Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Forgotten Middle

Once I was told I had to attend a workshop on reading instruction. Having just earned my master's degree in K-12 literacy, I was looking forward to the opportunity. Soon the text for the training arrived, and it was subtitled "Strategies for K-5 Reading," and somehow I knew - this would not the best workshop for a middle school teacher.

It happens time and time again. Middle school teachers continue to attend trainings that are geared toward elementary readers. I sat through another one today...learning about cute little phonics activities that aren't appropriate for eighth graders. Interestingly, the International Reading Association lists Adolescent Readers as a "very hot" topic. So why can't we go to a conference and find more than one "very hot" breakout session?

Today I returned home from the conference to find an interesting brochure in my mailbox; I saw the title "Units of Study for Teaching Reading." Then I saw the subtitle: "A Curriculum for the Reading Workshop: Grades 3-5." Ahhh. Again.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to look at the President's blueprint for the reauthorization of ESEA - aka NCLB. I have been looking forward to a new version of this legislation, a version that wouldn't be punitive to the hard-working teachers of this country. What I wasn't looking forward to is that during the discussion of preparing students for college and beyond ("all students graduate high school on time prepared for at least one year of post-secondary") middle school students are lumped together with high school students in a group called "Secondary 6-12."

I'd like to offer that a sixth grader and a twelfth grader have drastically different needs when it comes to graduation preparation and college readiness. A sixth grader is more concerned with remembering a locker combination than remembering to complete a college application. And although we are certainly focusing on the "pre" part of "preparing" our students for college, our focus is more on the organizational and study skills needed to master the rigorous coursework that will enable kids to be competitive when it comes to college acceptance in the future.

So for that reason I'd like to ask for the middle school to have its own category: "Middle School 6-8" so that we can focus on what needs to be done during those all important years, those three years when children change the most - from loving, sweet elementary independent, thriving adolescents excited about high school. Add to my list of requests some breakout sessions at a reading conference that relate to adolescent readers.

It's a hot topic to the International Reading Association...but only lukewarm to the rest of the world.