As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen’s heart is never far from the classroom. In this post, the commissioner recaps her recent stop in Lexington City Schools on the Classroom Chronicles tour.
By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
We know the importance of reading goes beyond just classroom success. Building strong readers means building lifelong learners and critical thinkers who are engaged in discovering more about the world around them.
We also know that too often in Tennessee, we have been overly focused on helping students decode words and understand phonetics – which are critical skills to develop – without helping them dig into what they read to make deeper connections about meaning. Changing this practice is one of the components of our state’s new Read to be Ready campaign, and it was encouraging to see our educators model what great literacy teaching and learning looks like when I visited Caywood Elementary in the Lexington City School System.
Throughout the classrooms I visited, I saw teachers using different techniques to help their students unpack what they were reading – even with our youngest learners. In Natalie Udovich’s fifth grade class, students began comparing and contrasting Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” with the Native American story “Awi Usdi, the Little Deer,” working with hula hoops in small groups to create Venn diagrams. In David Hearn’s third grade class, students were writing essays about characters in the book “Bunnicula” and using evidence and citations to explain how the different characters felt. And in Jill Zemer’s first grade class, she asked her students to recall parts of a book they read about the Revolutionary War and make connections between the plot and context of the story.
When I sat down with reading interventionist Carolyn Hinson, she was helping a group of kindergarten students to not just focus on the sounds of the words and fluency in reading, but to really think about what the words mean. As she knows from working with older students, too often students just learn how to say a word without building their vocabulary and larger context, and it is important to focus on developing knowledge even with our earliest readers.
In each of these classes, students were engaging with what they were learning through reading and writing – and that’s a testimony to their great teachers. When I spoke to third graders in Mr. Hearn’s class, many told me they enjoyed getting to write and had many opportunities to do so. And when I asked them what they like about their teacher, they shared with me that he’s smart, encouraging, funny, makes sure they do the work to keep learning, and helped them prepare for TNReady. These teachers are inspiring their students to discover the joy of reading, and that’s exactly what will help our kids to be successful throughout their lives.
To learn more about the Read to be Ready campaign, please visit readtobereadyTN.com.