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16 April 2015 @ 10:55 am
Pushing and shoving redux  
Last week, a fire alarm rang while Karin Perry and I were listening to Steve Sheinkin deliver a keynote address at the University of Southern Mississippi Kaigler Children's Book Festival. We all exited calmly and descended 4 flights of steps. I was stepping gingerly due to bad knees and the fact that I was carrying a suitcase with Karin's and my computer stuff plus my cell phone and a Diet Coke (don't ask why I was rescuing this from the fire; call it reflex). I fear long flights of steps and not just because I have a knee with no cartilage or meniscus. I have a real fear of being jostled, losing my balance, and falling. I suspect old folks like me all fear that fall. And so I was pretty much all by myself so that I could descend at my own rate.

Why am I talking about stairs and fire drills? I followed a link on Twitter that took me to a blog post by Grant Wiggins about college readiness and how high schools might be failing students in giving them what they need for university success. While I disagreed with some of the points Wiggins made (even at the grad level, I do not require 3-5 pp. of academic writing a week nor do my students do much "close" reading of the YA and children's books we read), there is a deeper issue here.

It has to do with pushing: that fear of mine that a push, however inadvertent, will send me flying and tumbling, off balance. We do too much using these days. And so we talk of grit (suck it up kids and just be above average, ALL of you). We talk about expectations for kids in elementary school where second graders should be reading in third grade Lexile bands before they move on to third grade. We talk about more complex and rigorous texts (many of which are ones I read as an English major IN college). We talk about JUNIOR high schools instead of MIDDLE schools. We think that giving "gifted" kids books more suited to older readers. We ignore developmental theory. We ignore that we teach humans. We focus on the next hurdle, pushing kids to get there and jump and move on. Over and over and over and over.

I wonder how many kids we lose along the way? How many kids go hurtling down those stairs? How many lose BALANCE? How many are so gritty that they can pave a driveway?

In READING LADDERS, I argue that we do not always have to have kids climbing steps. Sometimes, it is nice to simply walk along one level of scaffolding, enjoying a bit less pressure, reading "easy" as my friend Kylene Beers calls it. I want kids to connect one book to another and another. But I do not want reading to be a hazardous climb where kids might topple and plummet. Let's stop pushing, please.
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