#FridayReads A Must-Read Book: All American Boys

I saw a tweet last week that read something like this:  “What if you look like the people others are afraid of?”

The context was the Syrian refugees, I’m sure. The terrors in Paris blasted the news. So many dead. So many injured.

So many with no place to go.

My heart hurt, and I am not sure about the timing, but I’m quite 25657130sure God told me to read the book All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, the story of two American teens who attend the same high school:  one white, one black. Both with families who love them. Both caught in a situation that represents many we’ve heard over and over again:  “the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.”

For the past couple of weeks my students and I have read some of the writing of Leonard Pitts, Jr. We read his work to learn to become better writers. Among others, we read “We need a better plan to probe police shootings,” and “We don’t want to watch police — but we have to.” We talked about Pitt’s message, and we analyzed his craft.

We questioned what we know has happened way too often, and we shared ideas and opinions about how the actions of some affect the lives of many.

We sat in a circle: Black and White and Chin and Mexican. We talked. And listened. We tried to understand.

All American Boys is a story for every classroom library. It’s a story for every classroom teacher. Every administrator. Every parent. Every police officer.

We must invite candid stories and candid conversations about race into our learning environments. How else will we ever learn to see past color into hearts and minds and hope?

Booklist Starred Review states: “. . .this hard-edged, ripped-from-the-headlines book is more than a problem novel; it’s a carefully plotted, psychologically acute, character-driven work of fiction that dramatizes an all-too-frequent occurrence. Police brutality and race relations in America are issues that demand debate and discussion, which this superb book powerfully enables.”

If you add one book to your reading list this fall, I hope it is All American Boys. It ranks right up there with Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock for books that will stay with me forever.

I need about 10 copies for my classroom library.

#3TT Workshop — Digital Writing in the Writer’s Workshop

Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.

We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.

Despite the proliferation of e-readers, tablets, and digital reading and writing technology, recent research is making digital texts look a little less appealing.  This article discusses the slow reading, complex-text, and comprehension literacy skills we just can’t get from reading electronically.  This one has lots of great links to the reasons digital reading “fail[s] to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.”

As Shana’s school in West Virginia is increasingly making the move to one-to-one technology, digital learning, and an increased emphasis on electronic reading and writing, she wondered how this shift would impact writers’ literacies.  Her discussion with Amy follows.  Please join the conversation in the comments!

writing rhet and digital media_1Why is one-to-one technology such a big deal? Does every child really need a laptop or a tablet?  Isn’t their generation suffused with enough technology as it is?

Shana: I surveyed my students this year, and 98% of them have a smartphone with data access that they’re accustomed to using all day.  This troubled me–there was no space in their routine for slowing down their thinking.  I don’t think the reader’s-writer’s workshop works without deliberate attention to reading, writing, talking, revising, thinking, and pondering.  So, I invited my students to simplify their lives this year by putting away all smartphones, but wondered if I was being a hypocrite when we wrote frequently on the laptops I keep in my classroom.

Now that it’s November, I’ve decided I’m not actually a hypocrite–the experience of writing drafts in print, revising and workshopping them, and then transferring them to a published form digitally is far different than the instant-gratification experience of using a smartphone.  Still, though, I watched a student just yesterday play a game on his smartphone while he waited for his computer to boot up.  My students don’t seem to know how to handle free moments to just think, or wonder, or daydream–at stoplights, in hallways, or just waiting for a computer to load.  I worry that this reliance on technology to fill their time will prevent this generation from thinking slowly enough to learn, grow, solve problems, and just think.

Amy:  Just like the literacy gap that happens between children who grow up in print-rich home and those who do not, I’ve started to see a digital literacy gap. Haven’t you? The idea that students are digital natives does not mean they are digitally savvy. Most of my students do not have internet access at home, but they do have cell phones. They can text like thumb-numbing tornadoes, but they cannot format a Word document to save their lives. And since their thumbs do not work so well on iPad keyboards, most tap at the keys like chickens pecking at the dirt. They are slow typists. Now, having said that — that does not mean that I do not think they should learn how to write digitally, format correctly, and type efficiently. All students in this age need to become digitally savvy, and I haven’t found that one mandatory technology class in high school is enough to help them get there. No even close. As English teachers, our role shifts as the literacy shifts. If we are not including some element of digital literacy, I think we do many students a huge disservice.

Shana: “Thumb-numbing tornadoes.” Amy, you are a wordsmith.  I agree that our role shifts as literacy shifts–it’s scary to have to learn new skills fast enough to teach them to our readers, but it’s our reality.  I know writing at Three Teachers Talk has helped me immensely to learn how to write and publish digitally–and it’s a skill that has benefited my readers and writers in the classroom.

What are some authentic best practices related to digital writing?

Amy:  The cool thing about writing is that the skills we need to write on paper are not so far from the skills we need to write digitally. Typing excepted. We still need to think on the page, study models, learn from experts, practice drafting, review and revise… And publishing can be so much more fun — at least I think so. We have the opportunity to share our writing much more through digital means than we had via paper. I like that. I like that my students can share writing with yours. Yours can share writing with mine. I know, we could stuff a big fat envelope with student essays, but I am not so likely to do that. I will however send you my students’ blog links.

Shana:  In a perfect world, my school would mandate a typing class for all ninth-graders that includes not just keyboarding skills (which they are TERRIBLE at), but also digital publication skills.  There are vast opportunities for meaningful discourse that can take place between readers, writers, and thinkers when we get students writing and publishing digitally.  I still very much believe in the power of print writing–but, I know, thanks particularly to Amy, how valuable digital writing is, too.  As Whitman says– “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes.”  I can’t wait to have our students writing digitally with one another!

What are your thoughts on digital vs. print writing?  Join the conversation in the comments, and check out yesterday’s discussion of digital vs. print reading.


#3TT Workshop — Digital Reading in the Reader’s Workshop

Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.

We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.

Despite the proliferation of e-readers, tablets, and digital reading and writing technology, recent research is making digital texts look a little less appealing.  This article discusses the slow reading, complex-text, and comprehension literacy skills we just can’t get from reading electronically.  This one has lots of great links to the reasons digital reading “fail[s] to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.”

As Shana’s school in West Virginia is increasingly making the move to one-to-one technology, digital learning, and an increased emphasis on electronic reading and writing, she wondered how this shift would impact readers’ literacies.  Her discussion with Amy follows.  Please join the conversation in the comments!

digireadWhen much of the research points to poorer reading comprehension and lower rates of retention in electronic reading, why are some schools moving toward digital reading?

Shana:  My school recently adopted a new textbook series across multiple content areas that contains a small print book and a massive digital one.  This online textbook features texts, activities, tests, and quizzes that can only be accessed digitally.  By and large, my students have reported immense dissatisfaction with their reading experiences in this digital format–in history class, English, and math.  I wondered if that was because they just weren’t used to reading digitally, but during our reading conferences, they disagreed.  They use e-readers, they read articles on their phones constantly, and they have become accustomed to taking their state tests on computers.  Most students reported that they were more tired after reading digitally, that they didn’t retain the information well in that format, and that they were frustrated by their inability to interact with a physical text by annotating, highlighting, etc.  

After talking with students and experimenting with digital vs. print reading myself, plus reading the articles linked above (and many more), I felt really frustrated about the de-emphasis of print reading in schools.

Amy:  Interesting question. I haven’t seen this move toward digital reading myself. My district does have 1:1 iPads, and I know there was a big technology push just prior to me moving to my school, but I’ve never heard that students should be reading digitally instead of reading in print. I’d probably throw a bit of a fit if I did. Personally, I love paper. I love everything about print on the paper page. I’ve moved to digital in a lot of ways — my students create and write on their own blogs, and they turn most of their drafts in using Google docs, but when I sit down to confer with them, I’d much rather have a look at the printed page. It seems easier to zero in on skills that shine brightly or those that need some work — but that is probably just preference.

It’s an interesting argument though, and really, if I believe so much in the importance of digital writing — and I most definitely do — shouldn’t I also believe in the importance of digital reading? Hmm. Now, you’ve got me thinking.

Shana:  I love paper reading and writing, too, Amy.  This is probably why my desk is currently cluttered with books, notebooks, and stacks of paper.  Certainly electronic reading would be cleaner…but it lacks the tangible presence of print that shows me my progress through a book, a student’s writing process, and physical thinking on a page.

Why are physical textbooks, literary anthologies, and notebooks being phased out of our students’ educational routines?

Amy:  I don’t know much about how this might look in other teachers’ classrooms, districts, or states, but I have not used a literature textbook or anything like an anthology in several years. I find them cumbersome. When my students and I read short passages for analysis, I make copies. I need readers writing on the page. If a text is too long, I give them QR codes, and they all know how to annotate digitally with an app on their iPads (I didn’t teach this. They learned it last year or the year before.) I use a lot of texts that can easily be found online, e.g., columns by Leonard Pitts, Jr., and articles from The New Yorker. For full-length texts, we read in book clubs where my students all purchase their own books, or borrow one of mine. Annotating is a valuable skills, and using a textbook makes doing that quite difficult.

Shana: I love the QR code idea for a longer text!  I’ve always felt that it sucks a bit of the joy of learning reading skills out of students when receive a thick, copied packet that I ask them to read and annotate.  I’m with you on providing print copies of columns, articles, or books to students for teaching specific reading skills.  I love when students check out a book from the classroom library that was previously annotated during a book club reading.  They always ask who read the book previously, and their notes become part of that new reader’s experience with the book.  That experience of seeing a prior reader’s interaction with text on a page is just not possible with textbooks or digital reading.

What are your thoughts on digital vs. print reading?  Join the conversation in the comments, and check back tomorrow as we discuss digital vs. print writing.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Introducing Thematic Units through Poetry

d284bf40a1804c66d4fff674f59b350eSince the Freshman English curriculum is set up thematically, I like to introduce quarter themes through poetry.  While I love the quarter’s discussion of larger themes, students oftentimes lose the goal, purpose, or relevance of these themes as the quarter progresses.

In turn, I make it a point to introduce the quarter’s themes independently as a pre-reading exercise.  Instead of asking questions specifically about lit circle or whole class novels, I lead in with poetry that will help students begin teasing out the bigger ideas from the beginning.

Objectives: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will identify the central theme of the poem “Trolls” by Shane Koyczan, stating its message, and quoting from the text.  They will interpret the meaning through individual quick writes and group discussions, and they will apply the concepts learned from their discussions to the books they are currently reading in literature circles.

Lesson: The Freshman Team’s Quarter two theme is “darkness of man’s heart,” which I introduced this year through Shane Koyczan’s poem “Trolls.”  The purpose of this quick write is threefold: it introduces students to denotation and connotation; it allows us to discuss second person point of view, and it provides a smooth transition into our quarter theme.

First I hand out the printed copy of “Trolls” and I play the video for students.  Students then perform a five-minute quick write to the poem by either pulling an idea or a quote from the poem and using it as a sentence starter or by responding to the poem as a whole.  Regardless of their method, their goal is to connect pencil to paper for a full five minutes until I tell them to finish up their line.  During this time I model my own writing on my document projector.  Our quick write time is followed by two minutes of Kelly Gallagher’s “RADaR marks” in which students return to their writing, colored pencils in hand, to quickly review and revise their work.

I love the immediate reaction and rawness of their writing in these moments, which makes it the perfect time to turn and talk within our groups.  I first model my writing then ask students to share theirs, urging them to read at least one line from their responses.  These quick writes provide the necessary steps to build a writer’s community.  The more students share these tidbits, the more willingly the engage in the writing process with each other at every step.

It is these individual discussions that lead to greater questions about Koyczan’s use of denotation and connotation to describe both mythical trolls and Internet trolls.  We talk about his intentions in starting the poem with the fairytale line of “Once upon a time” as well as his reliance on second person to not only garner solidarity with his audience but to attack cyberbullies.

Once we’re done discussing the intricacies of the language, I send them back to their groups to contemplate what Koyczan has to say about the darkness of man’s heart.  Starting with poetry allows them to grapple with major themes in a small burst.  Spoken word poetry plants these ideas before they even begin to delve into more complex novels.

Follow Up: This quarter is the first time I have done literature circles.  My students chose from Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, or a combination between Of Mice and Men and Animal Farm.  I used Koyczan’s poem to practice our literature circle roles and then to use our roles as a basis for discussion in the literature circle groups.

Because “Trolls” was short, accessible piece, students were able to discuss the theme before we even began our reading of our exploration of our lit circle books.  That being said, this process of discussion, while simple, allows students to explore themes, thus building the necessary foundation for them to further examine these themes within their novels.

Here are some additional poems to pair with literature themes:

Theme: Loss of Innocence—Poem: “Jellyfish” by Sarah Kay

Theme: Individual and Society—Poem: “To This Day” by Shane Koyczan

Theme: Identity—Poem: “Names” by Rachel Rostad or “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar paired with “Masks”  by Shel Silverstein,

Theme: Love—Poem: “How Falling Love is Like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali

Theme: Coming of Age—Poem: “On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins

Theme: Invasion of Technology—Poem: “Look Up” by Gary Turk

What theme-poem pairings do you use in your classroom?  What suggestions would you add to this list?

#FridayReads: 6 Ways to Stir Up Your Daily Book Talk

I’m not sure if it is because we are on the cusp of cold weather or that we just ended quarter one, but my students are dragging.  They rub their eyes more in the morning, carry in larger cups of coffee, and stoop a little lower in their chairs.

This lethargy seeps into even my strongest classes, which is why I like to change up my approach to book talks from time to time to re-energize students before they dive into their independent reading books.  Here are five ways I stir up my book talks.

  1. Musical Chairs: Music is naturally energizing and I love getting books in students’ hands FullSizeRenderquickly. This is “played” like typical musical chairs, the main difference is that students who sit in a chair also get to look at the book that has been placed on the desk behind them (I have separated desks and chairs so I face the chairs outwards).  The student left without a chair writes a “mini-book talk” on the board, which includes the title of the book they have read this year, the author, how many stars it would receive out of five, and a quick sentence to get readers interested.
  2. Group Book Talks: Getting students chatting about books is one way to ramp up energy at the start of class. My desks are grouped into fours, so students turn to their group members and book talk their current book (or a book they read prior).  Oftentimes there are repeat book talks from books I previously shared, but I reiterate the value of multiple perspectives and opinions.  What others notice as readers might be something I never thought to share.
  3. Guest Book Talks: I’ve spent years chatting with my favorite library staff about new YA books,FullSizeRender-3 but sadly it didn’t dawn on me to tap into their brilliance until this year.  Our phenomenal librarian Kathy Vetter book talked Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates to my AP Literature students, and our AV and computer lab guru, Melissa Ciotti, book talked Little Brother by Cory Doctorow to my freshman classes.  By the end of their visits, all copies had been checked out of both the classroom and school libraries.  Next up, I have a PE teacher…and hopefully our principal! Students need positive reading role models in all of their educators.
  4. Speed Dating: I have mentioned speed dating with books multiple times before, but it is one of my favorite ways to get books off my shelves and into my students’ hands. I typically put the desks in a circle and have students rotate the books every minute or so, but I love Amy’s approach as well.
  5. Book Talk Puzzle: This is a longer project, but I love the final product.
    Students piece together their final book talk puzzle.

    Students piece together their final book talk puzzle.

    Students write out book talks on large puzzle pieces.  I have students discuss their favorite parts of the book and to whom they might recommend it.  Finally they draw their favorite scene, symbols, or images from the book.  Once the puzzle pieces are complete, we share our final products, build the puzzle, and put it on display for our peers.

  6. Book Trailers: I had my Advanced Composition students complete book trailers last year. The final films were phenomenal and provided excellent material for this year’s book talks.  I oftentimes play the film for my students then read an excerpt to expose them to the language.  There are some brilliant book trailers here and sprinkled across the Internet and TTT.

What do you do to change up your book talk schedule during the year? What are some unique ways you introduce your students to various titles?

#3TTWorkshop — How to Hold Students (and Ourselves) Accountable for Reading

Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.

We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.

Reading accountability and grading our students’ reading goes hand in hand. Both are parts of a workshop classroom that can seem daunting, and sometimes we have to be flexible until we figure out what works well for our students and for us. Let’s start the conversation with accountability.

How do you hold students accountable for their reading?

Amy:  More than any other year, holding students accountable for their reading is driving me crazy. I’ve tried passing a clipboard like I learned from Penny Kittle. Many of my students cannot get their heads wrapped around a simple “Write down the page number you are on” and then “tally your reading for the week.” I see my students for half a class period on Mondays and then every other day the rest of the week. Seems if they miss the chart at the first of the week they never get it caught up.

Last year I tried an online reading chart. Each student had a page in a spreadsheet that I asked them to keep updated. I gave them a couple of minutes in class right after independent reading time. That worked a little better, but it was more difficult for me to access at a glance. I really like to get a true state of the class.

The past few weeks, I’ve started walking around on Mondays and recording page numbers myself. I decided to try this since my students were moving into book club reading. I can see if they are on target with the reading goal for their groups. It’s worked better, but this is not the kind of accountability I want to inspire in my readers. I’ve made myself the accountable one, and I am outnumbered.

Jackie: I’ve had a love-hate relationship with accountability like you, Amy.  The initial passing-around-the-clipboard method did not work for me either.  I shifted to checking individually two years ago.  I have a spreadsheet in which I enter their page numbers and reading rates on Mondays.  The spreadsheet then immediately calculates the percentage they completed and whether they fulfilled their reading rate for the week.  It isn’t a perfect system and I would much rather be conferencing with students instead of checking page numbers, but there are both pros and cons.

On the bright side, I do like checking in with every student on Mondays, and with a class of 24, it takes me about 13-15 minutes to record pages for the entire class.  The other benefit is that I also immediately know when students didn’t complete the number of pages they were capable of reading for that week.  Instead of telling them they didn’t complete the assignment though, we have a conversation about their reading overall.

Honestly, for my freshmen, this form of accountability is key.  It is less important for my AP Literature students, but I enjoy walking through the class every Monday, touching base with every student, and ultimately starting my week off by acknowledging their reading successes.

Amy:  Like you, Jackie, I do enjoy checking in with every student on Monday morning. The time is a trade off though, since I try to hold reading conferences when students are silently reading. I just don’t feel like I have the time to really talk to my students who are not getting their reading time in (That might be the crux of my frustration — I have too many students still not doing enough reading), and now meeting with each student for a longer reading conference on a regular basis takes that much longer. Seems like time eats my lunch every day.

I ask my AP Language students to read three hours a week in their self-selected books each week. Some students read voraciously, and I find these readers don’t necessarily like keeping track of the pages they read each week. I love that they read because they want to — something I hope for all my students, so I do not want to penalize them for not marking an accountability chart.

Besides just noting how many pages students read each week, what other accountability structures do you have in place?

Amy:  In our writer’s notebooks, we keep track of the books we start, abandon, and finish. We also pull vocabulary words –5 words a week — from our independent reading to put in our personal dictionaries. I know you and Shana just discussed vocab last week.

This year as another accountability piece,  I started asking students to complete an occasional reading one-pager. I have mixed feelings about this because I know the value of reading for reading’s sake, but marking the reading chart wasn’t working, and I have a difficult time conferring as often as I’d like. I also need my students to practice writing about literature. All they want to do is summarize, and the one-pager is one way to help them move beyond that.

I hope to get my students to think about accountability as self-evaluation. We talk a lot about the reason for reading:  We build fluency, acquire vocabulary, gain empathy, and learn information. “How has your reading this week helped you do that?”

Jackie: We also keep track of the books we start, abandon, and finish.  Students add to their “Books Read” list at the beginning of their writer’s notebook and they check off the books they complete.  Students also pull four words per week from their independent reading and log them in their WNB dictionaries.

Like you, I tried one pagers from Kelly Gallagher two years ago, but they were difficult to track and my strongest readers oftentimes slowed down their reading to avoid the one pagers.  I believe they can work, but I haven’t found a perfect fit just yet.  My AP Literature students do keep a critical reading journal (CRJ), which I started using this year thanks to Sheridan Steelman’s help.  Sheri is a phenomenal AP Literature teacher I met at UNH Literacy Institute.  Her structuring of CRJs has helped me gain even further insight into my AP Lit students’ needs and successes.

At the end of the day, my greatest source of information comes from the conferences I have with my students.  Students want to talk about their books, and it is a pleasure to sit beside them and learn every day.

So how do you grade your students on their reading?  

Jackie:  My school has competency based grading, so I file reading initiative grades under “formative assessments.”  I look at reading time as purely formative in the sense that it is necessary practice time for students to explore their interests while also building reading stamina.

Students in my CP Freshman English class must read two hours in their independent reading books while students in my AP Literature class must read three hours.  Each student has an individual reading rate, which they calculate and recalculate throughout the year. I adjust their reading times based on whether or not students are completing whole class or literature circle novels.  Students then receive a weekly reading initiative grade out of 20 points.  At the end of the day though, this structure is in place to help students carve out time for reading.  

One of the greatest complaints from my AP Lit students at the beginning of the year was that they didn’t have time to read anymore.  They loved it but it had been a long time since they’d picked a book on their own.  After a quarter of independent reading, Jessica said, “I love independent reading.  It gives me a break from everything” while Claudia said, “I have read more this quarter than I have in the past year.”

Amy:  I wish I didn’t have to give a grade for reading. I wish I didn’t have to give a grade for a lot of the work we do in class, but that is a topic for another day. All my little reading checks equate to a reading grade, all formative, except for a self-evaluation of their reading lives students complete about every nine weeks — that’s a summative assessment I model after a reading ladders assignment I learned from Penny Kittle.

Really, when it comes to grades, if my students show me growth and improvement, the grading is easy. It’s all about moving as readers. Eventually, most students come to realize that — and they thank me for making reading matter again.

How do you handle reading accountability and reading grades in your workshop classroom? Please add to the conversation by making a comment.

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here.

I think reading may not be all that important — What?!

I am not often speechless. But it’s not often I hear statements like this — from teachers no less:

“There are so many other ways for students to get information. I think reading may not be all that important to students today.”

We were into the second hour of a three hour workshop on conferring. We had already brainstormed and charted what we believe are the needs of our students:

  • trust in authority
  • time and attention from adults
  • a caring teacher who is a listener and is consistent with discipline and classroom management
  • technology to learn and communicate
  • critical thinking skills
  • a context for what we want them to learn
  • positivity and discernment
  • a focus on what matters/ability to ignore “the noise” of unnecessary information
  • the opportunity to freely think and to take risks
  • the ability to communicate in ways that are socially acceptable and responsible

We had just read research on reading as detailed by Nancy Motley in the book Talk, Read, Talk, Write. I share it here:

Literacy skills for the twenty-first century are far more complex than in previous generations (Goldman, 2012). In addition to the basics of reading comprehension, today’s students must also know how to read with purpose, integrate new information, resolve conflicting content in different texts, and identify the writer’s perspective (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006). Students can only learn these skills by reading. Because many students enter the classroom with underdeveloped literacy skills, we often replace reading tasks with lecture and interactive activities to ensure that students stay engaged and learn the content, Hoyt (1999) explains.

“…expository reading for many students is often a listening experience. Well-meaning teachers, concerned about textbooks that are too difficult, often create situations where one student reads from the text and others listen or attempt to follow along in the book. This situation does little to build conceptual understandings, and it can actually deter from the learning process as the listeners are engaging in very little reading.”

When teachers “deliver” the curriculum to students, students lose the opportunity to construct meaning for themselves (Tovani, 2000). According to the Reading Next (2006) report (a meta-analysis of adolescent reading), three of the most statistically significant practices for increasing the academic achievement of middle and high school students included:

  1. direct, explicit comprehension instruction
  2. reading and writing skills embedded in content area classrooms
  3. text-based collaborative learning

Put simply,

“When we routinely model and make explicit the methods adults use to read, think, and make connections, students learn to do it, too. Furthermore, they will see that such close, insightful reading is within their reach — that they can do such reading and thinking, which is central to an education.” (Schmoker, 2011).

I am not often speechless. But this teacher’s comment left me chewing my lip. Did he read the research? Did he understand what it meant? Does he really believe that reading is not important?

“If I gave my students The Canterbury Tales and expected them to read it, that just wouldn’t happen. I read it to them, and they get a lot of information, and they come to like it,” this teacher continued.

And I countered, embracing my inner Penny Kittle, as I facilitated another hour of professional development:  “What is your purpose for ‘reading’ The Canterbury Tales — or other texts you choose for your students? What skills are you teaching with that book? How do you know your students are learning them? How are you helping your students develop as readers — because that is our job as English teachers. If we are not helping students become better readers than they were when they came to us, we are not doing our job.””

“Today’s students must … know how to read with purpose, integrate new information, resolve conflicting content in different texts, and identify the writer’s perspective.  Students can only learn these skills by reading.” 

They must also know how to discern viable information from the barrage of biased and unreliable information. And know how to understand a rental agreement when they sign a lease, a sales contract when they purchase a car, a speeding ticket when they get one, a ballot in a voting box when they are standing in line next to you and next to me.

Students can only learn to read by reading.

benefits of reading

What do you think? Is reading important to the students we teach? How would you have responded to my teacher friend?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,014 other followers

%d bloggers like this: