Friday, August 12, 2011

A New Perspective on Teaching Reading in the Classroom

As a future teacher and an extreme advocate for getting students interested in reading I stumbled upon a book that addressed a new perspective and approach on getting kids to read.  This book immediately peaked my interest when the synopsis I read mentioned that the teacher's students read a minimum of 40 books a school year!  Not only that, but most of the students become top ranking in the standardized tests, which means they are learning a great deal from the reading they are doing.  Finally and one of the most important aspects, a lot of these students become "lifelong readers", meaning that they find and embrace their new love of reading.

Forty books a year for students is amazing, most kids I know moan and groan at the thought of reading one or two independent novels.  Now it's difficult to talk about all the valid arguments that I found in the book without this becoming an extremely drawn out post but there were a couple of points that I fully and 100% support that I want to share:

1.  If you allow students to read what they want, they will swallow information and texts whole and whether they like it or not, they will learn from it.  I never considered myself a strong English person.  Language Arts, English, Literature, etc. were always some of my least favorite classes and I never felt that I performed that well with the worksheets, assessments, evaluations, etc. that were handed out in class.  Yet, I am also a devoted reader.  If you haven't been able to tell already by my numerous posts about books, I thoroughly enjoy being lost in a good story.  I have been like this my entire life.  I remember days when I was young, my mom would take us to the library and I would pick out 4 or 5 books and when we got home (and sometimes even starting in the car ride home), I would dive into the books and by the end of the day or at least the next afternoon I would have all the books finished.  From my years of reading I have gained a new confidence level in my reading and writing skill as without any additional practice or drilling in these areas I was capable of keeping up with devout literary students in my classroom.  I thoroughly believe that my years of reading are the cause.

2. Class novels are not for everyone.  I have mixed views on this perspective.  One of the things I hated most about my literature classes was being dragged through books that didn't hold my interest, were sometimes too low of a reading level, or were dragged out for two months within the class so that every chapter could be quizzed and examined under a microscope.  Yet, throughout my years of school and primarily my Senior year in High School the books that were deemed class novels became some of my favorite novels.  I was introduced to some great literary work throughout the years that I probably wouldn't have encountered if it weren't for class novels.  But I think that those novels that speak to a student can sometimes be a rare exception and when there is a novel that bores a student to pieces that they don't even bother reading or paying attention to, it does absolutely nothing for the student... Absolutely nothing.  That student will walk away hardly remembering the novel, let alone all the drill and skill points that were listed throughout the reading.

An alternative method that I thought was really interesting was the concept of having multiple class novels going at a time.  Let me explain...  Say the class is entering a unit that is discussing a particular world event or "theme".  The teacher could then gather up a couple of different novels that play a part in that event or theme and allow the students to pick which novel appeals to them.  After the novels are selected, the students can then be placed in groups with people that have corresponding novel choices.  That way, plot and events within the book can still be discussed in detail with those that are reading the same book and when discussing the particular "theme" multiple perspectives can be added into the discussion rather than beating a dead horse with the same novel and the same generic responses.  The teacher in the book gives the example of her students learning about WWII in which the different groups read novels from different perspectives of those that were involved in the war--Japanese, soldier, Jews, etc.--and from these alternative perspectives the students were able to grasp a more well-rounded perspective of the war in itself.  Now that's what I call a learning experience.

3.  Using multiple books to display a point.  One of the problems that I had while I was in Language Arts was the repetitive use of one piece of literature to describe numerous literary terms and points.  I felt that I was often lost when my teachers would describe a term and use the current class text as an example and move on, incorporating more terms but hardly ever returning back to that term.  To make matters worse, the teacher would vaguely describe the term and rather than letting the students explore the text and match the term with an example, would point out the example and move on.  It shouldn't be like this.  A teacher should be able to thoroughly describe something and maybe even point out numerous examples from various texts that the students have encountered.  But the student should also be able to apply what is taught with their own independent reading.  It does absolutely no good if a student isn't capable of applying what he or she knows.

I have several other points but I'm getting drowsy and I think that you've probably heard enough of my soap boxing. =P

If you want to check out the book, it's called The Book Whisper and you can click this link to read more about it and purchase a copy.

Oh, and here is the blog of the teacher that wrote the book and has successfully made many many students become lifelong readers.

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