The 40-year-old paper boy

A paperboy from sixth grade through high school, Peter Sipe is still distributing newspapers, he writes in The 40-Year-Old Paper Boy. A sixth-grade English teacher in Boston, he picks up stacks of the free daily Metro at the subway station.Paperboy Metro Pic

The Metro is “a packet of nonfiction texts: editorials, letters, interviews, reviews, horoscopes, entertainment, sports, etc. (And, yup, news.)” Students like reading it. And it’s free.

“It’s great for all the normal stuff a teacher does: finding the main idea, determining the author’s purpose, learning vocabulary in context,” Sipe writes.

He especially likes using the newspaper “because it teaches kids stuff they need to know.”

Several weeks ago, a student asked what “the Hub” was. No one in the class of Bostonians knew their city’s nickname.

“So we did a quick primer on city nicknames: the Big Apple, Tinseltown, the Windy City, etc. Now we all know that Beantown is the Hub.

In addition to teaching students about the “5 Ws,” Sipe tells them the most important question one can ask when reading an article is so what?

Most of my students hadn’t known what the Hub is: so what?

Well, most of my students do not read with the competence we should expect of 6th graders in the world’s richest country. And as E.D. Hirsch says“We need to see the reading comprehension problem for what it primarily is – a knowledge problem. There is no way around the need for children to gain broad general knowledge in order to gain broad general proficiency in reading.” 

I wince when I think of the years of fog my students had been reading through, not knowing why articles kept mentioning a curiously capitalized spoke holder.

I think many poor readers don’t expect what they read to make sense.

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  1. Maybe one day the students will have a teacher that teaches them “If you don’t know, find out”…in other words, take the initiative to learn.

    Be interesting to know if this person’s school district taught dictionary use with actual dictionaries in the classroom. Here, the parents must supply dictionaries if they want their children to have one in school.

  2. Ruth Joy says:

    This is a wonderful idea. And even free. And kids can’t go about finding out about things that they haven’t heard of, so it’s great in that regard too.
    Igm, we treasure our collection of dictionaries at home, but do you think most people just google words they’re looking for? And the auto-correct of misspellings is helpful too.

    • I think online vs ereader vs print dictionary use is split by access ..aka affluence and value the family places on education.

      Most children I know don’t look up anything. The school district doesn’t allow them to have their electronics out and in use until the eleventh grade. If they are lucky, there is a dictionary in the classroom and they might get to use it if there is free time. Dictionary use was not taught when my children were in ele., maybe with Common Core it’s back in the curriculum?? Neighboring districts allow the use of ereaders and smart phones much earlier; don’t know stats on how frequently the children are using the dictionary.