Even though he had limited formal schooling, Lincoln figured out early on that he could learn so much from books and real life experiences. Ironically, those were the two things I found most lacking in our school system.
There's not much time for either of these things anymore, at least that's what many teachers seem to believe. Testing has taken over; and memorization still has a strong grip on our curriculum, even though information is freely available with the click of a mouse. How will we ever break free?
If Abraham Lincoln had become a teacher, I suspect the sharing of books, experiences, and ideas would have been his central focus. As an avid reader and book seeker, his classroom certainly would have been surrounded by bookshelves. Of course, he would have been fascinated by the internet as well, and he would harness its power to bring the curriculum to life.
While I imagine that advanced technology would play an important role in Lincoln's classroom, it would only be a supplementary one. He would spend hours weeding through the plethora of information that's now available, and a few of the highest quality resources would become powerful learning tools.
In essence, Lincoln could not have been a teacher without being a librarian as well. As I am a non-practicing certified teacher walking around in a librarian's shoes, his classroom as I envision it, is my dream of the classroom I will never have. No, actually, I shouldn't say that. I have such a classroom in my home, and in my public library.
With Governor Cuomo cutting back on education funding, after stating that NY spends more on education than any other state, yet ranks 34th in performance, wouldn't the most cost effective solution be to have public schools and libraries share resources and ideas?
With information flowing freely from their fingertips, school and public librarians can and must take a central role in the development of classroom libraries and curriculum. Teachers clearly don't have enough time and money to be bringing their own high quality resources into the classroom, but do many of them realize how powerful their collaboration with librarians could be?
Teachers can no longer function as islands. Planning and research is a full-time job in and of itself, and that's probably why so many teachers burn out so quickly. If teachers are not happy with the materials they are provided with, then they must speak up and reach out to those who can improve them. In doing so, what a positive example of teamwork they'd be setting for their students.
With all the picture books I look at, I currently have 77 books checked out of my local library. Many of those were requested from other libraries across the county. While this number is higher than usual, it's not unusual for me to have 50 books checked out at a time. Why am I telling you this? Because part of teaching and learning is being able to do the research and weeding through the materials. And because we all should be taking advantage of, and supporting, our local libraries.
In my dream classroom, there would be all kinds of books, some I bought myself and some I checked out of the library. There are children's books about any and every subject, and so my classroom library would change with each new subject that we studied. I would use them to spark an interest in social studies, geography, science, and yes, even math. The possibilities and connections are endless, if we would only open our eyes to them.
But don't get me wrong, books don't always have to have a specific learning purpose in mind. If we want children to love reading, we have to make available the reading materials they enjoy most. And that's why many of my book selections would be hand-picked by the students themselves. They should have time every day to read, discuss, and recommend great books to each other. One book does not fit each student, so providing multiple opportunities for book looking is just as important as the reading itself.
Donalyn Miller has centered her 6th grade classroom around great books she has accumulated (and purchased herself) over the years. Abraham Lincoln would have been honored to set foot in her classroom. If you are a teacher looking to transition to a more literature-centered curriculum, you must read her book.
Here's an excerpt:
“The institutional focus on testing and canned programs drains every ounce of joy from reading that students have or will have in the future. We have turned reading into a list of ‘have-to’s,’ losing sight of the reality that students and adults are more motivated by ‘want-to’s.’” -quoted from page 169 of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, by Donalyn Miller.
Abe Lincoln didn't have access to many books, but fell in love with reading nonetheless. These days, we have so many wonderful books available, and yet many of us take them for granted. Outside forces and shiny objects have led us into an age of distraction. High quality literature can help bring our lens back into focus.
Books may not be shiny, but they last forever. Abraham Lincoln figured that out at a very young age. As parents, teachers, and librarians, we have to see that his message gets through to children. We can only do so if we allow ourselves to see beyond the obstacles which lay in front of us.
In Donalyn Miller's classroom, there is minimal time spent on test preparation. Her children do well because she has instilled the joy of reading and learning in them. She's one of those teachers who changes the course of children's lives.
Do you know of any teachers like that?
- Keith Schoch's A Picture Book by Any Other Name (great overview of using literature in classroom)
- Melissa Taylor's Babble article, Percy Jackson Is My Therapist: Why YA fiction is a great stress reliever (more reasons for people of all ages to lose themselves in books!)