It’s Reading Again!
I gave a test recently on a novel we have been reading as a class. We spent basically the month of January reading this book both inside and outside of class. The students wrote about what they were reading in short assignments that involved summarizing, making commentary, and asking questions and making predictions about what was to come in the story. We had occassional quizzes to hold ourselves accountable to assigned reading. We had discussions in class using the Socratic circle method in which students come to class having prepared notes on their reading in answer to an essential question raised by the book. Some of the ethical delimas raised in the book were hotly debated among the ninth graders. I was impressed with how well they framed their arguments using evidence from the text and how civil they could be once they understood the rules of Socratic dialogue.
In general, I was pleased with the amount of engagement the students displayed. I often heard comments like, “This book really isn’t that bad,” which is an acceptable way to say one likes a book that he really has been predisposed to hate since the teacher assigned it and it is required reading. It is schoolwork, after all.
The overwhelming majority of the students passed the culminating test with a C or higher. Why then am I frustrated over the non-passing grades? After all, some of those numbers represent students who just didn’t read the book. Those are not the ones I worry about since they made that choice, rather it’s the students who did read the book, or who listened to the audio version of it, but they still didn’t perform well on the test. Why not? Because the test itself has to be read, understood, comprehended, and analyzed.
The same skills needed to decipher a literary work or any other complex text in a high-school or college class come into play when taking a test. The students must be able to understand what is being asked, to choose between seemingly similar answers by making a judgement about which is best, to use reasoning skills to possibly eliminate a choice and arrive at the correct answer. In short, if a student has difficulty reading or is not proficient (grade level or higher), then test taking is going to be difficult. At least part of the grade for each student on my recent test is a reflection of a student’s reading ability. That measurement is an assessment of their entire reading lives, not just the last four weeks of what has been learned in my classroom about this particular piece of literature.
I hate to see them distressed over their grades, while claiming, “ But I read the book.”
My question then becomes, “How well did you read the book and how well did you read my test? There is no substitute for the importance of good reading skills in academic life. There are strategies to becoming a good reader, and most Language Arts teachers continually try to teach and reinforce those strategies. Reading, like any other skill, however, gets better with practice. That part, the student and the parent have to own.
According to http://www.greatschools.org/students/academic-skills/291-ready-for-college-reading.gs “A recent U.S. Department of Education report noted that 70% of students who took one or more remedial reading courses in college did not attain a college degree or certificate within eight years of enrollment.” For college-bound students, reading deficiences have to be addressed in middle and high school or they won’t be in college for long. So turn off the TV, put down the cell phone, and pick up the printed page – even if it’s a digital page. Practice. Practice. Practice.