Monday, April 13, 2009

Teaching Reading vs. Brain Surgery

I have to post this. I'm in school to be a reading teacher, and while reading something for class tonight, I ran across an article in which the author was comparing herself to a brain surgeon. She's a clinical psychologist, so her research is rather scientific, but it got me thinking. I posted the following in my class's reading response journal, but I'd like to get my blogger buddies' feedback. What do you think?

I have said before that teaching is not like brain surgery, but I think I was thinking in terms of life or death. When I surgeon inserts a scalpel into my brain, s/he better be darn sure he knows what s/he knows what he is doing. I don’t want to end up paralyzed or worse. I never thought about educators being compared to brain surgeons, as the author in this case asserts, but I suppose in the long term a poor reading teacher can do much harm for a student’s self-esteem, job prospects, college prospects, and the like. In terms of quality of life, a bad reading teacher can have just about as large an effect as a bad brain surgeon. I never thought of this before, but am I pretty accurate here? Is this what the author wants us to think about? I agree if it is quality of life at stake. A quality reading program is essential, and by quality I mean one that fits the individual student, not a clinical trial of students and not a clinical trial of teachers.

Part II

With the knowledge that teaching reading is like brain surgery, I think I among others will be a heck of a lot more careful that I choose the program to fit the child instead of a clinical trial. The author of this article is a scientist, and while I respect that, I can’t say that science has a whole lot to bring to education. I know that our best practices happen when we use research, and you can implement a reading program based on what happened in a clinical trial. You can. Doesn’t mean you should take that as gospel and think about nothing else. Part of the reason why teachers have such a difficult job is the fact that they have to figure out what works for each individual student in their classroom. They have to figure out what makes that particular student tick. It might be the prescribed program. Perfect. It might be the prescribed program with additional reading material that matches the interests of the child. It might something totally different. A good teacher will pick up on what works for each individual student in the classroom and go from there. Clinical trials are a good place to start, but only to start. It’s good to look at research. It’s also good to know your students. Surgeons can say the same I suppose. Not knowing too much about the surgical field, I can say that before a surgeon operates, s/he better do an extensive work-up and pre-operative interview with me. S/he better know my pre-existing conditions and potential complications based on my health history. I’d expect nothing less from a reading teacher. Before prescribing a reading program for a child, I’m going to get to know what the child likes to read. I’m going to know reading level and grade level and strengths and weaknesses all around on that particular student. I’m going to know behaviors that trigger other behaviors in reading or other subjects. I’m going to know what time of day that child works best and who that child works with most effectively. That’s just good teaching. It sets teaching and learning up for success. I don’t need a clinical trial to tell me that, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.
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