Friday, November 28, 2008

Reading An Entire Book: Implications on Language & Literacy: with ideas for improving classroom literacy practices

I was watching The Simpsons the other day, and Bart said something in response to Lisa talking about a book she had read. Bart said "you've read a WHOLE book before?" Bart is more real than some of us would believe in this respect. I've already had numerous students enter the 5th grade claiming they've never completed, completely individually, an entire book before that wasn't a leveled reader, picture book, or textbook based story.

To me this is quite alarming. I'm not going to fall back on the argument that "this would never have happened 50 years ago, before internet and TV and blah blah blah..." That argument doesn't hold, especially for me (I posted about digital literacy two days ago in an article titled iPod Literacy). This is alarming because the act of reading has been replaced by... well, I'm not sure exactly, but not another literacy activity. Reading has by-and-large not been replaced by reading things on the internet, it's been replaced by watching TV, playing video games, and texting. While I've argued in the past that these activities have some merit and can be utilized in the classroom, they become a hindrance when the student basically stops interacting with the written word outside of "T2L, BRB, ROFL." There's a great article out there from Newsweek titled The Death of English (LOL): In an experiment, the more adept children were at text messaging, the better they did at spelling and writing, which tries to strike a balance to the text messaging debate better than I can say it here, because I tend to be biased against cell phones for many reasons, most of them out of stubbornness.

What really bothers me is, I've met college students who claim that they've never read a book and wear it like a badge of honor. This behavior is bewildering to me, and I have to wonder where it stems from. Is it a backlash against the world we once knew? Is it due to a lack of attention? Or is it an outright failure of public education, with its never ending, rigid focus on standardized testing? I think the answer to all of these questions is YES.

Now, I've stated some of the problems, and have even briefly brought up a few questions for further research and discussion. I'm going to discuss ways for teachers to combat the failure to read phenomenon in the classroom (or at home if you're a parent).

  • SELF CHOICE: You need to help students choose their own books. This is a process that should involve both student and teacher in order for it to be effective. You can refer to some guidelines I set out in yesterday's post titled How To Determine the Reading Level of A Book At A Glance to help you choose the right book, level wise, for that child. It's then up to the child, with your guidance, to find a book that will hold their interest, be on a topic that they enjoy reading about, and will have literary elements that have worked for that child in the past. You would be surprised how many students do not have the ability to self search for a book, they need to be taught (and since you're a teacher, this is your job).

  • FREEDOM TO EXPERIMENT: Yes, I've had students who read on a first grade level want to read Harry Potter. At first, I let them make this choice, because it never works. This is where you have to suspend your teacher instinct, at least at the beginning of the year, to let students try to find it themselves. You also need to give them some freedom to abandon a few books. I have some students who, still, here at November, will read a few pages of a book, put it back, and get another one. My policy is that they should be trying the book for at least 3 chapters, then, when we return from Winter Break, they're going to choose and read without abandoning.

  • CHOOSE SOMETHING FAMILIAR: If you teach like me, you do a lot of read alouds. I save some of the best books ever to read aloud. In fact, some of the books I discuss on this very website are the book that I read aloud to my class. Occasionally, a student will want to re-read the book I read aloud. Believe it or not, this is a great practice, especially for students who aren't quite ready to take some risks when self-reading. Let them do it.

Those ideas are more along the lines of helping students come into their own as readers. There are some great strategies in terms of classroom management and assignments to keep students focused, but to also be able to pull grades and have it basically fit into your instruction. I send home a calendar for the month, and students are supposed to read for a minimum of 30 minutes every evening. I usually don't send home homework outside of this, so I don't get complaints. After reading, the parent must sign that date on the calendar.

Twice per week, I have students complete a reading log assignment in which they respond to a few prompts about their book. This helps them reflect on their reading. I don't do it daily to avoid students burning out, just on Monday nights and Thursday nights.

These two activities, together, can be a valuable addition to the classroom. Some classroom practices you should include to encourage good reading habits are:

  • Read aloud to your students every single day. Only read books that you are familiar with (no pulling things off the shelf you've never experienced yourself. When you're reading aloud, think aloud, ask questions, answer questions, take predictions, make it a whole group experience.
  • Give students time, every day, to read silently. They enjoy this quiet time to themselves. It's your job to make sure they are reading and aren't just wasting time. If your school allows it, let students bring a pillow or bean bag and lay around while they read. It should be a comfortable experience, this reinforces the habit and also makes it enjoyable.
  • Have some way for students to share their reading experience. Whether it's a account for each student in your classroom, simple book reports that are shared, or a separate shelf where students can put favorite books for others to check out, let them share the valuable experiences in some way. They could also make book advertisements, make commercials for the book, or vote on their favorite books to keep those titles out there.
  • Make it interesting. Fluency and comprehension checks are important, but use them sparingly. The tendency to over test, especially with chapter tests and things like that, can ruin the literary experience. Do you give yourself chapter tests when you read for pleasure at home? Then stop doing it at school (at least stop doing it so much).
  • Have goals. If you have 25 students, make a goal for each to read 4 books during the semester. Put up a large bar graph in the classroom, and color in one each time a student reads a book and passes some sort of comprehension test at the end (AR, a book report, etc) to prove they read the entire thing. If your class can hit the goal, in this case, 100 books read, then have some MAJOR party or some kind of reward for them.

I hope this post can be of service to you. Let me know if there's anything else you'd like to hear about.


A. R. said...

Well put. Thanks for your insight and glad to know there are other's who think this way.