I spent considerable time today reading the report from the People for Education Group. The highlighted findings are:
In the report, there were a couple of interesting points that particularly caught my attention.
First of all, the decline in teacher-librarians that are staffed at schools.
“In 2010/11, only 56% of elementary schools had a teacher-librarian (eighty percent of them part-time), a number that has fallen steadily from 76% in 1998/99. Only 66% of secondary schools had teacher-librarians, just over half full-time, down from 78% in 2000/01.”
Secondly, the report acknowledges that reading today is more than the traditional book. Quoting PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the report highlights activities like chatting, email, and news, etc. as activities contributing to student reading proficiency.
There is no question that there is intense pressure on teachers to show improvement in literacy tests. You can’t have a discussion with anyone in education for long before the conversation turns towards this topic. Maybe the results from this report will give pause to step back a bit and consider just what the definition of literacy is. Kudos have to be given to the classroom teachers and the support that they’ve received to improve the test scores. After all, that’s the game and they’re playing it well.
But, is it good enough? Is success on a third party test all that we want to call literacy?
I think back to my own experiences. I know that I never truly enjoyed reading a book when we had to read a chapter or two at night and then come into class to deconstruct and analyse it. By the time we were done, it wasn’t a story that we enjoyed, it was a series of tasks that resulted in a test and a mark. I compare that to reading that I enjoyed. In my younger years, it was a trip to the town library with my mother. Later, it was a trip to the school library which always seemed to be loaded with things that caught my interest. I can confess to really enjoying the macabre of Edgar Allen Poe or the mystery of Earl Derr Biggers and Agatha Christie.
I get that the study of English needs to be academic. I also get that the study of Business Education likewise needs to be academic. But, where does the love of reading enter the picture?
It’s one thing to say that it needs to be done at home. However, not everyone comes home to an environment that makes recreational reading a priority. Not all communities have that well stocked public library to get the books to begin with.
By default, we seem to be coming back to the local school to address this problem. If we base our thoughts on the report, the classroom teacher is doing her/his job well. Students are doing well on the tests but we’re missing something. That’s where a good teacher-librarian enters the picture. I especially enjoyed the interview with Roger Nevin in the Globe and Mail. He indicates how he’s trying to enhance the library experience at his school with his acquisitions. I do know Roger and he’s got many more angles than that. He is also a strong proponent of technology in the classroom. It seems to me that these attributes are what we need to create an environment where students start to love reading – in whatever shape it takes. And yet, the statistics indicate that only 50% of schools have a teacher-librarian in place. How is that fair to students? How is that a literacy strategy? How many have the skills of a Roger Nevin?
I hope that this article isn’t one of those flash in the pan, hit and miss, stories. I hope that decision makers read the content seriously and then look back at the environments that they’re responsible for. Can it be made better to support a love of reading?