Monday, November 24, 2008

The Depths of Literacy Education

I'm sitting here on the verge of Thanksgiving vacation, wondering about the state of affairs in public education. Soon, it will be Christmas vacation, and then, upon our return for the Spring semester, it will be time to start that push towards the standardized testing that will commence in April (in New Mexico, the date varies by state).

Much of what happens in terms of literacy education mandates happen in response to standardized testing, it is the driving force behind what districts, states, and the fed mandates for teachers to do in the classroom.

Where does this leave you, the classroom teacher? For one, it leaves you caught in the crossfire. Teachers are the one who know the best way to teach their students. It's teachers who have access to those valuable resources that kids can use to further their own learning. At the same time, it's those teachers who have no power outside of the classroom to decide what to do in the classroom.

Yes, it's hard, and frustrating. But there are things you can do in order to take control of your classroom. First of all, you need to know your stuff. Know what you're doing, know that it's the right way to teach according to standards, the needs of your students, and according to research. I've heard many teachers say that it's too difficult to keep up with the current trends in education, that they just have to 'go with the flow' and work based on what's in front of them. That is a start, but without a grounding in theory, there is really no praxis so to speak, it's straight method based on some vague understandings that are based on misunderstandings.

Literacy is so much deeper than a few stories in a few textbooks. It's so much deeper than worksheets, post-tests, and the occasional diorama or project. Literacy is an intricate, multi-leveled process in which students learn to interact with the world, and it's deeper than the words on the page. Literacy instruction, if it's practiced effectively, opens students to different ideas, it gives them a new outlet for creativity and exploration, and ultimately teaches them more than any teacher ever will.

I know that this post is more of a rant than anything else, but I do want to explore this topic more deeply in the near future. Let's just hope that I don't disappear for another three months! If you have anything you'd like to add to the discussion, please let me know, I'm open to comments or even to a guest author.