I began Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, and even though I am posting at the Learners4Life wiki, I wanted to keep my own reading journal here. In this chapter, I felt Kittle outlined some of her core beliefs:
- Standardized testing does not rule how she teaches writing in her classroom.
- The single greatest influence on a child’s learning is the effectiveness of a teacher.
- We don’t tap into our students’ passions; therefore, they don’t care about what they write.
- Students try to figure out what we want and deliver it — they believe there is a correct way to write.
In some ways I am fortunate that my school does not used standardized testing to dictate curriculum. It is important for our students to do well on the SAT and AP tests, but we do not have to contend with testing requirements of NCLB as a private school. I am, however, glad to see that Kittle, who does have to contend with standardized testing, doesn’t let tests determine all of her instructional decisions. I would argue, however, that if a good teacher makes sound instructional decisions that truly teach her students what they need to know to be critical readers and effective writers, then the standardized test scores will follow. I think perhaps Kittle included these thoughts to appeal to teachers who might be afraid to try her methods and are used to teaching to whatever test they have to worry about.
Kittle echoes research I have read elsewhere regarding the influence of a teacher in a student’s learning. It is both empowering and daunting to know that teachers can have such an impact. Teachers have a lot of responsibility, and I think sometimes we feel helpless in the face of all the problems our students have, testing, and other constraints.
Why aren’t students motivated? Why won’t they revise? How come after all the time I put into commenting on that paper, he just turns to the last page to find the grade?
If you ask them, they’ll tell you. We aren’t tapping into their passions. (3)
I could have written the first three sentences. In fact, I have often lamented about the fact that students don’t read my copious comments and focus on the grades. My students are motivated, all right, but too often it’s a grade that motivated them instead of a desire to be a good writer or to learn. In fact, one of the reasons I was attracted to this book is that I hoped I might be able to learn how to tap into my students’ passions so that grades will no longer be the motivator.
Kittle quotes the literacy biography of one of her former students — a man who entered university to major in writing:
My childhood love of books fizzled when I entered junior high — all of a sudden I was in an environment where I had hours and hours of required reading, so much homework about boring subjects that I had no time to read what I wanted to read. With this went the writing — we never had “freewrite” time anymore, I always had to write what the teacher wanted, the “right” thing, what needed to be done for the grade. Creativity was gone. (4)
His comments could have been written by any number of high school students who once loved school and enjoyed what they were learning only to discover at a certain point that they had to basically play a game — figure out what the teacher wants so she’ll give me an A.
I don’t want my students to feel that way. I want them to enjoy writing, but also learn how to do it well at the same time.
I have created pages for each chapter and student focus in Kittle’s book over at the Learners4Life wiki. It’s not too late to join us. If you want to go ahead and start reading, like I did, feel free. I have posted a tentative reading schedule that allows for members to obtain copies of Kittle’s book and still finish before school begins again.