Book clubs or literacy circles are some of my most favorite explorations to do with kids. Making space for deep discussions, led by the students, and framed by an inquiry question is something that I love to be a part of. That’s why we have done book clubs twice a year for the past many years. I would not do more than that, kids also want to have experiences where they are not forced to read a certain book with peers, even if they have a lot of embedded choice. And as always, when in doubt, ask your students how often they would like to do them, make space for their ideas and allow for personalization and ownership.
- ‘Vocabulary 7-up’ is a simple vocabulary game that encourages pupils to record as many synonyms as they can for common words (seven ideally!).
- ‘Word Triplets’ offers students three words to choose from, or synonyms, so that we can begin to shape their apt vocabulary selections.
- ‘Said is dead’. The use of ‘said’ is part of the fabric of academic writing.
- ‘Simple >< Sophisticated’. Teachers can quickly and repeatedly model apt word choices, along with the movement from simple to sophisticated, and the reverse when it is needed.
- Word gradients. A common approach is to have pupils discuss and select from a range of word choices – debating their meaning and value for a given task.
Professor Diane Lapp, from San Diego State University, in the categorically titled, ‘If you want students to read widely and well – Eliminate ‘Round-robin reading’, suggests the following approaches:
- Repeated reading, which involves repeating a reading modelled ﬁrst by the teacher or another proﬁcient reader.
- Choral reading, which means reading together with others who are proﬁcient readers.
- Echo reading, or the student echoing or repeating what the proﬁcient reader has just read.
- Readers’ Theatre involves a dramatic reading of a text or script by the students.
- Neurological impress, which involves the student and teacher reading together while tracking words.
Any time a pupil is reading a complex text, it will likely prove difficult, effortful, and even frustrating. We cannot just expect to offer pupils harder and harder texts and expect them to become better readers either. However, by explicitly teaching pupils to be strategic and to cohere their knowledge and understanding, we can offer them the right tools to tackle the job of reading complex texts.
- Sharing the secret that struggling is actually normal
- Generate curiosity by getting students to engage with texts through student questions and predictions
- Activate prior knowledge to help make connections
- Identify and teach keystone vocabulary
- Read related texts
Associated with all this, one of the biggest challenges withis addressing the question why read any text at all? For example, should everyone be made to read Finnigan’s Wake?
Competitive debating largely ignores the meta-debate of what motion should be debated. In 2016, the UK electorate was asked whether or not we wished to leave or remain in the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron argued that the only sensible answer was Remain, but simply asking the question implied that either answer was reasonable.
Or consider climate change. We could debate the motion “This house believes veganism is necessary to meet the threat of climate change”, or “This house believes a carbon tax is sufficient to meet the threat of climate change”, or “This house believes there is no threat from climate change”. Which motion gets attention may be more important than any debate that follows.
Debating also feeds some of our less admirable urges. It sometimes pretends to be a search for the truth, but the real goal is not truth but victory.
Rereading is subject to fortuitous circumstances, and remains a strictly personal affair. But the act of rereading, especially of books that have had a transformative effect, illustrates a wider common experience: the continuous shuttle, or to-and-fro movement, between art forms and lived life. It is a creative weaving, a process by which we are ceaselessly shaped. This to-and-fro motion between artifact and so-called reality takes various forms. It can occur between a given novel and specific urban setting, or between an admired painting and a geographic region. One might see the San Frediano district of Florence through a previous encounter with Vasco Pratolini’s fiction, discover Petersburg through exposure to Gogol and Dostoyevsky, or grow fond of the Umbrian countryside through earlier views of the delicate trees in the background landscapes of Perugino’s compositions.
voluntary rereading, the result of a willful decision to revisit a book one has admired, or a book that has left one with some unanswered questions.
subconscious rereadings, those that occur without the specific act of reading, much as the memory of a tune can haunt the mind without its actually being heard again.
quite precious experience that might be called “pre-reading,” when certain dispositions in our character, coupled with circumstances, make us receptive in advance to an author we have not yet encountered.
Whatever the form, each of these acts of rereading changes us as readers.
Books can transform us. They can determine a mental landscape, remake our vision of things in much the way the advent of impressionism made people see both cityscape and landscape afresh.
This reminds me of J. Hillis Miller’s President’s Column in his book Theory Now and Then, in which he talks about the joy of reading and the subsequent obligation to write:
Miller argued that we have an obligation to write. He suggested that reading and teaching are completed by writing, that it is a core element to our transaction with language. As he stated:
As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.
To me, Miller’s writing refers to an action where we make meaning out of the text, where we gain a subjective mastery over what it is we are reading. This may not always be a physical act and often doesn’t even reach the page. The challenge as I see it is to follow through with these commentaries. That is why blogging is so powerful.
If we look at the research that surrounds reading enjoyment and motivation, we see a direct correlation between the effects of reading intervention programs and how kids feel about themselves as readers. They can do so much good but they can also do a lot of damage. Richard Allington and others remind us of the incredible impact the reading curriculum decisions have on our most vulnerable readers. That “the design of reading lessons differs for good and poor readers in that poor readers get more work on skills in isolation, whereas good readers get assigned more reading activity.” That our most vulnerable readers are “often placed into computer programs or taught by paras rather than placed in front of reading specialists. That their experience is fundamentally shaped around their perceived gaps rather than their full person. So how does that play out year after year when a child is not placed in front of a trained and caring reading specialist but instead of a computer that cares nothing about their reading identity or how hard they are working? How will it play out when kids only see their reading value in the points they get, the levels they pass, and the scores they receive? Not books read, not experiences created, not background knowledge developed, or small accomplishments celebrated.
Story Dice – your handy story idea generator
Now the classic story ideas generator is available for free in your browser. In this version there’s over 50 options for each dice – with more options being added as I get around to drawing them.
As well as being a fun diversion for parents and ki…
A better reader is someone who sees reading as valuable. Who recognizes the need to read because they will feel less than if they don’t. Who sees reading as a necessity to learning, for themselves and not just for others. Who sees reading as a journey to be on, something worth investing in. That a better reader is someone who will continue to come back to reading when they can, finding value within whatever materials they read in order to make their lives better in some way. A better reader is not just a child who reads hard texts, always pushing their skills, but also someone who commits to the very act of reading. And so I wonder; when we tell children not to read “easy” books, how much of their individual reading identity journey have we dismissed? And what becomes of the reader?
So do we tell our students to embrace easy reading whenever they want to keep them loving reading? Or do we push them so hard to develop their skills that their connection to reading breaks and then we wonder why reading becomes something just to do for school and tasks?
Associated with this, Ripp discusses the importance of respecting the journey that each reader is on.
And yes, I teach that child that reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid every day, who is not sure of what else he can read that will make him love reading as much. My job is not to tell him, “No, you cannot read that,” but instead to urge him to read more books in the series and to celebrate the reading that is happening. To recognize that this child has discovered a part of himself where he finds a purpose within the pages of this book and to help him find books that will offer up similar experiences. Not to take away, but to recommend, while also protecting the fierce commitment that exists between a child and a favorite book. To explore why that child loves this book so much and then help discover others like it. To acknowledge the reading relationship that already exists and to build on that rather than breaking it apart at all costs because I know better.
I remember coming up against this challenge when I took a class for the library session. The classroom teacher would scould me when the boys would return with a non-fiction text or graphic novel. Reflecting on this now, I am left thinking about Dave Cormier’s argument for ‘care‘ as the first principle.
By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Strait seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the Bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?
‘The Great Gatsby’ is not a book about people, per se. Secretly, it’s a novel of ideas.
In one day, you can sit with the brutal awfulness of nearly every person in this book—booooo, Jordan; just boo. And Mr. Wolfsheim, shame on you, sir; Gatsby was your friend. In a day, you no longer have to wonder whether Daisy loved Gatsby back or whether “love” aptly describes what Gatsby felt in the first place. After all, The Great Gatsby is a classic of illusions and delusions. In a day, you reach those closing words about the boats, the current, and the past, and rather than allow them to haunt, you simply return to the first page and start all over again.
Sarah Churchwell, Philip McGowan, William Blazek and Melvyn Bragg talk about The Great Gatsby on the In Our Time podcast. They discuss Fitzgerald’s legacy and how it came to be so important within the American literacy canon.
For an audio version of the book, the team at NPR’s Planet Money have done a reading after the book was added to the Public Domain:
Why do we teach children to write and what do we want to get out of it? Misty offered:
- transforming ourselves
- transforming others
- transforming communities
- transforming systems
Another example of AI generated text is Mark Riedl’s Generating Parody Lyrics.
via Clive Thompson
We could just assume good things happen when we promote independent reading, but the likelihood is that this only occurs for fluent, successful readers, and so carrying on without careful intent may widen the attainment gap in our school.
Implementing structured silent reading, along with exploring other approaches that will make reading and learning gains, should be our aim to help address the attainment gap.
There are worrying indications that utilising DEAR may see the reading rich get richer and the reading poor get poorer. We all know those pupils who read fluently and with great skill. They better select those Goldilocks texts that are just right for them, staying motivated and focused, as they read voraciously and well.
In response, Quigley suggests that reading time should be structured, focusing on:
- Audit reading habits and reading materials
- Support choice and structure rich reading
- Top and tail time spent reading
- Utilise reading time to support the weakest readers
- Define goals for silent reading
When I was in the classroom, we used the CAFE model to help structure the silent reading program. The challenge I found was meaningfully responding.
I have come to the realisation that unless students are empowered and shown where the value exists for them, by teachers, and given more opportunities to develop authentic responses then the problem will continue to exist for teachers. The reality is, whether staff or students, we are all readers, therefore, in the end, we all need to find our way of responding. You may not want to write reviews online or extensive tracks in your margins, but the question needs to be asked: are you really reading if you are not responding?
If we want children to use pronouns effectively in their writing, we need to teach them how authors use them for literary effect in texts. Research has shown children learn to apply grammar in their writing carefully and creatively when we teach it in the following ways.
- Show how grammar works in texts
- Use examples and make them authentic
- Make room for discussion
- Encourage language play