Tag Archives: Reading

Article: Motivating Readers through Voice and Choice

“Keeping students motivated to read and write throughout the school year can be a challenge for any classroom teacher.”

This is the opening line of an interesting (and short article) by Wendy Ranck-Buhr from NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English (in the U.S.), that I just read titled “Motivating Readers Through Voice and Choice.”

https://habitsofeffectivewritingteachers.wikispaces.com/file/view/Student2Student_Column.pdf 


After this relatable opening, the author then goes on to wonder:

“Sometimes it is not the reading or writing itself that drains motivation from middle school students but the ways we ask students to demonstrate what they know.”

The rest of this short article goes on to provide suggestions for how to engage students in writing and reading throughout the school year. Although technically aimed at middle school teachers and students, I imagine the strategies are applicable to high school English classes and students as well. 

For example:

  1. Blogs: teachers can use blogs to communicate with both students and parents, and students can use blogs to showcase work.
  2. Literary café: the teacher can host a book chat or book sharing session once in a while in their classroom along with beverages on tables covered in cloths. 
  3. Showcase: providing an audience beyond the classroom can be a great motivator for students and their writing. Teachers can showcase writing on the Internet, for example, or or in literary publications.

The author concludes by wondering:

“What would it take to make every student in your class a self-motivated reader and writer?”

Article: Peer Influences on Young Teen Readers

Peer Influences on Young Teen Readers

What motivates teen readers (age 12 – 15)?

Two key elements jumped out at me from this article by Vivian Howard:  http://yalsa.ala.org/yals/yalsarchive/volume8/8n2_winter2010.pdf

One: The importance of relationships to teens: that is to say, teens will rely on peers as information sources OR as a guide for where to get information in place of getting information from a book.

The findings of this study illuminate the central role played by people as information links and providers. Students relied upon a broad spectrum of people when seeking information. In fact, the interpersonal networks of students appear to determine the framework in which all information seeking takes place, therefore emphasizing the role of interpersonal interactions in gathering information as a critical component in the instruction process.

Howard goes on to report on one teen respondent’s insight about why a ‘live person’ is considered a much more valuable resource:

“One teen respondent explained her preference for human information sources in this way: ‘When asking people, I consider their expertise. If you don’t understand what a person is saying, you can ask them [sic] to explain it a little further. You can’t ask a book to explain what it means right now. I go to people because of their interactive nature.'”

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Two: Avid readers read for pleasure in the a “social context”, but to different degrees:

“…many young teen readers systematically described how their pleasure reading takes place in a social context, as an effective strategy to cement peer friendships. These teens actively sought to read the same materials as their closest friends and used reading (talking about reading, exchanging reading material, following the same series) as a form of social bonding…” while for others “…reading has always been and continues to be something they do for pleasure, but in isolation, and it is not a habit to be shared with either friends or family.”

So, this perhaps begs the question about what role might a teacher play in getting teens to read?

“Librarians (and teachers) can promote themselves as accessible and valuable information resources. They can also integrate themselves into students’ interpersonal networks, working with parents, teachers and others to develop and market programmes that focus on students’ needs and the interpersonal aspects of information-seeking behavior.”

But, this makes me wonder about that the teacher:

  1. needs to therefore strive to be seen as a friendly adult (not necessarily a ‘friend’, per se), a safe harbour, so to speak.
  2. must know their students: as a student, as a person, but also as a reader (likes / dislikes, abilities and challenges as a reader, etc.)
  3. could function as ‘reading mentor‘, as it were, providing reluctant students with coaching for the critical skill of book selection as well as how to find out about new books and then to what degree a reader wants to connect with other readers. (Howard includes a very interesting exploration of a ‘Taxonomy of Teen Readers’ regarding how much connection and influence peers exert on teens’ reading.)

2016-12-07-11_08_34-8n2_winter2010-pdf

 

Reading: Using all the clues?

In Catching Readers Before They Fall, Pat Johnson and Katie Keier explain on page 52 that “when proficient readers solve words, they do not depend solely on phonetics.” Instead, they use a combination of information sources:

“Meaning: Knowledge that includes any background knowledge, information gained from pictures in the text, or ideas gathered from the context of the sentence or story. Readers think about what makes sense.

Structure: Knowledge that comes from being familiar with spoken language, English structure, and how it sounds. Readers choose words that sound right.

Visual: Any letter/sound correspondence knowledge a person has. Readers check to see if the word looks right.” (53)

The authors go on to say: “When students are just beginning to learn to read, they are often unable to use all three sources of information simultaneously…” These early readers “need teachers who can… Show them how to integrate and balance meaning, structure, and visual information.” (53)

I was struck that this would seem to parallel the idea of strategic reading for comprehension: that proficient readers use a number of strategies, including looking at pictures, colour, font size, font colour, shapes, icons and clip art in order to make meaning.

 

Can this parallel be drawn: whether it is decoding or comprehending, real reading involves drawing meaning from a number of different sources?

Reading is a complex, multi-faceted process that requires a number of learned skills to operate simultaneously, nimbly and quickly, starting at the word level and working up to comprehension and beyond.

What implications does this have for my teaching?

If I put a text in front of a student, Johnson and Keier would seem to reinforce  the idea that powerful learning happens when a teacher explicitly explains what is happening in a text as well as what strategy to use; models how they would navigate this text; and then gives students time to practice this type of reading to increase proficiency.

In one of her DVDs, Cris Tovani relates a story of when she informed one of her high school teachers that she wasn’t understanding a text, the teacher responded by saying “Well, just read harder” or “Read between the lines.” Being unfamiliar with the text as well as reading strategies, Tovani says she went back and looked between the lines of print and discovered that this white space yielded no meaning. It would appear, however, that it is incumbent upon me, as the teacher, to make learning visible by showing students reading strategies, including how to navigate a text.

 

David Bowie’s Top Songs? According to…?

With the surprising passing of David Bowie just a few days ago, I have come across a number of tweets from websites and publications proclaiming “The 24 Best David Bowie Songs” or something similar.

While I understand that these lists are the opinion of the publication or of a David Bowie fan, I find that this ‘these are his best songs’ reaction resonates for me as a high school English teacher because of the nature of ‘English class’ in high school.

Allow me to back track a little: how could there ever be a list of ‘David Bowie’s best songs’ — or any other artist, for that matter — when music is so very personal? For me, as a teen in the 1980’s, I was surrounded by David Bowie’s music, and while I liked some of his songs to a certain degree, it never really spoke to me in my gut (or soul or heart or whatever that place is when a song explodes inside you.) At that time, the music that made my cells thrum was Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, The Grateful Dead, and Santana to name a few.

The amazing group of friends I had in high school were a group for reasons other than our music tastes, which included my 60’s / Deadhead list, while others listened to death metal, ska, punk, new wave and indie rock. I can remember wishing that David Bowie spoke to me in my gut / soul because I sensed that he was an ‘important musician’, but for whatever reason, whatever my mixture of genes, background knowledge, upbringing, emotional sensibility, teen headspace, etc., David just never found a place in my heart. And that is okay.

And so, when I read about ‘David Bowie’s 24 Best Songs’ today, I remember that wishing his music spoke to me and then remember that it’s okay for not everyone to love his music.

How does this connect to high school English? I wonder what effect limiting students to reading only what have been deemed ‘the best or important novels’ will have on them? Kelly Gallagher, in his book Readicide, explores the idea that we, as teachers, should remember that while these core texts in English may be important, creating lifelong readers is more important.  Neither Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell nor other promoters of reading would suggest that we ignore these important texts, but Gallagher fears that force-feeding ‘classic’ texts that only speak to some (if not only a few) students will undermine or even kill a students’ desire to read for the rest of their lives. Woah.

If I, as an English teacher, am worried about students being exposed to proper syntax and grammar, as well as building their vocabulary, Stephen Krashen’s seminal meta-study, The Power of Reading, submits that free-voluntary reading is the most efficient and powerful way to build those elements of language arts. After having read these amazing works by respected authors and thinkers, I confess it has given me much to think about.

(To go one step further, Jim Trelease and Dr. Stephen Layne also write about how reading aloud to students at all levels (including PhD students) is also a very powerful tool for exposing students to the beautiful intricacies of the English language. But that is perhaps for another post…)

Penny Kittle  echoes Gallagher’s idea and worries that if students are only exposed to academic reading in a boot-camp setting, they will turn off reading, and that is a much
greater problem than whether or not they were exposed to the ‘right’ or classic texts.

David Bowie’s music never took up a place inside my soul. That is okay — even though he is ‘one of the most important musicians of all time’. How would I feel, I wonder, if I had been forced to listen to his music, to dissect it, to analyze it, to discuss it, for weeks at a time, over multiple years?

Is it more important that I be able to critically analyze any piece of music or just David Bowie’s?

Kittle goes on to wonder whether we can balance students’ interests and needs with our responsibilities and goals.

 

I love comics – but is this one safe for class?

I love graphic novels and comics. 

While I admit to being a lifelong fan of comic book heroes and their adventures, I am always on the lookout for comics and GNs that tell non-superhero stories –particularly ones aimed at young adults. I do this because I want to find new reading material for my high school students — but am also looking to change the minds of teacher colleagues who may think that comics and GNs are only about Batman, Superman or The Hulk – not that those are bad! 

I digress.

Two excellent examples of recent non-superhero graphic novels that I have read (and tweeted about as @mistercooke on Twitter) include: 

  • The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings: after being sent to jail for murder, a young First Nations man strives for redemption through an exploration of his own culture.
  • A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo, Kris, and Vincent Bailly:  a Jewish family living in Paris must make the heart-breaking decision to send their children away as the Nazis rise to power.

   

I would love to get both of these books into the hands of students and teachers to show that powerful, disturbing, beautiful, humane, transcendent stories can also be told through the medium of comics. Or as comics guru Scott McCloud says “sequential art”.

I have discovered, in my own practice, GNs can be light reading, entry point reading, a gateway to other reading or a challenging reach book, depending on the reader, as there is a literacy unique to comics that some are more familiar with than others. 

Indeed, I love comics and graphic novels because the visual nature of comics adds both an immediacy and a new layer of complexity that both invites me in and challenges me as a reader.

But could this immediacy be dangerous?

I discovered a longer comic today that presented a difficult conundrum for me as a teacher: can this visual nature of comics and GNs be too immediate? Should some subject matter be left to the reader’s imagination? 

What is that comic, the content of which vexed me so? It shall appear in my next post, posted post-haste.

Reading Aloud to students is the Swiss Army Knife of Effective Literacy?

In his book, In Defense of Read-Aloud, Dr. Steven Layne quotes another professor, Brian Cambourne, who, in a position statement, explores the notion that reading aloud to students is the “Swiss Army Knife of Effective Reading and Writing Pedagogy”. Cambourne discovered in his research some of the following benefits of reading aloud to students (p. 17, In Defense of Read-Aloud, Steven Layne — Quoting Position Statement by Brian Cambourne):

  • Demonstrates power of stories
  • Provides insights into how reading works
  • Shows how to search for meaning
  • Demonstrates how to make connections and inferences
  • Develops new vocabulary and syntactic awareness
  • Stimulates imagination
  • Exposes students to a range of literature
  • Helps distinguish different genres
  • Encourages a lifelong enjoyment of reading
  • Helps learner-writers identify and transfer the literary devices authors use in their writing

It is interesting for me to read this because, in my experience, reading aloud to students is typically seen by both high school teachers and students as an activity that is the purview of elementary schools. Indeed, parents and administrators might further echo what Layne himself has encountered, that they see reading aloud as not “real teaching”.

Furthermore, I have had conversations with teachers who feel that they have been “reduced to” reading aloud to their high school students, due to perceived disengagement and laziness.

Layne, a university professor in Illinois, explains that he reads aloud to students wherever he is teaching: from kindergarten classrooms all they way up to graduate courses.  And as my mind began to question whether this book is just someone’s personal theory, I discovered that Layne’s excellent book is, as Regie Routman states in the introduction, “grounded in solid extensive research that definitively shows the positive effect of reading aloud on student engagement, thinking, and reading achievement” and, in addition to quoting research, is filled with testimonials of educators from all levels of the education system — K to PhD. —  who explain how they use read- alouds in their classrooms.

This gives me pause.

My question for my teaching practice is now: it time for me as a high school teacher to explore, as Regie Routman suggests, making “reading aloud a cornerstone of every teaching day regardless of the age level, subject matter, or discipline we teach”? Is it time to weave this Swiss Army Knife into my practice, possibly on a day-to-day basis?

If so, I now have so many questions…

Exploring The Orenda — Part 2

From amazon.caExploring The Orenda — continued…

How can I activate and provide background knowledge for myself? What questions do I have before reading?

  1. What is the book about? What is the basic story?
  2. Why is it so “award-winning“?
  3. Have I attempted challenging reads before? Have I overcome any?
  4. What predictions are bubbling to the surface before I attack the text 6start reading?
  5. Re: Predictions: Being that this is not a Middle Grades book or a Young Adult book, what challenging narrative devices can I predict that author will employ?

What are professional reviewers saying about this book?

gam-squareI found this review from the Globe and Mail from September, 2013 by Charles Foran:

Joseph Boyden mines Canada’s bloody past for surprising spirituality

From this Globe and Mail review, I can expect:

  • alternating narratives: more than one story intertwined
  • the multiple stories focus upon characters named Bird, Snow Falls and Crow
  • these characters each narrate different events and, therefore, offer differing versions of those events
  • the story involving the Huron and the Iroquois
  • the reviewer likens the story to the real-life martyrdom of Jean de File:Brébuef-jesuits04jesuuoft.jpgBrebeuf
  • the reviewer calls this story “epic” and “worthy of Herodotus”
  • The title, The Orenda, means “native life”
  • the setting of this story is out in the bush

I also read a review from The National Post:

The reviewer, Donna Bailey Nurse, explored ideas such as:

  • The Orenda explores what forces led to the decimation of Canada’s First Nations cultures.
  • A question that arises from the book: are First Nations peoples, by allowing missionaries into their villages, partly to blame for the devastation of their own culture?

“Much more controversial is the idea that First Nations, by allowing the missionaries into their villages, are partly to blame for the devastation of their culture.”

  • The Jesuit priest character embodies this threat:

“…it is his faith that poses a deeper threat to the clan’s survival, the way he uses their own language to attack their beliefs.”

  • this book is violent and graphic:

“This is a very violent work, full of the most grotesque descriptions of ritualized torture that I’ve ever encountered… I’ve never read anything like it and, to be honest, some of it I could not get through.”

And so, with this framing of the text in mind, I endeavor to read Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda…