A First in Performance Poetry

Stephie is Katie’s daughter and like her mother, she likes being first. She likes to walk first when we go to the woods or the beach. She likes to cartwheel the fastest and swing the highest. Stephie loves first grade.

Her teacher has a great plan for helping kids with reading — every week the children are assigned a poem to read, re-read and then perform. Then the kids take the poem home and perform it for parents who record their written applause in a response journal. It’s about the funnest approach to homework I’ve ever heard of. AND a true assessment of her knowledge of word mastery. Stephie is great at this and reads with intense drama and expression.

I will have to ask Stephie’s teacher if there is a source I should cite for that classroom idea, but it is a fabulous one for primary kids.

And oh so much better of a way of assessing her reading fluency than taking a stop watch to her reading nonsense syllables, where reading with expression and drama only slows a reader down. And how much drama can a reader put into sounds with nothing attached to them? No bugs, no pumpkins, no mystery, no enchantment? Just sounds. Where the only skill being tested is speed, as if speed could ever equate to interpreting the real meaning of words. This testing practice is inflicted on her, a political mandate by the federal government, every other week so that there is a score to write next to her name, so that people in suits can brag that her building’s scores are up. Not the children’s reading, not their happiness, not their love of learning. Their scores.

Ask yourself sometime: what motivated you to read? What excited you? What made you want to learn new words. Now ask yourself — was it a stopwatch, a list of nonsense syllables and a stranger keeping score? Was it you sweating it out every other week to read sounds with no meaning faster and faster? This is DIBELS, “the worst thing to happen to the teaching of reading since the development of flash cards,” according to P.David Pearson in Ken Goodman’s book, What’s the Matter with DIBELS. (Heinemann, 2007). Yesterday I was reading this book with my lunch and it gave me an upset stomach. Seriously, I couldn’t finish my salad.

Thankfully, Stephie’s teacher has not allowed this test to totally dictate her methods of instruction. Thankfully, Stephie wound up in a class with an experienced teacher, not a newby who was trained to believe that this bogus assessment plan has any impact on actually teaching kids to read. Thankfully, Stephie’s teacher is countering this testing madness by leading a group of “firsts” in performance poetry.

Now there’s a medium that can really get kids jazzed about reading!

6 responses to “A First in Performance Poetry”

  1. kathy says:

    What a beautiful picture of Katie.

    And that poetry exercise does seem an excellent way to promote comprehension.

    I’m thinking DIBELS is some sort of brainwashing exercise. It seems like something out of a Brave New World scenario.

  2. kathy says:

    Oops – I meant to write Stephie!

  3. Anonymous says:

    you’ll be pleased to know…stephie has reached the benchmark level of diebels. aren’t we thrilled? nope. have NO idea what that means, how it will help her comprehend what she reads and more importantly how it will encourage her pick up a good book. but, at least she’s at benchmark…whatever.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh but Sara – some newby teachers, who are “trained to believe that this bogus assessment plan has impact on teaching kids to read”, are smart enough to know better and many experienced teachers I know wholeheartedly believe in this Dibels disaster! Lesson here – there are amazing teachers, who understand how to inspire lifelong readers and learners, at all stages of the profession!

  5. And the worst are the multi-degreed, years of experience administrators who should DEFINITELY know better, who keep buying this nonsense program and then forcing down the curricula of teachers. You are right, of course. I do worry more for the young teachers because it is harder for them to fight back. I even have some sympathy for administrators who are caught in a bind trying to show AYP and reaching for DIBELS just so they have numbers to put on a chart. The real victims of the DIBELS disaster are the kids. Thanks for writing and keep doing what you know is best!

  6. Thanks Sara!

    I will begin my 29th year teaching children how to read. First and second grades are a wonderous and exciting time for children. Since we began DIBELS testing and progress monitoring etc. teaching reading has taken on a new persona..and not a better one. I do not have all my data on every child I taught to read, but each of them learned without regard to DIBELS scores.
    Even sadder…DIBELS scores do not address comprehension!! So we are on our way to “word callers” who we refer to as “readers” according to their DIBELS score. How sad!

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