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Reading Lessons

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Student reading habits and skills have (again) become a topic of national discussion, with a number of recent reports and articles pointing to limitations or changes in young people's literacy development. In a recent forum on the topic, members of the Teachers Leaders Network recommended—and debated—various instructional changes to help improve reading skills, including giving students greater choice in reading materials, providing more help with nonfiction reading, and integrating interactive technology into reading assignments.

What's your view? Have students' reading skill and their interest in reading declined? If so, why? How can teachers best address the issue?

22 Comments

It's comforting to read that this trend affects more than inner-city urban students and schools. I'm interested in reading others' solutions.

Obviously this topic needs more discussion.

I have had success with basic skills students, improving their ability to read persuasive and informational texts by providing them with passages accompanied by multiple choice and open-ended questions. When they are done with the multiple-choice questions, I provide them with another copy of the passage on which I have underlined and numbered details that help them find the correct answer to each question. They are required to review their answers, check them with the numbered details, and then they are allowed to change any answer they feel is incorrect. For open-ended questions, I require that they provide excerpts from the passage to support their assertions, elaborate on the excerpts, and then relate the information to their lives or to life in general.

I have found students in my AP English Language and Composition courses to have an affinity for reading non-fiction that surprises even them; the AP course in English Language and Composition emphasizes persuasive strategies, linguistic mastery, tone, style, structure, and a host of rhetorical devices to be gleaned from prose works. Although not relegated to "only non-fiction," the AP Language students find themselves surprised by a variety of non-fiction works. They may encounter themes of marginalized living in journalistic social experiments as recorded in Nickel and Dimed and A Hope in the Unseen (Ehrenreich and R. Suskind) as well as in the memoir Angela's Ashes (McCourt --- all three are fascinating stories, yet are decidely non-fiction. More non-fiction reading and exploration of cogent, persuasive writng are found in the students' readings of parts of Corbett's Classic Rhetoric for the Modern Student for some strong training in rhetoric and in proper compositional skills....along with essays covering language constuct, social issues, educational issues, ethical crossroads,etc. via the reading of non-fiction masters William James, William Buckley,Richard Rodriquez, Gloria Anzaldia, Steven Gould, Eudora Welty, Toni Morrison,Plato, Anna Quindlen, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, George Orwell, Martin Luther King Jr., Maxine Hong Kingston, Jonathan Swift, Amy Tan, Eudora Welty, and Leslie Marmon Silko, et cetera. Fiction is included in this AP English Language coursework, and the students read more models of excellence in diction, syntax, tone, style, and structure, et cetera in the fiction works Macbeth, Brave New World, Lost Horizon, and either Hardy or Austen or both.

A blurring of the line between fiction and non-fiction narrative occurs in the Vietnam War novel The Things They Carried, as well as in the non-fiction braiding-intofiction of Judith Ortiz Cofer's cleverly structured Latin Deli. Students are accustomed to fiction works; this AP English Language coursework creates a natural forum for reading and study of a majority of non-fiction works, with a healthy mixing-in of fiction prose as well. I find the students

Yes, students' interest in reading has declined, but I must agree with some of my colleagues who want to acknowledge the many diverse literacies that teens and young adults have and use every day. We can't ignore the lure of the internet and the many electronic devices teens use to communicate.
Since we can do very little about influencing their reading habits (or lack of them) when they leave school each day, it makes sense to provide real reading time for these kids every day. Yes, it means sacrificing precious instructional time, but if we don't give kids time to "practice" their reading skills, they won't develop good habits and they won't find intrinsic value in reading.
As educators we have to model the value of reading and acknowledge the new literacies! Talk books, share books, download some books onto your MP3 player and share them with kids!

oops...the keys got away from me...as I was saying in the posting that got away...

...I find the students deepen their reading experience/strength via a strong inclusion of timely non-fiction works at the 11th grade level -- and that they go on to naturally deepen their appreciation of and readiness for challenging fiction works by Conrad, Kafka, Dostoevski,more Shakespeare, a host of poets, etc., that they will explore in AP English Literature...a 12th grade course at our school under the direction of Kevin Houtz. Primarily non-fiction with some fiction is then followed by primarily fiction with some non-fiction...and the students have become accomplished readers across the board.

Non-fiction seems to give the students another or less-traveled way into reading about both contemporary and timeless perspectives --- without negating the beauty of timeless and contemporary fiction. It's a one-two punch that should, in a generic way, engage many students into great reading experiences for life.

I continue to teach classic works of literature to my 10th grade "average level" students. What helps is to get the students engaged in reading through other sources/media. I particulalry like to use music to go along with a theme, subject, etc. we are reading. For example, we have been reading OF MICE AND MEN. As background on what the Dust Bowl was I showed a clip from THE WIZARD OF OZ, then when discussing "folk music" and the concept of "home" I played Woody Guthrie songs and Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown." I was even able to find a rap song (clean version) that spoke of the 'hood as home.
Yes, it is more challenging to get students engaged in reading today. They are the "soundbite" generation. Twenty minutes of reading to most of them is an eternity!

Did I miss something, but did the terms "library" and "librarian" not appear in any of the conversation? It's hard to read books if there isn't a rich and attractive and convenient collection to choose from. It's hard if there's not a school librarian involved who promotes reading for its own sake/pleasure. You can read my book Student Success and Library Media Programs, which has a whole chapter on reading achievement, noting studies that demonstrate the influence of school library programs.

Are we stealing childhood away from five and six year old children by introducing reading instruction too early? I think many children/young adults begin to lose interest in reading in later years because they are forced into an abstract activity way too soon. Just because some children are able to learn to read at a very early age does not mean that they should. I am beginning to think that Waldorf schools really have the right idea after all. All our attempts at reining in play and movement in exchange for letter sounds and early writing is not producing the readers we had hoped for. I think too many "picture" books is almost like a diet of potato chips. Read it once, toss down, reach for another one. Not very satisfying.Not very cherished. I say, bring back oral tradition.Tell me a story. Withhold the books for a while. For everything there is a season.

I believe that reading is an activity of enjoyment. There have been books in my house for years and my daughter consistently was exposed to my wife and I reading. She began to do the same, and is an avid reader today. It seems that there is strong dislike for reading with my students at least, no matter what the subject. Granted, there is some reading that is assigned that may not be very interesting to them, but as facilitators we must expose our students to a wide range of materal

I thought readers might enjoy some specific practice-oriented excerpts from our TLN conversation about the future of reading. Here are two comments that we weren’t able to include in the main article because of space restrictions:

MARY TEACHES AP ENGLISH:

Two summers ago I let students choose their “beginning” grade in my AP course based on the number of books they read over the summer (3=A, 2=B, 1=C). All were required to read ONE common title in order to gain entry with a C. The other two books could be selected from a list of classics or non-fiction books I provided (with reviews/synopsis included). The option to choose was very successful with the students. All of the students read the required single book, and 83% read three books.

I added non-fiction in hopes of attracting more males to the program. My numbers for boys did go up. All students who selected optional titles said they were able to find found books they enjoyed. I surveyed the kids afterwards and they were very enthusiastic and appreciative of the ability to choose both their entering grade and their summer reading.

MARSHA CHAMPIONED LIBRARIANS:

When I think about schools working to create a “love of reading” among students, it strikes me that a huge component can and should be our school libraries and librarians. I know that sounds obvious. But how many schools really have the library as the center of their learning? Who is better positioned to get to know students as readers and foster their love of reading?

I have been in a school with such a librarian, and her impact was huge. That one solitary person can influence the love of reading for an entire student body. This school library has such a literature-rich program that it is tough to get in to use the place! At Halloween, this librarian has “Boo in the Library” and reads grown-up scary stories to kids -- introducing them to a host of new writers. She does an amazing Banned Books Week, teaching kids why they need to stand up for their right to read. This library staff really knows the kids of the building, greets them by name, and eagerly share titles they think would be a perfect match for that student.

Want to integrate science fiction into the curriculum? Our librarian read aloud from Ray Bradbury in the middle of an environmental biomes unit. She read “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” when we did ocean currents. And how about finding extra money to build a tree house right in the middle of the library? People thought middle schoolers would think it wasn’t cool. But she went ahead, found the money and the craftsmen to build it, and you know what? That tree house is the kids’ favorite place to read – even the big hulking 8th graders!

On top of this kind of traditional program, she incorporates media, putting still images, digital video production and webquests into the mix. One project channels students into making Public Service Announcements with iMovies for the United Nations. Or morphing still images from one era into another, to reflect the way Lewis and Clark changed the world.

How about graphic novels? Do your libraries include these? Or how about playlists of videos (organized by courses) that can be checked out from the library on iPods? Or how about borrowing the Historical Society's buffalo box so the kids can actually see how buffalos were so integral to our culture hundreds of years ago? All it takes is someone willing to drive 150 miles to pick it up and then return it.

It's that kind of enthusiasm that moves people to read. It makes them want to be a part of things. It's the kind of experience that gives kids something to aspire towards.

But I only see cutbacks in this type of library program. I am lucky to know librarians who are teachers as well as keepers of their book collections. They are worth $10 million to a school. Alas, I've also been in schools where you're lucky if the nonfiction collection exists and librarian chats all day on her cell phone.

I teach reading to children who are first learning this skill 1st graders. You need to teach phonics! You need to read to them! If they like what they hear they will want to mimic it. Several of toadys adopted reading programs do not incorporate phonics into the reading. I am fortunate to work at a private school and the principal allows me to use a program called "Easy Start." It was created by a teacher for her 1st graders. I have had tremendous success with it! My children leave 2nd grade reading way above grade level.

My husband and I have raised 11 children (four of our own, seven others). The best reader in the bunch is our deaf son--to whom we could not read aloud, and who was unable to learn phonics--but who has never scored less than 98% on any standardized reading test and has a voracious appetite for reading in hardcopy or digital formats. We also have a dyslexic daughter, who would not be able to read at all were it not for phonics. I am a strong supporter of reading with and to children (including my high school and college students!), it's our enthusiasm and love for the language and the words that will move them to become true lovers of reading.

The question of why children seem less interested in reading today is intriguing. I suspect it has a lot to do with why we read. As a child, I liked to "escape" into books. (I still do.) I found adventure and heroes. I could be a princess or a damsel in distress. Today's children find escape in television, videos, and fast-paced computer games... none of which were available to me as a child. (Okay - I did have TV from age eight, but it was definitely restricted.)So I think the rapid-fire gratification that comes from the media may be providing a different kind of escape for some kids.

As a child, I also had to read books for information. Today, information is instantly at the fingertips of our kids through the Internet and other types of media.

So, to address a possible decline in children's level of interest in reading, we might have to ask, what purpose does reading have for them today?

Actually, I think all of these teachers are really describing the students' love for reading. It is just that students do not want to only read books. I am actually reading and writing right now and enjoying it and I am not reading a book. Students are reading websites, directions to video games, signs, emails,
t-shirts, etc. The students need to know something about the sounds in the words to be able to send a text message or understand a text message. The students are hearing stories in the songs they listen to. I am all about real-world, authentic learning. In my class, first grade, the students have one assignment where they are required to bring something to read to school that is NOT a book. Whenever a student asks a question about a subject they want to learn more about, we find a book about it, or we research it on the Internet. So, I believe students do love to read. They just want to read what is relevant to them or what they are interested in. It is our job to incorporate some of their "reading material" into our lessons and show the students how books can also provide them with answers and enjoyment they are looking for.

To address another problem - If we want students to read books more often, they need to have access to books. I work closely with the local library to make sure all students have a library card. The children's librarian comes to our school to tell stories, read books,and let children know about materials and activities available at the library. My school also gives out books to the students in a book ownership program.

Mine is the Reading for Pleasure class in the article. I'm so lucky to have two awesome school librarians (media specialists!) who are partners with me in my program. I have an extensive classroom library, because I really like talking to my students about books, and sharing. But there's no way I have enough books or expertise to help everyone. All three of us teachers have a different strength and interest in books. We talk to kids differently, we suggest different books. I literally could NOT do my job without my librarians!

On the subject of reading other than books, in my class, we read books. I know comprehension is built when kids read longer words, and wrestle with the text. For that reason, IN CLASS, it's got to be books. Outside of class, I strongly support my students' rich literacy with media other than books. Beth, I loved your point about reading t-shirts. As an experienced high school teacher, I've learned to read t-shirts on the fly. You never know when they're trying to get something over on us! Some of my favorite quotes come from t-shirts and bumper stickers!

I am a student-teacher parent who loves reading. My son loves reading as well, my daughter not so much, but she is a good reader anyway. I see my son reading a lot of novels online, like various original takes on Harry Potter, for instance. So he's reading a lot.

However, I don't agree that any reading is acceptable. I believe that the higher-order reading that uses language in a sophisticated manner is necessary, so that children learn to use various grammatical affects and to use adjectives, adverbs and nouns in a creative and highly developed manner.

This is what I find is being lost in the learning of students today. There is a lack of ease with the English language, a lack of nuance, and a lack of the ability to create and decode that nuance.

Rather than 'dumb down' English to meet the interests of the student, how about we once more make demands of the student to which they must rise, and worry about failure when it comes instead of tiptoeing around it as if it were a sleeping dragon ready to consume us all if awakened?

Then, for those students who do start to fail, let's catch it early, make them (gasp) stay after class to catch up on homework, have built in mandatory tutoring sessions, WORK with them instead of carelessly sending parents (surprise!) failing progress reports a month later and begin the now common back-and-forth blame game.

Well? How about it?

I think with so much computer and television reading has lost its momentum with children. That's why as a third-grade teacher I think it's important to find a series that children can get "hooked" on to boost up their desire to read. I have found a new series perfect for this called "The Incredible Journey Books" (www.ijbooks.com) that combines wonderful adventure-filled plots with geography facts, making reading fun and educational as well. Once the kids are exposed and develop loyalty to a series, it is just like collecting anything else . . . they want more and more! My advice to other teachers is to find a good series and read the first book in the series out loud in class. Then provide a classroom library with the other books in the series for the kids to check out. The kids start treating the books like gold, once their curiosity is peaked.

As a middle school English teacher, I too have heard the "I hate to read" comments. One area that we give too little attention is the fact that our classic literature is so far from our current readers realm of possible knowledge. We no longer teach very much European history but much of our classics rely on those times. Perhaps we need to move to more modern classics that are based in a world culture. We also need to start paring down old curriculum so we can substitute these world selections. Also, it is even more incumbentent on the teacher to give students a picture of the challenges of the times in which stories are set. When we are training teachers for content areas we need to include reading of these materials as some of their methods courses. The English teacher has a curriculum to cover and it should not have to be pushed aside to teach other content areas.

Students should have access to reading material that highlight their areas of interest. The subjects may not be what we as instructors would like to see, however to attract the students attention and ease the introduction of a skill that may be very difficult for them in the beginning the subject matter shoulfd be introduced by the student.

If you are looking for some help. www.bkfk.com is an excellent resource for free lesson plan!

The answer obviously to this question about reading is extremely
diverse as the people responding. I do find that one has to go back to the question and unfortunately "re-define" it for 2008 students.
What generation are you asking this question for to answer( new teachers/ones teaching for a while/or seasoned?) The reason I mention this is because the way I think of the traditional form of reading is "in a book" format. (And being an artist/writer/and reading role model myself I need to, as a teacher, define reading
differently now for such diverse learners today because my goal for them is to be self motivated in the 'love of the act" of reading.
With that said, some of the answers to help motivate my K-6th kids (and beyond!) is through the library which provides great
role models there and great resources and books! The drive for
a life long reading love is through myself, as an art teacher, to
role model and never put myself down even if some art teachers
are not considered or don't read the three novels a week until the summer time type! I pick up wonderful books... picture books of all kinds... antique and new and treat them as life itself!
I compare/contrast/dissect the students issues/comments of the moment and provide a "bridge" through the written word and the illustration. Kids "see" and hear before they draw or read a word. In Art, I "integrate" (what a wonderful hook there) with classroom teachers topics or anything I can that I may see up on the wall back in their classroom on a poster or whatever. "Reading" a picture is a great technique to get the kids to really
discuss. I have them write about their own their work which provides another "bridge" to not only the life long skill but to the
love of reading on their own. ART classes done through my techniques and love of all fields of reading/writing/drawing/science/math that I role model gives a
super start to a life long love and curiosity which gets kids to also use: critical thinking skills, creativity skills, leadership skills,
and provide for diversity. (these all are what companies are asking for now). I also try not to use the word "reading" ( strangely enough) because for some reason their faces get all
"crinkly" and gets them to turn off. Being sort of conniving and creative about the whole process of reading and not letting on
to what you are really doing has been the best method so far.
Proof it works you ask? I have had not only my students that went into the field of Art but kids that have come back to me after years and tell me how, by the things we did in art class,
has brought them into studying English/Language Arts and one that went onto being a teacher!

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