Sunday, February 7, 2016

Oh, For The Love of Reading

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Last weekend I had the distinct honor of attending ECET2 in San Diego, California.  ECET2 - Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teachers - is an annual convening of teacher leaders from across the United States sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The event was beyond words and I will blog about it more extensively in a subsequent post; however, today I want to reflect on one of the most enriching moments of the convening - my colleague circle time.  

At ECET2, colleague circles are groups of teachers that meet together to discuss problems of practice.  We each have an opportunity to confidentially identify a problem we are grappling with and then we consense on one issue to focus in on.  By no means was this a whining session.- quite the contrary. The objective was to think creatively and find solutions that can be carried back to the classroom.

Our circle chose to focus on rekindling the love of reading. After the adoption of a reading program, one elementary school teacher shared that she fears the constant reading of informational text passages, skills-based instruction, and multiple choice questions (in an effort to prepare for state-mandated testing) is leaving no room for reading pleasure. Together we pondered and discussed the issue; most of us expressing the same concern in our classrooms as this is happening in virtually every school in America.

Reading comprehension is often assessed through answering multiple choice or short-answer questions about the main ideas of a passage.  While this may work well to prepare students for standardized testing, many teachers will argue that it kills the love of reading as it does not engage students in their own learning.  Furthermore, for readers who are not good test takers it may not accurately assess their skills.
Giving students freedom and choice in demonstrating understanding will get their creative juices flowing and allow for differentiation for readers with various learning styles, abilities and/or language proficiency levels.  Informational reading passages and questions that mirror state tests are undoubtedly of some value, but supplementing a student’s reading experience can not only provide us more data but also more deeply engage the learner.
Below are some methods I have used to successfully assess students’ comprehension:
  • Poetry. Poems about the central idea or the main characters in a passage can tell a great deal about what they have assimilated.
  • Readers’ Theatre Script Writing. Students retell the story in a way that can be expressed through two or more characters. This is generally a cooperative activity, but it can also be completed individually.
  • 3-2-1 Summaries. Students write three things they learned, two things they found interesting and one thing they still do not understand or have a question about. While this is not super exciting, I have found this to be very effective with my ELLs.
  • Writing Alternate Endings. Whether a fictional story or informational text, in rewriting an ending, conclusion or historical event, students will need to review central ideas and develop hypothetical and strategic thinking.
  • Illustrations. Reading comprehension occurs only if there are pictures in our minds.  This is great for our visual learners, especially ELLs who have difficulty expressing their thoughts in writing. Illustrations can include drawing, paintings, cartoons or three-dimensional creations of what they are picturing after reading the text.
  • Questions. Instead of answering questions, why not have the students craft the questions. We can assess how much a student has grasped by the type of questions posed. This will require higher order thinking skills and scaffolding may be necessary with some student populations. Nonetheless, I highly recommend it.  It can also be done with partners or in small groups.
  • Debates. Reading about a controversial topic? Start a mini-debate.  From uniforms to capital punishment, getting students to list the pros and cons and then take a side will teach them new skills while increasing their comprehension.

During our colleague circle time,  I shared some of the ways I mentioned above and encouraged her to bring enjoyment into the activities by adding her own personality to the lessons. While I was not implying that she defy her administration's directive and drop the costly reading program, enhancing a reading passage - which perhaps could integrate nicely with another subject - may help better assess comprehension while making reading more enjoyable.

Sadly, in our pervasive testing culture, reading passages have become the norm in many classrooms. And while this may not be changing anytime soon, whenever possible we can enhance and spice up what's cooking already.  

Oh and for the love of reading, if you have other suggestions, opinions or methods that have proven to be beneficial to your learners, I invite you to share them in the comments below.


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