A friend recently observed that, after a year “dedicated” to learning yoga, she was not much better at it. She laughed, “I guess I should actually do more yoga.” Her New Year’s Resolution for this year was to practice and learn yoga. So far this year, she has bought yoga clothes, subscribed to a yoga magazine, joined a yoga class, bought a new yoga mat, and even downloaded an app with daily yoga poses. However, she has only gotten into an actual yoga pose a few times during the whole year.
As we were developing the last two blogs, Reading Essentials and Writing Essentials, we were reminded that all the supplemental activity around teaching reading and writing doesn’t really matter if students don’t have time to actually read and write. Unless students spend substantial time reading and writing, it doesn’t matter how beautiful our classroom libraries are, how well students know routines for managing materials during writer’s workshop, or how great we are at interpreting running records.
Sometimes when we work with teachers, they grow weary of hearing us ask: How much are your students actually reading and writing? Teachers are under tremendous pressure to teach specific content on a rigid timeline. In terms of these content demands, we understand that mini-lessons feel more like “real” teaching than the time students grapple with reading and writing text without our support. But think of their learning to read just as you think of your own learning of something … anything.
Piano lessons? In your childhood piano lessons, how much of the time did you have your hands on the piano keys? How much of the time was the teacher listening vs. talking? And how much of your piano practice involved playing the piano? And what happened to those of us who didn’t spend enough time practicing? (We never really learned to play!)
Culinary skills? Did you spend all of your time in bookstores reading cookbooks? Did you simply listen to experts tell you how to cook? How much of learning to cook happened over a stove? And how well do those of us who haven’t spent substantial time in the kitchen cook? (Not particularly well!)
Try this: Pretend your students are training for the reading and writing equivalent of the Tour de France. Will they spend too much time listening to someone else tell them how to balance, brake, and steer? Or will they spend most of their training time actually on their bikes practicing?
One more time … are your students reading and writing enough?