ask yourself, “How does this fit into my other curriculum?”  Part of the reason this story is in the series is it fits into the series decision that it is about animal adaptation.  Later in the series there is a story about Alaska that ties into mapping.  How did they miss the connection?  This story better helps us understand the topography and environment of Alaska through the trip the dogs actually take!  And, throw in the main March event of the Iditarod, and you now have a highly engaged unit that works together to cover a plethora of skills-mapping, author’s purpose, figurative language, theme, opinion writing (based on the Iditarod controversy), and, in general, a fun winter topic!  Much better suited to the actual purpose of the story based on what it says in the author piece at the end of the story! 

This is the page I created to examine Author's Purpose before we read!

3.   CREATE!  Yes, create!  Or search out!  Begin to create your own material or find others who have!  Do this with support of quality teaching materials to guide your hand.  I do not just “go for it!”  I have real support through research-based materials to guide what I need to make.  Plus, to be honest, I’ve got years of this!  I was bucking the system way back when the system was bucking itself-during Whole Language.  We were allowed to freely create and make before there was TpT or the Internet!  Start out slow and seek support from other educators!  We love to do that stuff-support one another! 

4.  Try it out!  This is the hardest part.  Being brave to try out what you know is best, what you think will work.  You will gain confidence.  You will have flops-real flops!  That’s how you learn!  Just go back to the drawing board!  

5.  Reassess and reexamine!  What worked, what didn’t, and where do I want to go next?  This is REALLY important!  REALLY!  Did the standards work?  What went well, what didn’t?  Was it too rigorous, just right, or too easy?  How can I adjust that?  Did it work well where I placed it in my curriculum?  Did the students engage with the topic because they were mature enough to do so? 

           Now, I know that some of us have to follow roadmaps.   That in it self is a major problem.  I’m lucky enough to be in a district that allows us the choice-use the series or use “other” materials that go in line with the order of that curriculum.  This story easily fits into the curriculum we are completing now.  That’s another thing to really know-your road map and how to adjust stories to it, instead of the stories to the curriculum!  If you are not lucky enough to be in a district that is flexible, go talk to your administrator!  They are educators also.  Provide evidence as to the “why” of your change, to what works better.  If you district offers surveys, explain this type of thing on the surveys.  Go to curriculum in your district and really show them.  There are lots of options out there.  The reality is, until we stand up and begin to talk openly about the problems in a purchased series, there can’t be change.

           And with that, here is my last bit of advice.  Start emailing and talking to your legislators about these problems.  Email and share your issues with the company itself.  We owe it to our students and to ourselves to start speaking out!  We can’t improve unless we are willing to step out in the faith we have in ourselves as professionals!  We owe it to us!

Sled Dogs Run on TpT

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