Unreadable Books and Lost Students

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My last post sits uneasily on the post before it. I have been offering suggestions for new teachers interspersed with commentary. The character of that commentary varies and I acknowledge that yesterday’s post represents a type of post that has led me to nickname this blog “The Blog of Gloom and Doom.”

I recognize that many teachers will not see themselves in that post. Where I live, schools are cranking out scholars who are ready to take on any university in the nation. I have taught in a very different location, though. In that place, the poverty level ran above 90% and the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the last ISAT ran below 25%. Only 2% exceeded expectations in reading in 8th grade, only 3% in 7th grade. We were locked in academic battle in my school and I can’t begin to tell readers how many best practices and other practices I tried in order to improve the situation. My life was action research. I lived action research. I managed to put together some wins, too.

My frustration especially spills out when I think of all the unreadable books that my district obliged me to hand out to those students who could not meet or who barely met expectations. If those books had only been slightly unreadable, I would not be this angry. I can work with slightly unreadable. With a great deal of extra tutoring, slightly unreadable becomes a nut that can be cracked. But when my Assistant Superintendent picked a new math book based on its greater rigor, I wanted to tear my hair out. (Or his, especially since the math teachers on the committee to help pick the textbook had picked a more readable and therefore approachable, textbook.)

I am not against rigor. I am not against richer, denser, more complex text. I am against books that are pitched years above students’ documented reading levels.

They don’t work well. Students give up. Students leave them in lockers and never look back. It is as simple as that.