Sunday, November 1, 2009

Think Before You Speak

Teachers have powerful voices. As we struggle to be heard by policy-makers, the community, and others who can impact our profession on a large scale, we are definitely being heard...maybe not by those groups as often as we'd like, but by another group that is even more important - our children.

Recently I watched a class of third graders read together. It was a Halloween story, spooky and scary, and they loved it! They read together, a chorus of ghouls, and on the scary parts, they got louder and louder! There was an energy in the room as they got more and more excited. They started squirming in their seats, wiggling and shouting...it looked as if the room would erupt at any second.

And then the teacher said, "Calm down. If you get out of control, we won't be able to do fun things like this any more. Instead, you'll have to read to yourself."

(Insert here the sound of a needle scratching across a record.)

What?!

Okay, you know what she literally said. But what those kids heard was that if they didn't behave they would have to read for punishment. Punishment? Reading should be a reward as in... "If you walk nicely to the cafeteria for lunch, I'll let you read silently for the rest of the day...the week...the year...!"

I've heard it too many times to count - "Jacob, you can't work nicely in the group. Get a book and sit over there and read."

And what about writing for punishment? Teachers have been assigning the ever-dreaded "sentences" for years.

I will not talk in class.
I will not talk in class.
I will not talk in class.

And we've all seen these writing prompts: Write one full page explaining why you didn't do your homework.

No wonder our students hate to write stories and poetry and reflections. We may as well assign:

I will never like to write.
I will never like to write.
I will never like to write.

Teachers, let's make a commitment to think before we send the message that literacy's not important.

And while we're at it, let's stop making our athletes run laps when they lose a game or run a drill incorrectly at practice. Exercise - another activity we want our children to choose - but they won't if they "hear" it as punishment.

11 comments:

Ariel Sacks said...

Great post, Cindi! A welcome reminder. Teachers often do imply that group and hands-on activities are more "fun" than silent reading.

Mel said...

I work at an after school program and many of the kids would rather read than play games or watch movies! I let them read as a reward for finishing homework.

Julie Niles Petersen said...

And don't forget about the parents. It bothers me knowing so many parents tell their children, "You have to read for ____ minutes before you can watch any TV or use the computer." In this scenario, reading is the chore; TV and computers are the fun.

Nice post!

Rachel A. said...

Thank you. I advocate for opportunities for students to engage in learning. We should be encouraging conversations and expression in the classroom, not punishing it.
By allowing students to express them selves , it gives the content relevancy. It builds connections. It helps students own their learning. If it is "noisy" for the right reasons, how wonderful. When students possess the courage to express themselves appropriately , it should be celebrated, not crushed.
The social networking that students participate in on a daily basis is evidence that they have a need to be heard. As Thornburg
(2004) stated, it is important to meet students where they are at, and not ignore their need to connect.
Thank you for your words. It is true. We, as parents and educators, must be mindful of the powerful message our words and actions send. In the heat of the moment, it is easier to respond with our emotions instead of logic. It is disturbing to think that our best of intentions to help students, may be contributing to the problem.

Rachel A. said...

Thank you. I advocate for opportunities for students to engage in learning. We should be encouraging conversations and expression in the classroom, not punishing it.
By allowing students to express them selves , it gives the content relevancy. It builds connections. It helps students own their learning. If it is "noisy" for the right reasons, how wonderful. When students possess the courage to express themselves appropriately , it should be celebrated, not crushed.
The social networking that students participate in on a daily basis is evidence that they have a need to be heard. As Thornburg
(2004) stated, it is important to meet students where they are at, and not ignore their need to connect.
Thank you for your words. It is true. We, as parents and educators, must be mindful of the powerful message our words and actions send. In the heat of the moment, it is easier to respond with our emotions instead of logic. It is disturbing to think that our best of intentions to help students, may be contributing to the problem.

Laura Lynn said...

Wow. I never thought about the type of message we are sending in those situations. I have done that when I taught third grade when I had a few students who weren't following the few rules we had listed in the classroom. I had them write down the rules several times. Now I see I needed to come up with a different resolution to the problem. Thank you for opening my eyes to this.

Michele said...

I believe there is a time and place for everyone to be able to express themselves, including students. Reading should always be fun and encouraged not used as a punishment.

David Schwartz said...

I recognize the truth to these comments. However, as a first-year teacher, I have to ask: What alternatives do you suggest? I remember once from an in-service when the presenter pointed out that you can't just tell a kid "Don't do X" without giving them a replacement behavior, and I'm feeling much like the bewildered child of that scenario. Thanks!

DeAnna said...

I agree that reading should be a reward! What better way to end a busy, stressful day than to sit down with your latest novel and delve in! It's a pity we don't teach our kids this. Thanks for the reminder!

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hou said...

Teachers, let's make a commitment to think before we send the message that literacy's not important.
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