How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning.
Democracy and Education, 1916
Recently I attended my daughter’s school’s PTIO meeting and left with a heavy heart. A chunk of the conversation revolved around programs being implemented to work with below proficient, proficient and advanced readers. From what I understood, these ratings were decided by the yearly TCAP test as well as the computerized MAPS test. (I have never understood how a multiple choice test of any kind could determine a person’s reading ability.) It was also my understanding that kids that were below proficient met before school to do a reading program implemented by advanced readers in the upper grades. It was then that I wanted to turn to each parent and teacher in that group and ask them what kind of reader they were.
As a teacher who implemented a reading workshop model, I truly wasn’t smart enough to determine a child’s reading ability and because of this, we were all readers in our classroom. We were not advanced, proficient, or below proficient. Instead we talked about various skills, strategies, and thinking processes that would enhance our reading processes. These artificial labels restrict literacy achievement and very seldom empower a reader to reflect and grow. But when we’re all readers, the possibilities are limitless. And I still wonder how and who determines what questions are asked on these high stakes tests that determine a person’s reading ability.
And while I get that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a little more complex than Bill Martin Jr. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You You See?, I get that beyond that, the ability a reader brings to their reading is all about opportunities. The best opportunity for every reader is to be immersed in literacy through choice reading, quantity of reading, and writing.
My overall reading goal was to addict readers to reading. In this addiction all would continue to reflect on their reading and grow as even I continue to grow as a reader today. I often told students there is nothing passive about reading. You don’t sit on the sideline passively watching the game. Reading involves getting in the game and there are times when your brain can be quite sore from the activity. And for my musically invested students, I told them readers aren’t in the audience watching the concert but instead are playing many different instruments.
Due to a manufactured need to collect data, reading has become defined in a linear and numeric way, which tells us absolutely nothing about the reader. The reading process is much, much more complex than this, and I can’t help but wonder what damage we are doing to readers by using such a simplistic, error ridden model to label them as readers.
The more I think about it, I don't know what my reading ability is, but I do know one thing. . . . I'm a reader. How about you?