Older Students, Pleasure Reading, Read-Alouds

Read Aloud.

Burro Genius by VIctor Villasenor

About five years ago I was laid off from LAUSD and, begrudgingly and against my better judgement, I took a job as a math teacher for a charter school.  I know! Don’t shoot me, I needed a job and they made themselves appear innovative, passionate and most importantly, engaging the school community in a love of learning.  Well after the first week I met my new students and I knew I’d been duped.  They were more than squirrely, they were disruptive, immature, distrusting, and mean..in other words completely off the wall most of the time and I had been led to believe it was my job to make them into “normal” people.  So I did the only thing that seemed to make sense, I started reading aloud to them.  I started with stories that were a little controversial, gritty and had lots of swear words; something to catch their attention and reel them in – I wanted words that would be both shocking and possibly cathartic to fill the room rather than the raucous chaos that had ensued for weeks leading up to my read-aloud realization.  After being called every name in the book and all but threatened physically, I was desperate for something to engage them.  The craziest part about it is it seemed to work.  Truly – students would hush up to listen to the words of Victor Villasenor talking about his days failing English class only to eventually become a published writer of fiction.  I made sure not to make it too lessony or ask students to over-analyze the texts.  I just wanted them to practice good listening technique and without much coercion, they settled right into it.  I don’t know what came over me, but something told me these kids needed to hear the words of someone who was not me, maybe more like them.

A few weeks later I was called back to my old job, and even though I had made this small headway, I returned with new insight: older kids like read-alouds too.  So as I contemplate my next move in starting a new school library at my adult school, I am reminded of the transformative power of read-alouds.  Kate Messner says that struggling readers have often lost their love for stories, but as teachers we have the power to give it back to them when we bring the story to life by reading it aloud.  If we just expect that they listen, and let the words wash over them without having to answer comprehension questions or take a test at the end, these students are reminded of the power that stories have: to escape, to transform, to nurture.  I now view read-alouds as a best practice in any classroom, but especially those with a greater proportion of struggling learners and readers; this would be every single classroom at my school.  We cater to those who want to reclaim their education, but have a lot of academic obstacles to overcome to make that happen.  How will I incorporate read-alouds into the library programming at the Skills Center?   

Advocacy, Diversity, Older Students

Consult Experts.

In another enlightening discussion with Mr. Completo, the teacher librarian I am interning with, I learned about the master authority on read-alouds: Jim Trelease.  In the 1990s and early 200s he held hundreds of workshops reporting on the importance of reading aloud to children.   He has since retired from the lecture circuit, but over the years he has compiled a lot of research that indicates reading aloud to children from birth can positively influence their love of reading over their lifetime.  Trelease has compiled a lot of his research into informative pamphlets posted on his website and he allows people to redistribute them as long as they ask permission first.  Trelease writes about the very real inequities between the number of words a child from a wealthy family hears before age 4 (school age) and the number of words a child from a poor family hears in the pamphlet, .  Remarkably it is about three times the number of words.  This can probably be explained by multiple factors, but the end result is still the same.  Poor children enter school more often with a huge disadvantage and yet, the academic demands impressed upon these children is the same.  Surely, those kids who come from a poor family and whose parents had the time to read to them will excel, but for the vast majority this can explain higher school dropout rates in communities of lower SES, lower wages and educational attainment, as well as the perpetuation of the poverty cycle, and compounded with other inequitable institutions, a diminished likelihood of upward mobility.  

So Mr. Trelease’s solution is to educate parents, and since the majority of my students are already adults and/or parenting this is vital information to share with them.  But what else can be done to assist them in their path toward literacy?  Our students are often children who started out with a disadvantage who are now grown up and this disadvantage has continued to plague their experience in school.  How do they make up for this lost time?      

Advocacy, Older Students

Know your history.

Libraries and Adult Education take its roots from a realization and movement in the 1920s that public libraries should focus a good deal of attention on educating patrons.  An American Library Association (ALA) study was conducted in Chicago, which determined not only was there a need, but there was growing evidence that patrons were utilizing the library for these endeavors regardless, thus, the ALA vowed to meet the demand on three main fronts:  1) by providing study materials, 2) by raising awareness about resources available in the community, and 3) by providing outside opportunities to patrons.  

It was also in the 1920s that brought the first legislation mandating adult education and the Bureau of Adult Education (in California) was formed primarily for the purposes of English language instruction and assimilation as part of an expansion of the “Americanization” program.    

Today libraries continue to engage adults (of course, children and teens as well) in the learning process by offering information, classes, and exposure to new technology.  Adult education strives for the same things with a focus on job training.  Where do these two institutions with a similar purpose converge and how have they influenced each other since their inception?  Just a few years ago, the Los Angeles Public Library began offering online high school diploma courses in addition to their adult literacy tutoring programs.  Historically this was the realm of the public adult schools, to cater efforts for undereducated adults preparing them for an adult high school diploma.  Each system fortifies the other, and if working in partnership would benefit patrons exponentially.  It seems that they are in some ways competing.  I argue that public libraries should partner with adult schools the way that they have partnered with K-12, to collaborate on special projects and be a referral service to each other, as was vowed long ago.  These partnerships would ultimately be strengthened by the existence of an adult school library program to liaise between the adult school and the public library.