BY: JESSICA BEUKER
I consider myself an avid reader. I’ve always loved books; Robert Munsch and Judy Bloom dominated by childhood. When I was ten, I picked up the first Harry Potter book only to not be able to put it back down – this enthusiasm would ripple through the next six novels. In high school, it was Nicholas Sparks, and as I got older, I struck a balance somewhere between Hemingway and autobiographies written by female comedians. But even this book-lover has her limits, and I can tell you for a fact that the very second a teacher would assign a book for class – I suddenly had zero interest in ever reading it.
Research has continually shown that active learning—where students have a say in what and how they learn—leads to higher test scores and an overall decrease in failure rates. According to Good Magazine, active learning has been studied and supported since at least 1987 by educational researcher Arthur W. Chickering and sociologist Zelda F. Gamson, who together wrote Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Under principle seven, “Encourages active learning,” they write: “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.”
According to Do Something, one in four children in America grow up without learning how to read. Low literacy rates lead to other troubles later in life. For example, students who do not read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. The site also revealed that two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare, and over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a fourth grade level.
According to Do Something, one in four American children grow up without learning how to read.
High school English teacher Jess Burnquist recognizes the importance of active learning in turning around America’s literacy rates and students’ general desire for reading and writing. She recently developed a project called “literacy portfolio,” where students are asked to dig into their literacy histories and recall both good and bad experiences associated with reading and writing.
According to Good Magazine, Burnquist found a correlation between students who struggle with literacy or hate reading and those who wind up hating reading in their adult lives. Only, she believes the hate for reading is born out of the school system.
“Most children remember a favorite story or a first book with fondness—so what happened to change that?” said Burnquist in Good Magazine. On the first day of class, Burnquist disregards the syllabus and asks her students to create their own literacy portfolio—a binder with ten memories of their personal literacy journey. “I like to say that if you can pinpoint when things went really well or really wrong, then you have the ability to redefine your relationship with reading and writing,” she added.
One of the similar threads that Burnquist found when reading through the portfolios is that activities that students were forced to participate in during younger grades was what often contributed to their rocky relationships with reading and writing as they got older.
Being forced to read books a student isn’t interested in contributes to rocky relationships they have with reading and writing later in life.
“In the fourth grade, I was reading this book for SSR (Self-Selected Reading), and it didn’t follow the reading levels set by the school. As I was reading, my teacher came up to me and told me to put the book away, simply because it was ‘above’ my reading level, even though I wasn’t having trouble with it,” wrote one student in their portfolio. Another student expressed, “I never really minded reading until I was forced to read books I wasn’t interested in.”
Burnquist is just one of many teachers who are redefining education. Nancie Atwell, named the world’s best teacher, is a driving force for active learning. In her classroom, there are no standardized tests. Every classroom has its own library, and students choose what they learn, write about and read. Because of this, reading and writing levels are well above the national average.
Active learning has proven to be very effective, so it’s a mystery why more schools and curriculums don’t adopt these practices. The bottom line is that people will not put effort or time into things they don’t care about, or things they feel they aren’t good at. I hated regurgitating plot points on test-style questions about the books that I read in school, so I stopped reading them at all. Knowledge goes far above what standardized learning can offer, and boxing all students into one giant group early on is ineffective and harmful to their future education.