A line in the sand: A fourth-grade teacher counters high-stakes testing by using read-alouds as the fulcrum around which students' perceptions of reading and writing are formed
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The pressures of high-stakes testing have increased exponentially over the past decade. Writing teachers are faced with instructional decisions that pit extensive test preparation using writing exercises formatted to match the test, for the acquisition of acceptable scores, against well-recognized "best practices" in the field of literacy: student ownership and choice in a Writing Workshop, use of mentor texts, and use of read-alouds. The purpose of this qualitative, naturalistic, auto-ethnographic study was to understand how and why read-alouds became a central component of a fourth-grade English classroom. This centrality of the read-alouds was illuminated by noting the effects of the read-alouds on the students' self-selected readings, their compositions, and their perceptions of their own developing literacies. The study was framed by four major research questions: (1) What is the nature of the evolution of fourth-graders' writing and self-selected reading as influenced by on-going read-alouds by the teacher? (2) How does the chosen text to be read aloud influence students' perceptions of themselves as readers/writers - literate human beings? (3) What is the relationship between the genres selected for the read-aloud and the writing produced by fourth graders as well as their self-selected reading choices? and (4) What does a teacher learn about her own growth as a literacy teacher through an auto-ethnographic study? The findings from this research study revealed that using high-quality, rich read-alouds as a fulcrum in the foundation of Writing Workshop contributes to the long-term engagement and motivation of students as they take ownership of their literacy learning. The study demonstrated that the immersion of students in high-quality, authentic literacy experiences with read-alouds at the core helped those students form positive perceptions of themselves as readers and writers as well as positive perceptions of reading and writing.