Thursday, July 1, 2010

The READING Checklist Manifesto

A couple of weeks ago, I shared that I was looking for something non-teachery to jumpstart my summer reading. The book I settled on was The Checklist Manifesto (Amazon Affiliate Link) by Dr. Atul Gawande. The beginning read like some of the action packed scenes I’ve seen on Grey’s Anatomy and ER. I felt queasy after reading about some of the operating room emergencies he described but what I really liked about this book was that in the cracks of what was primarily a book about medicine, was careful reflection that could be applied to all professional disciplines. In the early chapters, Gawande wrote:

“Here, then, is our situation at the start of the twenty-first century: We have accumulated stupendous know-how. We have put it in the hands of some of the most highly-trained, highly skilled, and hardworking people in our society. And with it, they have indeed accomplished extraordinary things. Nonetheless, that know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields—from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, and reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.”

“Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating.”

These words inevitably bring me back to education. I think about reading and the oft talked about failure of schools to effectively bring all students to an acceptable level of reading proficiency. How is it that so much has been researched and written about teaching kids to read, yet, education consistently fails to meet the needs of some students?

In The Checklist Manifesto (Amazon Affiliate Link), Gawande told the story about being part of a multi-nation team sponsored by the World Health Organization to devise a cost-effective way of improving surgical outcomes. After many meetings and much research, they devised a simple, two-minute, nineteen item checklist to be completed during the course of surgery. In their clinical trials, using the checklist caused the rate of major complications following surgery to fall 36% and deaths to decrease 47%. Those are significant results and because of what—a checklist?

This has got me thinking a lot about what we in education can do “to increase our outcomes without necessarily increasing our skill.” If something as simple as a checklist has made such a significant difference in efficiency and effectiveness in something as complicated as an OR, should we be considering it in our classrooms as well?

Gawande and his team took a lot of time to devise and refine the checklist that is now being used in operating rooms across the world, but off the top of my head, some of the things I would be considering for my checklist to improve daily reading instruction would include:

_____ALL students have spent no less than thirty minutes reading independently.
_____ALL students are reading books during independent reading that match their ability level.
_____I have checked in with my neediest, most struggling readers in either a small group or one-on-one conference.
_____I have delivered whole group, small group, and one-on-one instruction.
_____ My whole group, small group, and one-on-one mini lessons were derived from the observed needs of the children in my classroom.
_____I have read aloud to my students today.

This is where I’d start. As I continue to think about developing this list, I’m curious to know what you think. Does anything on my list seem unreasonable? What else should be on this list?


The Book Chook said...

I love your idea and think that check-lists are a simple aid to reflection, something busy teachers have so little time for.

However, I don't agree with your second point. Maybe it's that I don't understand it. Why must ALL students read books during independent reading that match their ability level? Isn't it okay during independent reading for a child to choose a book to re-visit from last year, a loved picture book perhaps? Or for a child to choose a book that is too difficult for them, just because they're eager to read it? I'm not advocating this happen each day. If I had a student who always chose easy readers when his ability level was way higher, I would definitely be trying to hand-sell books at a higher level that might interest him. Just the way I would if he only ever wanted to read books by one author. To share the reading love! But I truly believe that choice is key to developing keen readers. I know as an adult I will read at, below and above my level of ability; in fact, it never occurs to me to factor it in. I choose anything I want to read.

Is it because of parental and school pressures that this would be on the check list for you, Kim? Is it because parents and administrators and politicians think that reading at grade/ability level is the magic talisman of reading?

Kim Yaris said...

You've really got me thinking now, because when it comes to independent reading, I do advocate that there are three ways to read a book: read the pictures, retell the story (especially if it is a familiar reread), or read the words. And like you, I believe that choice is paramount. If kids aren’t reading things they are interested in or care about, what investment will they have in reading? However, as children progress to the point where their reading is almost exclusively chapter books, the most efficient way (and sometimes the only way) to access the text is “read the words.” I fear when children are holding onto books in which the words are too hard, they are not getting the practice they need to become better. Maybe the language “books that match their ability level” is too myopic because it’s fine if they’re reading easy stuff, but when there is no way of making meaning other than read the words and kids can’t read the words, they are not going to get better at reading. Hard reading frustrates and turns kids off to reading and that’s exactly what we don’t want to happen. Reading volume and practice puts kids on the road to proficiency. Without good fit books, this won’t happen and that, Book Chook, is why “books that match ability level” made my list! (However, I am going to think about how to revise the language to clarify “books that match reading level” as books that are easy AND just-right).