I thought I’d ought to update you on the outcome of the “War of the Wall” and how we finished it. I mean I did promise to do so. After reading how many times we were derailed, did you wonder why I didn’t just drop it? Well, I do too, kind of. The thing is, I’m tired of dropping things because of behavioral derailment. (I think that might be a new education term I’ve just invented.)
So, we listened to the story on CD, read by a professional reader. That didn’t really go too well, as it turned out. My students need a lot of background information filled in as we go, and that just doesn’t happen when we listen to a story. If they are involved at all, I break it when I stop to explain the things I know they aren’t familiar with. So if even a few kids are involved with the canned reading, that is broken by my explanations. If I’m reading it out loud, the explanations become part of the story. It’s pretty seamless, unless I get off on a sidetrack like I did with the Hmong history lesson in the very first paragraph of the story. I have to say, sometimes I wonder why I try. I say that because while I do think students have to be exposed to the beauty of actual literature, and if they can’t quite read it on their own at least I can make it available to them, I do not think my doing that is having a single bit of effect on their capacity as readers. And at this stage of their lives as students, more than anything, they need to improve their ability to read and understand what they’ve read.
After we read the story, I had them do One Pagers. That at least made them go back into the story. After you see the outcome of this assignment you will probably understand why I decided to forego the class mural project. Here are the best of the One Pagers. They look blue because I took the photos on the last day of school while the students watched Mr. Popper’s Penguins. (Against all odds, it was a lovely, calm day.)
So. While I think that reading aloud is great for anyone, I’m not sure that it results in a greater ability to read on the part of the listener. I’ve become a great reader-aloud, with voices and drama and all, but do my students grow from that in the way of being readers themselves? I’d say absolutely not. With luck, they become people who think maybe they’d like try reading, and that is valuable, certainly. But in seventh and eighth grades they have to learn to read and figure out how to understand what they’ve read. Their futures depend on it.
The Diary of Anne Frank is next on the eighth graders’ agenda. How will that go? I know I can make it interesting, with activities and visuals and all. But will that be enough to get them reading and understanding it? I’m afraid not, but I hope I’m wrong. The seventh graders? I’m thinking we’ll focus on reading improvement with short little passages, and some high interest Scholastic articles. And reading something aloud. We’ll see how it goes! I’ll keep you posted.