Tag Archives: reading instruction

Respecting Teachers’ Professionalism in Reading Instruction

booksIncreasing the reading ability of young people is a major focus of critics of schooling, and prescribed remedies constantly rain down upon us. It is refreshing, then, to re-visit Richard Allington’s What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006, 2nd edn.), as I (Clive) have recently done.

According to Allington, the remedies mandated at a system level typically have two flaws: (1) prescribing a single method for all students, and (2) not placing enough emphasis on the amount students read (including re-reading the same favorite works). With respect to the first, he says:

“Expecting any single method, material, or program to work equally well with every kid in every classroom is nonsensical. And yet we see increasing pressure for a standardization of reading curriculum and lessons…. The substantial research evidence that such plans have not produced the desired effects is routinely ignored in the latest quest for a cheap, quick fix.” (p. 34)

Regarding the second flaw in system mandates, Allington says:

“If I were required to select a single aspect of the instructional environment to change, my first choice would be creating a schedule that supported dramatically increased quantities of reading during the school day” (p. 35)

Unfortunately, federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs (in the US) have not increased the amount of reading children do. According to one study:

“[C]hildren who received reading instructional support from either program often had the volume of reading reduced rather than expanded as remedial and resource room lessons focused on other activities” (p. 43)

These “other activities” – such as extra phonics teaching, correcting pronunciation, asking comprehension questions – mean that children are interrupted in their reading. Apart from reducing reading time, this means children become used to being interrupted and read in a slow, hesitant manner, with half a mind on when the next interruption will come.

While attempting to support teachers in their reading instruction, then, it is essential to respect their professionalism so they are free to adapt to what works for individual students and give students abundant opportunities to read in peace.

 

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Teaching Students to Skim

51aB27q7fZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU15_Over the holidays I (Clive) have had a chance to do some novel reading, and have read murder mysteries by J. K. Rowling (The Silkworm) and Elizabeth George (For the Sake of Elena). I enjoyed these novels, especially the first, but these authors – bless their hearts – like to put in a lot of social commentary, ideas about life, personal interest, etc. This can be very interesting and educational or quite aggravating, depending on one’s interests – so I did a lot of skimming (especially in Elena).

This made me think that in schooling and even university we don’t spend enough time teaching students to skim. We need to encourage them to “take charge” of their studies and reading life, rather than seeing complete coverage as the ideal. Smith and Wilhelm in their wonderful 2002 book Reading don’t fix no Chevys note that working class teenage boys often don’t like to read because the books we assign are too long. Skimming could help solve this problem. Similarly, doctoral students often take far too long on their literature review because they still don’t realize that one can and often must skim.

So let’s skim more – even in reading the daily news, in print or online – and encourage our students to do the same. It can make your day, and your holidays!

 

Reblogged: The Becoming Radical: Beware Grade-Level Reading and the Cult of Proficiency

I (Clare) am surprised/shocked/unsettled by the trend of  using levelled readers in classrooms. This is such a mechanistic way to approach reading. Yes we wants pupils to have success with reading but levelled readers have become the “diet” for many children. I found this article by Thomas really interesting. Here is the link: http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/beware-grade-level-reading

Few issues in education seem more important or more universally embraced (from so-called progressive educators to right-wing politicians such as Jeb Bush) than the need to have all children reading on grade level—specifically by that magical third grade:

Five years ago, communities across the country formed a network aimed at getting more of their students reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. States, cities, counties, nonprofit organizations, and foundations in 168 communities, spread across 41 states and the District of Columbia, are now a part of that initiative, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

However, advocating that all students must read at grade level—often defined as reading proficiency—rarely acknowledges the foundational problems with those goals: identifying text by a formula claiming “grade level” and then identifying children as readers by association with those readability formulas.

This text, some claim, is a fifth-grade text, and thus children who can “read” that text independently are at the fifth-grade reading level.

While all this seems quite scientific and manageable, I must call hokum—the sort of technocratic hokum that daily ruins children as readers, under-prepares children as literate and autonomous humans, and further erodes literacy as mostly testable literacy.

So who does this grade-level reading and proficiency benefit?

First, lets consider what anyone means by “reading.” For the sake of discussion, this is oversimplified, but I think, not distorting to the point of misleading. Reading may be essentially decoding, pronouncing words, phrases, and clauses with enough fluency to give the impression of understanding. Reading may be comprehension, strategies and then behaviors or artifacts by a reader that mostly represent (usually in different and fewer words) an accurate or mostly accurate, but unqualified, restating of the original text.

But reading may also (I would add should) be critical literacy, the investigating of text that moves beyond comprehension and places both text and “meaning” in the dynamic of reader, writer, and text (Rosenblatt) as well as how that text is bound by issues of power while also working against the boundaries of power, history, and the limitations of language.

In that framing, then, grade-level reading and proficiency are trapped mostly at decoding and comprehension, promoting the argument that all meaning is in the text only (a shared but anemic claim of New Criticism).

This narrow and inadequate view of text and reading (and readers) serves authoritarian approaches to teaching and mechanistic structures of testing, and more broadly, reducing text and reading to mere technical matters serves mostly goals of surveillance and control.

Consider first the allure of formula that masks the arbitrary nature of formula. Plug “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams into a readability calculator—first in its poetic format of lines and stanzas, and then as a grammatical sentence.

As a poem, apparently, the text is about 4th grade, but as a sentence, nearly 9th grade.

The problem is that readability formulas and claims of “grade level” are entirely the function of the limitations of math (the necessity to quantify and then the byproduct of honoring only that which can be quantified)—counting word syllables, number of words in sentences.

Reducing text to numbers, reducing students to numbers—both perpetuate a static and thus false view of text and reading. “Meaning” is not static, but temporal, shifting, and more discourse or debate than pronouncement.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” is really “easy” to read, both aloud and to comprehend. But readability formulas address nothing about genre or form, nothing about the rich intent of the writer (for example, poetry often presents only a small fraction of the larger context), nothing about all that that various readers bring to the text.

And to the last point, when we confront reading on grade level or reading proficiency, we must begin to unpack how and why any reader is investigating a text.

As I have detailed, we can take a children’s picture book—which by all technical matters is at primary or elementary grade levels—and add complex lenses of analysis, rendering the same text extremely complex—with a meaning that is expanding instead of static and singular.

Text complexity, readers’ grade level, and concurrent hokum such as months or years of learning are the grand distractions of technocrats: “it is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing” (The Tragedy of Macbeth, 5, 5).

Grand pronouncements about grade-level reading and proficiency, then, benefit politicians, textbook companies, and the exploding testing industry. But not children, not literacy, and not democracy.

Leveled books, labeled children, and warped education policy (grade retention based on high-stakes testing) destroy reading and the children advocates claim to be serving.

Thus, alas, there is simply no reading crisis and no urgency to have students on grade level, by third or any grade.

The cult of proficiency and grade-level reading is simply the lingering “cult of efficiency” that plagues formal education in the U.S.—quantification for quantification’s sake, children and literacy be damned.

Reading for Relevance AND Fluency

In the past, I (Clive) have posted about the need to teach for relevance. When recently re-visiting two of Richard Allington’s wonderful books on reading instruction – What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006) and What Really Matters in Fluency (2009) – I was impressed with his discussion of the link between relevance and fluency in reading. In his view, there are at least 4 instructional causes of reading difficulties:

  • Texts are too difficult
  • Texts are not interesting enough
  • Insufficient time is given for actual reading (as distinct from studying reading strategies)
  • Reading is interrupted for instructional reasons

Because of these factors, students don’t do enough reading to become fluent. Teaching reading strategies is important, but a balance is needed. Allington says:

[To increase their] store of at-a-glance words, readers need to consistently and repeatedly read a word correctly. [This requires] a lot of accurate reading…struggling readers [should] read at least as much as the achieving readers at their grade level. (2009, p. 38).

He cites what he sees as “one of the greatest failures of the [U.S.] federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs: Neither program reliably increased the volume of reading that children engaged in” (2006, p. 43). In fact, the amount of reading was often reduced.

But struggling students won’t read very much – either at school or at home – if texts are uninteresting to them. This is where relevance comes in. According to Allington, if we want students to read a lot they must see the point of reading. But if we force them to read books they aren’t interested in and bombard them with reading strategies, along with “comprehension” tasks that just require them to recall and retell, they may never realize that reading has a point. He comments:

I fear that we will continue to develop students who don’t even know that thoughtful literacy is the reason for reading. (2006, p. 116)

So relevance is valuable in two ways: it helps students learn about “life” and the real world, and it helps them learn how to read.

 

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