Friday, March 23, 2007

Thoughts on Jim Trelease's Talk

I heard Jim Trelease speak yesterday at Charlottesville High School's M. L. K. Jr. Performing Arts Center. He's quite entertaining, first of all. :) When he began his presentation, he brought up the fact that children spend an average of 900 hours a year in public school (those who are enrolled do, anyway), but that they spend 7,860 hours out of school. I think those were the numbers. So, if there is a reading problem in America, why are we blaming the schools and teachers?

He proposes that it's the families that need to change, by reading to their children and providing them with books, magazines, newspapers, comic books, and other reading materials. I have to say that even as a homeschooler, I took offense right away, and I'm still not sure exactly where he stands on accountability. He did say there is too much time being spent on school activities, homework, sports, and more, which limits the amount of free time available to families for reading aloud. Ok, I definitely agree with him there. And he also discusses testing--that more testing is not helping students learn (to read or do anything else) better. He even had a funny analogy: more frequent testing of students on reading doesn't make them read better, any more than weighing a cow more often will make it gain weight. Loved that one!

But he just couldn't take that step over the line and say that schools and testing could be a major impediment to a child's desire to become a better reader. I was really hoping and waiting for him to say that. I guess he knows that a large portion of his audience is teachers. But the funny thing is, he talked at length about a government report that has been "kept secret" from the public for several years, one that would make it clear that the blame lies with parents for their children's slow progress in reading. He claims that this is because a politician would never get elected if he (specifically the President, as it's a federal report, but he also mentioned governors) told parents this was all their fault. And so the government continues to say it's the fault of the schools. Which can then (this is me thinking aloud, as it were) pave the way for the US Dept of Education, and all the state Depts of Education and local school divisions, to ask for/demand/spend more money on the schools in order to correct the problem. Just thinking out loud . . . He pointed out that Finland tops the charts for school testing scores, and they don't start kindergarten there till age seven, and it's only for half a day, and by age nine their kids are reading at the same level as US nine-year-olds. But then, we homeschoolers already knew it doesn't take that long to teach a child to read, and that you don't have to start teaching them before they're in preschool, either.

However, aside from his harping on parents' being the real "problem," and kind of letting schools and teachers off the hook, he had some really great ideas. He did say that we should keep reading to our kids even as they become teens. That a child's listening vocabulary is much higher than his or her reading vocabulary, so a parent could read aloud a book that is at a higher reading level than the child could have read on his/her own. One tip I really liked was to turn on the closed captioning feature of your television--my kids already use the subtitles feature for most movies, but I hadn't thought about CC. And that even if your child isn't reading yet, or is a beginning reader, this will help them by familiarizing them with more words, and the repetition of these words (I guess this is the whole-word reading strategy in practice). He also emphasized that when a parent is reading aloud, pausing at the end of sentences, or for commas, instead of rushing through to get the book finished :), makes the listener more likely to stay interested. I know there's a world of difference between my reading aloud and Jim Dale (Harry Potter series) or even John R Erickson, author of the Hank the Cowdog series, who reads his own books for the audio versions. If I think of more tips, I'll write a new post with them.

The last thing I wanted to do was to list some of the books he mentioned as good read alouds. They are: the Mr Tuckett series, by Gary Paulsen; the Deltora Quest series--first title is Forests of Science--by Emily Rodda; The Truth about Poop, by Susan E. Goodman and Elwood Smith ; and Kensuke's Kingdom, by Michael Morpurgo. He also mentioned a book called Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story, by Ben Carson and Cecil Murphey. This book is no doubt a good read aloud for older kids, but it's also an inspiring story of a child who started with everything stacked against him, whose mother (who was illiterate) finally made a huge change in her children's lives by forcing them to read: two books a week, and a written book report for each book. He ends up becoming the neurosurgeon who developed the procedures used to separate the Guatemalan conjoined twin girls, and also operated on them. I'm looking forward to reading this one.

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Anonymous said...

Love your blog. I am an elementary school media specialist and I have to say I really liked your take on Jim Trelease. He points out in his book that children think reading is worksheets by the time they are in fourth grade. I can understand why. Teachers are bound by the demands to teach reading in guided reading groups and pick everything apart. Why can't we just allow the students to read and enjoy the book???? About Ben Carson's Gifted is a definite must read. Please don't wait to share this one with your children. I would recommend you reading this with your child before they enter middle school. My daughter is totally inspired by Dr. Carson's story, as well as his morals. Read the book!!! :)

Silvia said...

Thanks for commenting!