The gap between those who are doing well in our
English classrooms and those who are not is widening. More and more,
students are becoming disenchanted and disengaged with the traditional
structures of the ELA classroom. The time has come for English
teachers to rethink what we are doing in our classrooms. This website
is an ongoing project to disseminate the work I have been doing and
will continue to do to help bring back those students who have given up
on reading and writing.
Why 'underachievers' and not 'reluctant' or 'struggling'?
I wish I could remember the name of the woman
whose presentation I saw at the NCTE conference in Pittsburgh in 2005;
her presentation changed a lot about how I talk about these students.
She stressed the importance of using the word 'underachiever' rather
than 'reluctant reader' or 'struggling student'. Why? 'Underachiever'
implies hope - it means that the student is not living up to his or her
potential. 'Reluctant' and 'struggling' do not imply such hope.
I would also add that students who we classify as 'reluctant' or
'struggling' readers are not that reluctant or struggling when it comes
to texts they care about. I've had several students who were
underachievers in schools, but religiously read the sports section of
the newspaper and did not struggle with it at all. We are all
reluctant to read certain texts and would struggle with texts outside
our comfort zones. As adults, we have the luxury to specialize our
reading and writing and do not have to face our reluctance or
struggle. Students in middle and high school do not have that luxury.
Labeling a student as 'reluctant' or 'struggling' (or worse, 'at-risk')
is not adequate. 'Underachieving' also puts the emphasis on the
academic arena of the students' lives, for most of them are not
'struggling' in other aspects of their lives at all. Just think of the
star football player whose grades are not up to par at all.
What is the future of this site?
This site hopes to be a resources site for teachers seeking theory and proven techniques to help the underachieving students in their ELA classrooms. I will continue to post the work I have already done, including action research studies, curricular and assessment plans, and lessons. In September 2007, I will begin my doctoral work in English Education at New York University; my research focus will be on helping underachieving readers and writers and their teachers. I hope to shed light on how we can help bring these students back into the world of reading and writing by exploring how we talk about these students, how we teach them differently, how they learn differently, why we lost them in the first place, and how we can assure that students don't become underachieving adolescents in the first place.