So, when I jotted down the phrase EYES ON THE PRIZE, I am not quite sure where I wanted to head. Then, last night, I was cleaning up some files on the iPad mini in preparation for NCTE and the need to have files handy for the conference presentations. I came across a series of photos I took at a conference on technology and curriculum last month. And I had the connection I needed. Maybe it is not the connection I had in mind initially, but it works wonderfully. Here is the photo:
Just in case you cannot read the screen, the presenter is talking about how to make sure all kids are readers. It uses a program that virtually diagnoses any kid's reading problems in just 5-30 minutes (I find that range puzzling, but heck, what do I know?). It then creates an individualized learning plan for each kid and the program automatically monitors progress. Other than the creepy 1984 feel, there are some other concerns I have about what sounds like AR on steroids (and there are still teachers defending the use of this "program" out there).
The first is it is a deficit model. Do not concern yourself with what kids do well; let's focus on what they cannot do. The other concern is the rather vague description of the program (which supposedly any district using RtI should invest in). The website (http://www.mindplay.com/programs/raps360-virtual-reading-diagnostic/) promises me that the program even teaches reading. Well, what are we waiting for? Let's download it and sit back and let the program do the job. More time to collect data, right?
Seriously, this idea that a program can teach reading, can diagnose deficiencies, can create individualized plans is one that stretches credulity. Mostly I guess this is because I have my eyes on a different prize. The prize for me is not kids achieving 100% on benchmarks and other assessments. As P. David Pearson remarked so presciently, we can end up with a nation fill of kids who can pass tests but do not enjoy the act of reading. We are there. I hear about these lost readers constantly from teachers and librarians. I see them in our university classes: students who hate reading and still wish to become teachers. That is why I turn to books by Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle. They know what the prize is: lifelong readers, writers, learners. Their books offer suggestions to teachers who have the same prize in mind.
So, what is our idea of the prize? I suspect most teachers do not see the goal as test scores despite the pressure they are getting from the top. They see the same prize I do, the same prize Penny and Donalyn do, the same prize Linda Rief and Nancie Atwell, and others do. The prize is a lifelong reader. This week one of my colleagues has heard from two former students about how much she affected their lives. How they are still reading and writing. How they are lifelong learners. THAT is the prize for us all, isn't it? That we in some way touch the lives of our students, that our influence does not stop at the classroom door nor at the end of their year with us. Programs are often short term and short-sighted. Teachers down a longer road, setting kids' feet on the paths and doing what they can to prepare them for the journey beyond.