Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Like Herding Cats

It's the subject without a specific product, the content area that is critical to all others, the skill without which we could not learn from recorded history, take in bible verse, or reproduce recipes from generations ago. It's fundamental to everything we do, yet it is perhaps the most difficult to teach.

Reading happens mostly inside your head. I could ask you to write about your reading, or I could ask you to tell me about your reading, but any determination of your skill as a reader is tainted by your ability to represent that information in written or spoken form. Do I really know if you are drawing pictures in your mind? Or if you were wondering what the author was speaking? Connecting the words to your prior experiences, other texts or the world at large? Are you actively questioning while you read, and making predictions for the coming paragraphs? I can ask you to do any of these things as an exercise, an opportunity to explore some possible strategies to comprehension, but how often do we accomplished readers really do these things while we read?

I love to read, and my relationship with whatever book I'm enjoying is intimate and personal. I wouldn't have wanted to stop reading to represent my visualization or to apply sticky notes when I read Roots in three days flat (when I was 11). I didn't need to do any of those classroom strategies to comprehend the story. I was swept away by the hope and horror in that family's narrative.

So, how best to teach this subject? A question that reaches across the ages. No matter what bill of goods is sold by any textbook publisher, curriculum developer, or know-it-all-but-I've-never-even-taught consultant, this isn't something you really can easily teach once we've gotten past the B goes /b/ level. It can and should be cultivated, nurtured, encouraged, modeled, and observed, but sometimes I worry that all we try to do to teach it may have the exact opposite affect.


Cora Spondence said...

This is the best and most accurate description of the tightrope that is reading instruction today. Your post should be required reading for every teacher.
Thanks for the eloquence.

EJG said...

Until politicians stop demanding that everything be measured in standardized test format, reading instruction will suffer.

How do you construct a test question that measures a students enjoyment of reading, or their ability to connect the book with past experiences and visualize the action in their head? How do you test a students emphathy to the subject matter?

EJG said...

How do you leave out ('s)?

By not proof reading your comment.

Liz said...

I cannot imagine what I would have missed out on or how lonely I would have been if I had not been taught the joy of reading as a young child.
For me books (and of course special friends) took the place of siblings I never had. They took me to places I could not have imagined on my own. They opened my mind to new ideas.
I still get excited when I step into a "real bookstore". My dream at one time was to own the kind of bookstore that Meg Ryan had in the movie You've Got Mail.
The love of reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and the best way to give it is through example and opportunity.

MJ said...

That's where I am and why I think the best thing I'm doing is allowing 20 minutes of reading in my class per day. No response required.

I'm with you...

BJNR said...

There is nothing that compares to the excitement of going to the library or bookstore and acquiring a new read. To burrow down and open a new book is a thrill that will never go away.

How can we pass this passion down to the next generation? Certainly not through bubble sheets and endless testing.