New Era, New Challenges, New Strategies– By Rochelle Scott
The education profession has always been one that is constantly changing and evolving. When I entered the elementary classroom in 2006, my first grade classroom was steeped heavily in the principles from the Science of Reading a.k.a Reading First.Reading success was not an option, we wanted our students to be successful, so it naturally became a part of the culture. With heavy emphasis on the following; Phonics Phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension which are the necessities of the elementary core reading curriculum, our students’ reading abilities increased significantly. great gains. Our students developed a love and independence for reading. Despite data proving what was working, as education often does there is a shift in how reading is presented to students. It became apparent that teaching our students shortcuts was more important than teaching them to read. Hence came the whole language approach to reading. Teachers began to spend more time immersing students in literature hoping that somehow this would magically cause them to learn to read while developing a love for literature. Fast forward to 2021 and we are back to where we started: Teaching children the fundamentals of reading. Not to mention we are in the middle of a pandemic, economic shift, and crazy politics. When we add the new challenges to the new era and don’t change the approach, we are just like hamsters on their wheel running tirelessly to nowhere. Teachers need strategies in literacy that are culturally competent and can be integrated seamlessly into their current practice. Here are four strategies that can help restore the foundation of reading, and culturally embrace all learners;
Strategy 1: Student Reading Surveys
One reason why we fail as educators in literacy instruction is because we never stop to ask our students what they like to read about. Imagine that! What would happen if we actually asked the readers about their interests. Yes, this may seem like a simple task but is often neglected due to time constraints or a pre-designed reading curriculum. However, a simple grade appropriate survey to elementary students, not only promotes student buy-in, it also allows for teachers to learn more about their students. This brings in a pivotal connection between literacy and culturally responsive pedagogy. In other words. Teachers must seek to learn their students before they can teach them.
Strategy 2: Culturally Relevant Literature
Bringing literature into the classroom with characters that the students can identify with is always vital. But where educators often get stuck is with the mandates of the current schools curriculum or pacing guide. They find it hard to integrate culturally relevant text to their current requirements. However, this concept is not hard when one begins to look at literature as more than the essence of curriculum. For example, in a fourth grade class in Louisiana, students study American history. While the current history text is immersed in European culture, the concepts of American history can be correlated to other pieces of literature such as art, articles, and videos. Simply asking students to compare what’s in their primary text to one of the aforementioned items from an Indigenous perspective immediately shifts the moment to being culturally relevant. Even allowing students to discuss the ramifications that American history has had on their current culture opens the door for major student connections. Creating culturally responsive print rich environments by blowing up covers of literature written by African Americans or Hispanic Americans creates avenues for rich discussion and dialogue. Integrating Bell-Ringers with quotes from culturally diverse poetry, song lyrics, and speeches offers students opportunities to develop in literacy outside of the status quo.
Strategy 3: From Reader to Author
One strategy that I absolutely love is teaching students that they too are authors. Allowing them to delve into creating a voice of their own. Letting them demonstrate who they are and what they represent. This is often overlooked because we have to teach students to read. But what would happen if we ask them to re-write the text according to their experience? Think about it! Taking Little Red Riding Hood and asking the students to rewrite the story using themselves and their families as the characters. What an amazing experience that would be.
Strategy 4: Address the Diversity Gap
My final strategy is that we must address this diversity gap. First, take inventory of your independent student reading materials. What does your current classroom library look like? Can every child in your classroom find themselves in a book? We must create an environment that teaches children that everyone can tell a story. Oftentimes this is overlooked because educators are not intentional about being inclusive in all areas of the classroom. Next, look at your approach to teaching the foundational skills. Are students listening, speaking, writing and reading every day? Are ELL students using their first and second language daily? Are the foundational skills being taught explicitly to each child based on their needs? Asking these questions are great stepping stones toward a more inclusive literacy approach in your classroom.