Reblogged from WHOLECHILDREN

Not too many years into my career as a high school English teacher, I had reached my breaking point with run-on sentences.  I couldn’t stand to see another one, and frustrated with my seeming lack of effectiveness in teaching students what run-ons are and how they muddle their writing, I decided to take action.  I instituted a zero-tolerance  policy in my English classes for run-ons.  Use just one in your essay, and it’s a zero.  Certainly, this would motivate my students to pay attention to my lessons and to edit their papers.  I mean, no one wants a zero, right?  I was giddy with the brilliance of this idea and couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner.

Of course it didn’t work.  Not one little bit.  In fact, not only did it do nothing to reduce the number of run-ons in my students’ writing, it actually made their writing worse. My students stopped taking risks, they stopped writing anything but the simplest of sentences, and they stopped liking to write.  I was also left with a gradebook full of failing grades for students who did not deserve to fail.  I hadn’t thought about that part:  I never imagined it would come to that.

So I understand Michigan state representative Amanda Price’s frustration with third grade reading scores in Michigan.  She’s read the studies and she knows that kids who are not reading proficiently by third grade are at greater risk for academic failure.  She’s tired of teachers and parents not doing their jobs, which in her mind are the most likely reasons for students not reading on grade level.  And so she has taken action.  The threat of retention will surely motivate those teachers and parents to teach the kids to read.

But what Price and other legislators fail to understand is that the majority of parents and teachers are already doing the best they can with what they have and what they know.  They don’t need threats of punishment to make them teach better and parent better.  They are already teaching and parenting the best that they can.  They are already motivated to see their kids succeed.  What they need are the resources and conditions to meet the diverse needs of the kids who struggle (and the ones who don’t).  Retention is not a resource, nor does it provide the conditions in which a struggling reader can get the help he or she needs.

Young readers struggle for a variety of reasons. Read more>>