When I first began teaching, in 1977, I spent an inordinate amount of time each evening on tasks that I thought would help students learn. I would sit on the floor with my mini paper cutter, cut out word cards from tag board, use brightly colored markers to match with the different levels of the basal readers, carefully write hundreds of vocabulary words onto these cards, cover them with contact paper as laminators didn’t yet exist, and write the chapter number from the basal in the upper corner. Night after night, I would create these word cards so I could flash them in front of my students’ faces the next morning. Surely, that would be the answer to helping them learn to read, right?
What if I had spent this time reading about effective literacy practices?
Do you scroll through Twitter and read the posts of educators as I do? I ran into one the other day where a teacher posted, “I don’t read books. I would rather spend time doing other things.” Ah, that is exactly what I had been doing. Until about 1970, instructional research was virtually unknown. Granted, in 1977 there weren’t any books written about effective literacy practices. There were journal articles. As teachers we were given teacher’s editions for basal readers and we followed them exactly. If we had an original idea, such as flash cards, we made them ourselves. We purchased the tag board, markers, and contact paper from the meager salary of something slightly above $5,000 a year that we made. It was a very different time.
I would like to share with you what it was like to for me, as a new teacher, to simply read a recent publication of reading research. To get to read an article I would need to drive half an hour to a University library. As a new teacher, I had to jump through hoops to get a visitor’s pass just get in the front door, then locate a quarterly, education publication (I have long ago forgotten the name of it) on the 4th floor – education library – that would list the articles recently published, next, go try to locate the specific education journal on the shelves (if someone else didn’t have it checked out), take it to a table and sit there and read it. Of course, I could try to copy each page for twenty-five cents, if the machines were actually working, take that home and read it. In those days the quality that spit out of a copy machine was extremely difficult to read as it was mostly black and smeary. Only to discover, oh my, I ran out of quarters in the middle of copying the article! So much for trying to grasp the latest and greatest thinking in the world of educational research. The only way I would even know there was new information about reading research would be from a university professor; as they were the one’s who had copies of the actual educational journals. Do you see how complicated this was? How does this differ from the steps would you need to take to read a recent journal article or book today? We certainly have jumped light years into the future!
Perhaps this is why I appreciate books so very much. My wish is for educators to be able to learn from what someone else has written and have a place to collaborate with each other.
Let’s learn together!