How Do You Read?

By: Shannon Boatwright

Alright, so here it goes…I’m going to admit that I’ve actually learned something, as an adult, from a class that I was forced to take. Yep.

I’m a teacher and director of the fine arts. And I like to think I’m darn good at what I do.  I’m a true lover of the arts and currently I get to teach middle school kids how to express themselves. I teach them how to control their bodies and voices to express themselves successfully and portray characters. I teach them the benefits of concentrating and cooperating, letting them experience it. I inspire them to use their imagination. I attempt to create opportunities for students to explore their talents and most importantly, to increase their self-confidence. Unlike most drama teachers, I don’t just teach theatrical terms and unload a bunch of theatre “stuff” on a classroom full of kids in which 95% of the students I teach will likely NOT seek a profession in theatre. I take the opportunity to teach these precious kids the true elements of drama, the tools in the actor’s toolbox – body, voice, imagination, concentration, cooperation – and how to successfully utilize them.  All tools that will help them in EVERY area of their lives, no matter what profession they go into.

Needless to say, I’m passionate about what I do and although teaching in the public school system is incredibly challenging, has aged me considerably and definitely is not financially rewarding, I strive to make a positive difference in these students’ lives. The true rewards come in the success of my students. And I can confirm that those successes, small to some, huge to others, are positively priceless.

All that being said, (and of course I could say more, but on to my point of this blog post…) one of the many requirements by the state was that all teachers take a class called “Read to Succeed”. The instant reaction is, well, naturally and unapologetically, sarcastic, “Fantastic, another thing we teachers are required to do. Another time-wasting, no money-making, not-making-me-a-better-teacher, required THING”. Sorry, but that’s the blunt truth that we teachers are used to. Sure it’s not every time, but daggomit it happens all too often. So yes, pardon me for jumping to obvious conclusions, but all too often us teachers aren’t allowed the time to just do what we do best. All too often we are weighed down with silly requirements and nonsense that tends to be a most unfortunate, serious waste of time.

So here’s the admission – though this required class I had to take certainly did not need to be stretched out over so many hours and could’ve been condensed and simplified, I did learn something valuable from it. Thankfully. “Read to Succeed” is actually an appropriate name for this state-required course. Every teacher uses reading in their classrooms on some level and the truth of the matter is, we take for granted this idea that all kids can properly read when they get to our classes. This sadly is not the case. I’ve known that students read differently, with a different level of skill as they read out loud. My focus has usually been on that skill of reading out loud, applying character and emotion. But what this class has taught me is that we need to help students to think while they read. Hmmmm…. Yes, there’s the key! Forget sounding out words and all that reading “stuff” we’re used to hearing. Students need to learn how to actually understand what they’re reading. Make sense of what they’re reading. Visualize and grasp the content, the story, while they’re reading. They need to think while they read.

So how do you read? What was your reading experience like growing up? Do you remember being taught how to read? Did you experience struggles that you had to overcome to be a successful reader? As an adult do you still have moments in which you read a paragraph and have no clue what it was about? Then you end up reading it 2 or 3 or more times before you gain the focus to take in the meaning? Yea, me too. It happens. Now imagine a student struggling with that same thing, a teacher thinking they’re understanding what they’re reading, and yet a student possibly not having a clue what they’re reading. We have to teach the art of thinking while reading!

I hope you were able to think while you read my blog. 😉

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