Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

January 23, 2012

TIDBITS: Reading is fundamental

CROSSVILLE — When I was about 8 years old, I received the box set of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series as a Christmas gift from my great-aunt and uncle. Over the next several months, I journied with Laura and her family from the house in the big woods to the little house they built on the prairie and then pulled up stakes and moved again to Plum Creek.

We were thick as thieves, Laura and I. I'd join her as she planned the next attack on bully Nellie Oleson and played with the beloved pet bulldog, Jack.

I also spent many hours with Nancy Drew. I'd help her discover the secret hidden in an old clock or the clue found in a crumbling wall. Mrs. Barton, the librarian at my local public library, always helped me pick out a new mystery from the almost 200 Nancy Drew volumes on hand.

I was enchanted by Meg Murray and her adventure to find her father, who's been trapped on Camazotz after trying to achieve faster-than-light-speed travel with a tesseract in the beloved novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Thanks again, Mrs. Garrett, for recommending that book to me.

When I was young, the grown ups in my life made it a point to read to me regularly. My mother had a treasury of Mother Goose stories that we must have made her read 10,000 times. My father was always reading. Somewhere along the way, all those funny looking lines became letters, and then those letters became words. Soon, those words became sentences. And then I was off and running. From See Spot Run to Phillipia Gregory's The Red Queen, just the other day, reading has been an integral part of my life. It's one of my favorite pastimes and I'm truly thankful for all the wonderful characters I've gotten to know and places I've been able to visit in my imagination thanks to the world of literature.

From a practical standpoint, I'm also thankful that I was able to read those pesky word problems in math and figure out what they were asking me to do, or to read the chapter of my history text book and find the correct answers and draw the correct conclusions to complete my work.

Reading is a fundamental part of everything a child does in school and, later, in their daily lives. Unfortunately, Tennessee students fall below the national average in reading scores, and that's been the case for more than a decade. According to results of the 2011 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests, only 43 percent of third grade students were proficient in reading and, therefore, ready to move on to the fourth grade where learning shifts from learning to read to reading to learn.

In Cumberland County, the combined reading/language proficiency rate for students in grades 3-8 was 51 percent. That was enough to earn the system a grade of B from the state, but it means that there's still work to be done to get our kids reading at the level they should.

I'm a firm believer that education begins at home. That doesn't mean that mom and dad have to have Ph.D.'s and set ridiculously high standards that the kids live in fear of failing to achieve. It means that mom and dad are interested in what's happening at school and what their child is learning. It means that, even before school began, parents were reading to their child, taking advantage of the Imagination Library program and using games and toys to help their child get the basics down before they went off to school. And, once in school, they didn't stop. They help with homework as best they can. They encourage their children to do their homework, and their classwork, to the best of their ability, and they not only reward good work, but try to find solutions if their child seems to be struggling in an area.

Cumberland County has introduced numerous reading initiatives and programs into the school system to help students learn to read better and to improve reading comprehension, because what's the point of reading if you don't know what you read?

Accelerated Reader lets students choose a book of their choice to read and then quizzes the student on that book. The teacher is able to use the quiz information to assist and motivate reading, monitor progress and target instruction. The biggest drawback I see to this program is that students are limited to choosing books that have quizzes to go along with them and, if they don't choose one of those books, they won't get their AR points. That can negatively affect their grade and keep them from getting to enjoy reward programs. Of course, there are more than 150,000 book titles to choose from so, hopefully, there's something everyone will enjoy. That's the whole point, as I see it. You want to get kids reading so they see how enjoyable it can be. That will get them reading more for pleasure and entertainment.

While this program is widely implemented in the school system, other reading intervention programs are also used by teachers and administrators to help diagnosis barriers to reading proficiency and help target instruction for individual students to help them see improvements not only in their scores and grades, but also in how well they are reading. These programs are available in all elementary and high schools. Parents, if you think your child may need help reading, please talk to your child's teachers. Working together, you can all make a difference in your child's life.

• • •

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published each Tuesday. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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