Thursday, December 11, 2014

What does an ability to read do for us anyway?

In my previous post I wrote about reading and students with intellectual disabilities- if they are considered illiterate unless they get to a fourth grade reading level what and how should we be teaching them? Are we wasting their time with reading instruction? What scares me about that question is that if we decide that yes, we are wasting their time and stop teaching reading in a quality way is the scary question of what if we are wrong? My year teaching students in an intellectual disabilities classroom showed me that some children may fit the profile of a student with an intellectual disability at one point in their lives, but when given the right instruction and opportunity for growth they prove that they are capable of more. So if we decide that a student won't reach a fourth grade reading level are we trying to use a crystal ball that we don't actually have? Are we limiting a child's future?

A commenter on my previous post wrote, "And keeping in mind that plenty of intellectually disabled students who do reach a mid-grade reading level still end up in jobs that don't require reading, for a variety of reasons."

This of course is true, but got me thinking about why we teach reading. Why is reading important to these students if they are going to be functionally illiterate? Does an ability to read play a role in their lives beyond employment? 

I'd like to think it does. It should. There is of course the need to read bus schedules, informational signs giving directions, recipes, directions, and letters. But I think there is more to an ability to read as well. If someone feels comfortable in their reading ability I imagine they feel more confident. They have access to written information without relying on others. They have access to part of their environment they would not otherwise have. There is also an ability to read for pleasure. With social media becoming an integral part of people's personal lives the ability to read becomes tied into the ability to communicate with others. Friends connect over Facebook. If one isn't able to read and correctly comprehend a Facebook status, how much will social interactions be limited? An inability to use social media creates yet another barrier from the rest of the world.

The idea of teaching reading so that our students can use Facebook and whatever other social media platform is out there seems absurd. But I don't think it is. If I want my students to be able to connect with the world around them, access opportunities, advocate for themselves, and live a fulfilling life, then the ability to read- even if they are not using it for employment- is key.


Anonymous said...

(Same Anonymous here): this is, perhaps, a case of wondering whether the perfect (which we aspire to, but know is VERY unlikely to happen) being the enemy of the good (which is likely to happen). In this case, trying to attain 4th grade reading level for all of your intellectually disabled group, because reading is so enriching; and thereby sacrificing, for some of the children, other learning opportunities that would be more useful to them than a failed attempt to get them to 4th grade level. Life is full of these tensions, darn it!

organized chaos said...

Such a good point. I think this question is important for us to think about as educators, not just in the case of working with students with intellectual disabilities but also when thinking about education policy for all students. We spend a lot of time talking about college readiness- but is that the perfect being the enemy of the good. (I really like that phrase). At the same time, when do we decide to pull the plug on perfect?