Friday, January 30, 2009

The Reluctant Reader Conundrum

In his book What Really Matters for Struggling Readers Richard Allington writes, "Our schools create more students who can read than students who do read." The problem of getting kids to read more is rampant. They just don’t seem to want to do it. The question is why?

A lot of teachers sheepishly confess to me on that sly that when they were young, they didn’t like to read either. They get it when kids say, “I don’t want to read!” In the spirit of coming clean, I too have a confession. I was one of you. I didn’t like to read as a kid, either.

Looking back, I can’t understand it. I grew up in Central New York, the land of lake effect snow. I can’t tell you how many hours I wiled away doing nothing but feeling bored. I could have filled a lot of hours reading books, but I go back to my original question: Why don’t kids want to read?

For me, I think a lot of the problem was book choice. Every time I’d go to the library and pick something out on my own, it was a long shot. It was a random grab at the shelves. I’d look at the cover and think, “this looks okay, I’ll give it a whirl.” I’d read a couple of pages, put it down, and never go back to it. Sound familiar?

I see this cycle a lot in the classrooms I visit. I predict with staggering certainty who will finish books and who will not. So, again I ask, why don’t they want to read? I think a lot of the problem is kids don’t know what to read. Earlier this year, I blogged about the importance of blessing books. I mentioned the titles we share often become coveted reading in the classroom. At first kids are interested because they like you and want to please you, but then, they read it and actually get turned on. When kids get turned on to something, they start telling other kids about what is happening. They start passing books around. Certain titles have waiting lists. It’s what happened with Harry Potter a few years ago, it’s what I see every day with Captain Underpants, The Magic Tree House, and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. How do these crazes get started? People get excited and they talk.

We as teachers can learn so much from this. Talk. Therein lies the secret to getting kids to read more. I sometimes wonder how my reading life would have been different had my teachers spent time talking up books. What if they had allowed other kids to share what they were on about in their reading? Would it have made me a reader? Who knows? But I sure wish someone would have tried.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Be careful of assumptions

I recently read Peter Johnston’s book Choice Words. In it he quotes Margaret Donaldson from her book Children’s Minds, “the better you know something, the more risk there is of behaving egocentrically in relation to your knowledge. Thus, the greater the gap between teacher and learner, the harder teaching becomes.” I took notice of this because I had recently had a conversation with a group of teachers about this very topic. Over the years, we become very close to our teaching. We come to know and understand what we do really well because we’ve been doing a lot of years. This knowledge, for all intents and purposes, is an asset. However, we do sometimes begin to make assumptions about what children should know. I think this is the gap that Margaret Donaldson is talking about and it definitely does make teaching harder.

Today I was in a third grade reading workshop classroom having a conference with a boy reading a Pokemon book. I made the assumption that he probably knew a lot about Pokemon from watching the television show and figured I would support his comprehension by activating prior knowledge. Mistake one. He really knew very little about Pokemon and according to him, had caught only the end of a couple Diamond and Pearl episodes. Then I launched into my next assumption. He had some other reason for choosing this book and had thought about what to expect based on the title, cover illustration, and back cover. Mistake two. He had looked at the front cover and had some thoughts about what the book might be about but he hadn’t read the back cover. In fact, he was thinking he’d do that when he finished the book because after all, that is the very last page. Wow. That surprised me. I know that a lot of kids don’t read the back cover of books but it never occurred to me that a child would reason it would only make sense to do that at the end of the book because it is the very last page. This was the wake up call I needed to remind me to stop making assumptions. In order to be the most effective teachers we can be, we need to step into the shoes of the children that we teach .

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Imagine this...

It is reading workshop. The teacher reads aloud from a book and teaches a mini lesson about questioning as a comprehension monitoring strategy. After the lesson, the children head back to their seats. The teacher draws their attention to a chart that instructs them how they will use their time during the rest of the workshop. Quietly, children begin to move about the room. Some put on headphones and begin to listen to a story on tape. Others report to the classroom library to select new books. Some stay in their seats to read quietly from their independent selections while others write in their response journal. A small group reports to the computers and begins to work on an interactive program that has been selected for them. For nearly sixty minutes these children move from reading activity to reading activity without instruction or intervention from the teacher. For sixty full minutes, these children are engaged in reading and activities that support their growth as readers. It is quiet and productive.

I have heard teachers insist that such a scene is just a dream. Something that they merely WISH could happen in their classrooms. However, what I have just described is a REAL reading workshop in a SECOND grade classroom. Thank you, Patti, for inviting me into your classroom and reminding me of what really can happen when a reading workshop is nurtured and tended to with the “I think I can” and “I know I will” attitude. Wow.