But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
On Monday, I went to a professional development sessions which was supposed to have been about gifted and talented learners. One of the presenters was talking about differentiation in English. Except not. Leaving aside the fact that my Grade Five and Six readers would not have been challenged by Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda (they read books like Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice), she unveiled this lovely way of ensuring teachers were really teaching reading.
We were asked to highlight all the verbs in a scene between Rowan and the Dragon and identify the changing point. It was supposed to make us suddenly aware that the author had used verbs for a purpose. We went at a pace much quicker then children might have gone at, and still I was almost immediately bored. Furthermore, I was completely turned off this book, and possibly anything else Emily Rodda has ever written.
I was suddenly regretting leaving my sticky note with Donalyn Miller's tweet at home - How does this prepare children for a lifetime of reading? I could have jumped on the table and yelled it out. (Ok, I probably wouldn't have, but I could have written it on the feedback sheet at the end). Except, there wouldn't have been an answer, because this exercise was put together to help children 'show' that they were reading better on our national testing.
I mentioned to the person sitting next to me, who had already put up with my fervant ode to Reader's Workshop and my recommendations that she buy certain books right now, that this might work, if split up into smaller chunks, as a mini lesson, but I feared people would make it their whole reading program. "No, they wouldn't do that." She assured me.
Wouldn't they? Wouldn't they jump on anything that was packaged as 'easy' and 'safe' and 'certain to raise NAPLAN scores?' In Australia you just need to put it in a book with Black Line Masters and it's sold.
Reader's Workshop isn't always easy. It isn't always safe. It doesn't have black line masters or class sets of novels, with reading guides. It doesn't come with highlighters.
Reader's Workshop doesn't tie text to a chair with rope to torture a confession out of it. In Reader's Workshop, students experience the shift of power between Rowan and the Dragon by being in Rowan's shoes, by holding their breath as the dragon turns towards him, by feeling his sympathy when he recognises the dragon is in pain. They take a journey with Rowan, not make a table of his verbs.
Read more about Reader's Workshop here
Photo from Flickr