Friday, April 22, 2011

More about reading

In a comment on Coates's take on teaching reading, Ray says the following.

Two good books that are must reads for those who want to change reading in schools are Readicide; How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher and Focus: Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning by Mike Schmoker. Gallagher describes how American schools are killing the love of reading in schools and then he gives a plan to change the issue. Schmoker’s book is how we can take some straight forward steps to increase student knowledge in every subject through teaching some very simple steps for reading, writing, and talking.
I started to respond in the comments; when I got to the third paragraph, I just turned it into a blog post.

Readicide is on my reading list.  At my school, we have a very functional, test-score-driven approach to teaching reading.  It works for us; our reading scores are pretty good and getting better.  But I end up with huge numbers of seniors (I teach both the senior English classes) who have no interest in reading anything again.  So I just made it an assignment: Find a book you want to read.  Read it.  Tell me what you read.  I have guidelines for people who need that sort of thing:  They have to read 10,000 words every two weeks (a VERY light requirement) and the summary should be 100-250 words long.  But when students want to break the guidelines, I repeat that the assignment is to read something and tell me about it.  They can send me a video, an e-mail, turn in a paper, whatever.  They have to use words in their summary, but other than that, I don't care about the format.  I don't want the assignment to get in the way of the reading.

I have some anecdotal information to suggest that the assignment is having its intended effect.  Some of my upper-level students are taking time to read that they otherwise wouldn't, because they all lead busy lives with rigorous academic schedules and more social activities than can possibly be healthy.  They say they're enjoying the experience.  Other students, including a few that hate reading, have reported, "This is the first book I've ever read for school that I enjoyed!".  They're not books that I would have chosen for them, but then, that's the point, isn't it?

I worry about this assignment: I'm not really adding value to the experience.  This is an assignment that they could do on their own.  My good students can already read well, and I'm not doing anything to help the ones who aren't good readers.  But the point is that they don't read on their own; they don't get a grade for it, so it's not seen as important.  The anecdotes are frequent enough to keep me doing it, and I've since reviewed some evidence that helps justify it.  Dan Brown, in his post "You can't compensate for not reading," says that independent readers just do better, and that makes sense.  That point, however, raises another worry--am I affecting the "read on your own" thing by making it mandatory?

The point of that whole assignment description was to say that I'm eagerly looking forward to reading Readicide, which is kind of ironic, when you think about it.

Schmocker is also on my list--he also wrote Results Now, which Ray lent to me and I never got around to reading.  Between the title and Ray's summary, Focus might just be the book I've been looking for.  Those are reasonably good descriptions of my goals for the senior reading program.

My go-to guide for teaching reading is I read it, but I don't get it by Cris Tovani.  In it, she identifies 8 or 9 skills that good readers have and outlines her lessons for how she teaches them and how she encourages her students to use them.  I started out the year by presenting them, and it was surprising how few of them even my good readers did.  I sort of stopped referencing those strategies directly to my students, but I always keep them in mind when I design reading assignments.  I think that those strategies are a big part of what ELA class is, or at least what it should be.

It's been so long since I've been to school as an English teacher.  I have a lot of knowledge about the theory of learning, from many many many very interesting seminars on Marzano's books, differentiating instruction, and RtI.  From those seminars, I have a lot of "every teacher is a reading teacher" strategies.  But I don't have a lot of specialized content knowledge about teaching ELA.  I'm still an emerging practitioner of reading theory and writing processes.  The more of these books I can get my hands on, the smoother things will be, I hope

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