Read to your Kids

By Jeanne Reynolds

I had to hear it a couple of times for it to sink in. When it did, I could hardly believe it.

“Here’s a great hack for your home virtual assistant device,” the radio announcer enthused. (For those like my husband who think a hack is a terrible golfer or someone who sneaks into your computer system, “hack” is current slang for a quick fix, trick or work-around.)

“You can get (name of device) to read your child a bedtime story!” she continued. “Just say, (name of device), read Billy a bedtime story. Then you both can sit back and listen until one of you falls asleep.”

This may be the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard. I mean, it ranks right up there with, “Here, eat this sausage dog right before you get on the roller coaster” and “Don’t worry, these bungee cords almost never break.”

Seriously? Take a beloved childhood ritual – one of the most important things you can do to help your child develop a love of reading that will reap untold lifelong benefits – and ask a machine to do it for you?

Now, I totally get how exhausted, frazzled and pulled in 7 directions parents of young children are at the end of the day, especially if they’re also holding down jobs outside the home. And reading a story may seem like another chore there’s just not enough time for. The digital voice is better than nothing, right?

No. It’s not.

Because that’s no more “reading” than is watching a movie version of a book. Both are entertaining, but very different. And just getting Billy to shut up and go to sleep is not what a bedtime story is all about. bedtime-story

Reading – seeing the words and pictures, turning the pages – is essential to a child’s future. Children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. And two-thirds who are still struggling by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

And it’s not just being able to read, but loving to read. A third of high school graduates never read a book after high school. Living in a house overflowing with books, and remembering trips to the public library as a highlight of the week as a child, this is harder for me to understand than black hole theory. And incredibly sad.

It’s one reason I’ve been volunteering for the past school year with Midlands Reading Consortium. Even though my pre-K student can’t read a lick (yet!), I’m trying to model the joy of reading and help him develop not just a skill but an avocation he’ll enjoy the rest of his life.

No batteries required.

Can We Create a Better Future for Learning?

By: Shannon Boatwright

Yet again, my deep thinking, passionate child has inspired me. She cares deeply about the earth, animals, health, and people. She recently has become a fan of YouTuber, Prince Ea and I’m ok with that because this guy gets people thinking, puts important issues in our faces and forces us to think, to discuss, and to hopefully take action.

A couple of weeks ago she shared with me Prince Ea’s video, “Why School Sucks.” Now I don’t care for the title, though the realistic side of me has to agree on many levels. I’m an individual who has seen all sides of the occupation world. I’ve worked with big companies, I’ve worked with small, family-owned companies, I’ve worked in the entertainment business, I’ve been a freelance worker, I’ve been an entrepreneur, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, I’ve taught privately, and now I teach in the public school system. I’ve seen and experienced a whole lot from different sides of the game, therefore I feel like I have a well-rounded view of this issue at hand, which is:

We NEED to create a better future for learning!

Our system is askew. It needs MAJOR reform. When my girl showed me Prince Ea’s fabulous video mentioned above, I had just taken my middle school classes through a lesson about the tools in the actor’s toolbox. After the lesson, I pointed out to all my students how I made sure to present the information in such a way that reached every type of learner – visual, auditory, kinesthetic. They read the information, they saw the information in unique ways, they heard the information, and they physically experienced the info. My students were given every opportunity to develop a deep understanding of the knowledge I was imparting on them. And my students responded very positively to this. They appreciated it.

After I saw Prince Ea’s video, it certainly made me feel good about my teaching approach. I made sure to share the video with all of my classes. I loved his main point that we are all different learners and the sooner we discover our individual learning style, the sooner we can be successful. He also encourages his audience to never let someone tell us that we are slow or incapable of doing anything. I felt like this was truly a crucial piece of advice that my students, and everyone for that matter, need to hear.

My students were captivated by the video. I honestly think it helped them put the pieces together and gain an appreciation for my efforts, as well as build a confidence in themselves and understanding their own personal educational journey. It was a wonderful experience to impart this knowledge and realization on my students.

I also made sure to show my students Prince Ea’s video, “Ten Celebrities Who Failed.”

This video just reinforced the information in the first video I shared with them. It reminded them that everyone has obstacles to overcome, but success can be attained. With persistence, incredible effort and confidence in your ability, success can be yours.

In relation to this topic, I came across the Facebook channel, “Atttn: Stories Worth Your Attention.” They share a variety of videos that make incredible points and also get people thinking. On this channel, I recently saw a video in which Mike Rowe discusses the importance of learning a trade. In the U.S. so much emphasis is put on getting a college degree, and we’re often led to believe that going to college is the only path to success. The truth is, many companies cannot find qualified people to fill important trade positions. I especially like Mike Rowe’s point that “the jobs that exist right now, do not require a four-year liberal arts degree. They instead require the willingness to actually learn a skill that is in demand.” Think on that. I’m sure everyone could provide an opinion, personal experience, and input on that topic.

To top off my inspirational journey with this whopper of an issue, my fabulous girl then shared Prince Ea’s video, “The People vs. The School System.”

In this captivating video he asks, “How do YOU think we can create a better future of learning?” The question alone blows my mind and immediately sends me into a tailspin of all the ways I want to answer the question and demand change for the learners of the world.

There are a lot of videos out there of teachers’ and principals’ reactions to this video. They all seem to agree with what Prince EA says, but some do point out that he doesn’t necessarily provide a solution. Well, he does bring up other countries who have made the change to create education success. So there is a solution – MAJOR CHANGE. Look to other countries who are creating such success with their new and improved education system and model them. There’s your answer. Our problem in America is that there are people willing to discuss it, to agree on these issues, yet they don’t have the guts to stand up and attempt to make a real change take place. The higher-ups are stalling any chance for progress because they’re on the fast track to something greater – which really just means, they’re on their own personal mission for higher status and higher pay. Therefore, we lower folks in this education totem pole are trapped in a sense. We’re at the mercy of those in the higher positions above us and until these higher level position people are willing to take a real chance in making a difference then the change will never, ever happen…we will stay within the confines of this ridiculous education system that is in desperate need of reform.

Yep, it’s certainly a vicious cycle. As individuals, what we can do is create awareness and simply change how we do things.

As a student: Discovering how we learn and making sure our teachers understand how we learn best. Being open, honest and aware!

As a teacher: We must make the effort to reach each student. And along with speaking up about this topic with our fellow teachers and our students, we must bring the issue to the higher-ups, creating a respectful atmosphere that makes them have to listen and want to be a part of making a change. Truth is when enough voices demand change and show the proof for why it’s so crucially needed, then the higher-ups have to do something. Right? We must respectfully put the people in power in positions to have to make a change and take action. They have to feel the pressure. We have to rally and speak up if we want to create a better future for learning. But that movement always starts at the grassroots, and that is where our power lies!

So if you are passionate about this topic, whether you’re experiencing it firsthand in some way, already have felt the blow of the flaws of our system, see the effects of a lacking system on the job front or are living it with your own children, share your thoughts, create conversation, engage in the mission to improve learning for all.

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. 😉