Reader’s Theatre

Literacy continues to be a huge issue in public education. Much like the mounting challenge of public education, in general, literacy is a key civil rights issue of the 21st century. #hope

So much of every student’s academic success depends on his/her ability to read well. If they are to become vital, contributing members of this increasingly complex society, students must be able to critically interpret a variety of texts — printed, video, and cyber — about topics, ranging from social and religious to economic and judicial.

Unfortunately, no matter how intelligent the child, critical reading skills do not suddenly manifest when state-mandated testing season rolls around. These essential skills build over time, beginning early in children’s development.

The State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, is three years old this year, and despite schools’ pushing for better results, the facts are clear — literacy levels need to be improved.

by the numbers
Texas 2013-14 STAAR data
6th-grade Reading 77%
7th-grade Reading 75%
8th-grade Reading 82%
Some critics ascribe the low performance on students’ household income. For example, Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at UCLA, conducted a survey which showed that before the age of six, affluent children spend 1,300 more hours reading than low-income children. Additionally, Phillips suggests that by the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities. Literacy disparity has less to do with income than it does with how wealthier families spend their discretionary funds — they purchase more books; they travel to places beyond their homes, the daycare, or the mall; and, perhaps most importantly, they actually converse with their children about what they are seeing, feeling, and reading.

To be sure, increasing the time students spend engaging in test-taking strategies may help them perform better on tests; however, if children are going to truly be literate, educators and parents have be more conscientious and more creative about instilling literacy skills early.

A group of youth that is consciously and creatively improving students’ reading success is the state-winning Readers’ Theatre program which
has grown considerably over the past three years, and students are not only passing the STAAR, but they are also learning public speaking, self-esteem, Africana history, and critical thinking.

The group’s founder and visionary director, Dr. Michon Benson, credits students’ collective success to their researching current events, to allowing them to openly express their own angst about youth culture, and to working with them on vocabulary skills. “Readers’ Theatre provides an opportunity for students to closely read issues and to question the world in interesting ways,” Benson says. The group’s poems address topics, ranging from the history of twerking and the Venus Hottentot to growing up in a single-parent home and wanting to express their individuality in an increasingly homogeneous youth culture. “Once students perform and they realize that other people seriously consider what they
have to say,” Benson adds,”they can’t wait to return to school to begin writing and editing the next set of poems.”

​In the 2013-14 season, students performed in venues, such as the Houston Museum for African American Culture and TSU Homecoming, Emancipation Park, and in a number of elementary schools in the greater-Houston area. The climax of their year was their winning the Texas Charter School Drama competition in Austin, Texas. Before the end of the school year, even more students have expressed an interest in becoming a part of
the team. “Anyone who is interested in joining, is welcome. Our goal is not winning state; rather, it is ensuring students’ appreciation for reading and
their lifelong literacy.”




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