I recall a date I had with my wife approximately six years ago. We live in a relatively obscure area of Florida where discovering forms of entertainment can be confounding and mind boggling. We decided to venture to the nearest ice skating rink and partake in the joys of ice skating. For me, it had been at least 15 years since I laced the hockey skates and breathed in the cold, somehow intoxicating air that is unique to a skating rink. Was I nervous? You bet! Did I tumbled and bang up my knees in the process? Sure did! But was it all worthwhile and did I get better as the day progressed? Yep! It took time, patience, and perseverance, but eventually the old hockey swagger from my youth came back. My wife, a pure rookie at heart, struggled much of the time, but even she lost her death-grip on the railing and became a better skater by day’s end.
Truth be told, most students entering a middle school setting have the capability to read. But some are new skaters, lacing up their own skates with a level of unfamiliarity. Some will fumble with a book that is above and beyond their young capacity. At my middle school, we perform a practice in reading that has become second nature and has shown significant benefits in not only our standardized testing results, but in something far more important. Our desire to have all students read and enjoy the process (or journey) through a good book supersedes the practice of dishing out overwhelming standardized tests.
DEAR, otherwise known as “Drop Everything and Read,” is a twenty minute segment of time each day in which students, educators, administrators, and staff are provided a time out. We all open up our favorite newspapers, magazines, and novels and lose ourselves in the comforting embrace of the written word, whether that word be Mike Lupica or Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe or J. K. Rowling. Students are provided books ranging in difficulty in each classroom from a second to twelfth grade level so the “skaters who are shaky on ice” can also appreciate the entertainment a good book has to offer.
But I can hear the naysayers already: What about the students who refuse to participate? How about the ones who pass notes behind the teacher’s back while the educator is lost in an Ayn Rand novel? Like everything in education, there exists no fool proof solutions. Attention spans range and so do interests. I bring ESPN magazines for my students who love sports (OK…they are for myself as well…you caught me…) and also offer a wide array of unique genres for all interests. Age-appropriate graphic novels are not off limits, and I invite my students to bring their own material. And since I am a student at heart, i will usually situate myself in the back of the classroom. This practice cuts down on much of the antics of a passed note or nonverbal communication between students. The first week is often most difficult, until students relax with the notion of their teacher becoming “one of them” during the practice of DEAR.
The result? Students do something they may not have the opportunity to do at home. They drop everything and read! They learn how to master the practice of efficient skating through tomes and texts. And the ultimate “hockey hat trick” takes place: Increased scores on standardized texts, increased comprehension capabilities, and an increased appreciation for the power of words. Goal!