Shelves: textbooks This book addresses the question posed in its title: do teachers of content other than language arts really need to teach their students how to read in their content areas? Somewhat surprisingly, she makes a good enough case for that answer that many if not most readers of the book will be persuaded. Reading a math textbook or other math instructional material or science, or history, or even industrial arts, all This book addresses the question posed in its title: do teachers of content other than language arts really need to teach their students how to read in their content areas? Reading a math textbook or other math instructional material or science, or history, or even industrial arts, all require different skills than reading a novel, and for the most part, different from each other. Each content area has its own jargon, its own standard methods of expressing its concepts, and its own priorities in terms of what students need to be looking for when they read. A student who is a good reader of literature may or may not be able to figure out, on their own, how to transfer those skills to the reading of other content areas.
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Posted on July 4, by steveshann This blog post is a bit different from all the others. The course begins in a couple of weeks. Chapter 1 Introduction Half an hour ago I picked up our textbook for the first time. What kind of classroom experience has this author had? Or does she sit in some ivory tower? Is her focus going to be exclusively on reading, on the act of decoding words on a page, or is she interested in the broader and more important question of how we learn, through various disciplines, about the world?
Will I end up amending my list? She seemed both down-to-earth and thoughtful at the same time. Experienced but open to new thoughts in the light of further sometime uncomfortable experience. Two things stood out for me. The first was her insistence that good questions were the key to reading success. We need to begin to read with questions in our mind which we hope the text will answer, and I noticed how true this was of the way I was reading her book.
I had questions which I wanted answered. And not just any question. I wondered, as I read this, how many of the postgraduate students would be coming to this course on literacy across the curriculum with a sense that it was going to answer questions that they really cared about. I wondered what I might do, in the first week, to help them discover some of these questions. I also liked her focus on the broader issues of learning. We want our students to learn what our subject has to teach them, and reading is a means to that end, not the end in itself.
Meaning arrives because we are purposefully engaged in thinking while we read. Of every classroom? How we get to them to that state, or how we organize our classroom so that this kind of purposeful thinking flourishes, is a very complex matter. They ask their own questions, based upon their need for a deeper understanding of specific aspects of the text. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to pick it up and read Chapter 3.
Yet the book has been sitting on my desk at home for the best part of a month, untouched. How differently we often approach things at school. I visited a class the other day where, as an introductory exercise to the study of a Shakespeare play, the class was asked to read a number of articles about Elizabethan England and Shakespearean theatre.
No warm up. No preparation. No pre-thinking. No eliciting of questions. Just straight into the reading, cold. Little engagement, little interest and no useful learning. But nor will they then come to it cold, like the students in the Shakespeare class. Someone at the other end of the spectrum, the doer, is perhaps more likely to learn from what she says about the big picture. I tend to focus on the big picture: on what the play says about love and hate, for example.
We revel in the Baz Luhrmann film or at least I do! I also focus on the sound of the language and the drama of the scenes, so we get out of our seats a lot and act out parts. But do I do enough to help the students read the play? And, by extension, how might they make sense of any difficult passage, not just in Shakespeare but in any challenging text they come across in their English studies. He was in my class last year when we studied Macbeth. I suspect that much of it went over his head, or that he relied on SparkNotes.
Could I do it differently this year? Here it is: Indeed I never shall be satisfied With Romeo till I behold him — dead — Is my poor heart so for a kinsman vexed. Madam, if you could find out but a man To bear a poison, I would temper it That Romeo should upon receipt thereof Soon sleep in quiet.
This guy wants Romeo dead. Why would she want Romeo dead? But because I wanted instead to do my own slow reading of this passage, and to notice how I went about making sense of it, I left it there. How did I make sense of it? Like Oliver, I was initially surprised to hear Juliet wishing Romeo dead, and offering to administer the poison herself. Why was she saying these things?
I looked to see who Juliet was talking to. Was Juliet dissembling? Romeo has killed Tybalt her kinsman , Juliet knows what has happened and has just said goodbye to Romeo after a secret overnight visit to her bedroom, and Lady Capulet has found Juliet with tears on her face. Yes, it all made sense now. Juliet was dissembling. Tovani says that if we can uncover our own strategies and teach these to our students, they too will read better. How did I make sense of this passage?
By reading it slowly and using my knowledge of the way poets play around with word order for the sake of rhythm. And by letting my questions guide my further inquiry. Why is Juliet saying these things? Who is she talking to? Is she dissembling? Did I do enough of this kind of thing with Josh last year? Do I do enough of this kind of thing in all of my English classes?
I doubt it. Ch 4 Real Rigor On page 40 Tovani says: I also need to remember what it feels like to read something for the first time. I remember some years ago being asked, at short notice, to teach a Year 10 class for a term. Each night I would anxiously and inefficiently read the scenes we were to read together the following day, trying to commit the notes in the margin to memory, trying to work out who was who and what had already happened, picking my way painfully through all the key passages.
The train had left the station and I just had to sprint to get on board. In fact I ended up teaching it for several years after that, and came to love it, but only because I then had the time to get into it properly.
A strong affirmation of what I was trying to say in an earlier blog post about ends and means: literacy is a means to another end, not an end in itself. I must have a reason for reading the piece. There must be something in it that will make my life as a teacher or a person better.
To give preservice teachers practical suggestions from a practising classroom teacher on how to teach their subjects more successfully. I want to use our first tutorial together to surface some of these questions. Ch 6 Holding thinking to remember and reuse Lots of practical stuff in this chapter, different strategies for getting inside a challenging texts. Tovani stresses active strategies; for her, underlining or highlighting is not enough. By writing emails, or joining online discussions, or having conversations, or writing blog like reflections.
Neill, R. Mackenzie, and others. I love getting these out every now and then and hearing the voices of the authors who meant so much to me then.
What do you notice? What do you wonder? These two questions seem to provide lots of opportunities for students to find ways into texts. I think they mirror the questions that good readers use naturally. Tovani Ch 7 Group work that grows understanding For lots of reasons, Tovani says, group work is an essential part of growing literacy. I have such mixed feelings about this. Tovani herself talks about her struggles with group work. She was better at controlling and stimulating a whole class discussion than at facilitating productive group work.
I love the cut-and-thrust of a good whole class discussion well managed, and at times feel a little rudderless when the groups are each going in their own unpredictable directions. Norms need to be established, models and scaffolds provided and problems tackled. Next term, as we act out various scenes in Romeo and Juliet, the boys will work in groups to read and make sense of quite difficult passages. It is constructed over a period of time. That happens when we tie their grades to the effort they put into getting that thinking … into written form, and into class discussions.
The emphasis is on the students making their thinking visible, in sharing it and allowing it to deepen and evolve as the course progresses. They do not have to arrive at a particular conclusion or a pre-determined insight. At the other end will those who think about literacy more broadly and see it as a part of their job as a teacher, no matter what their discipline. And there will be many other positions between. The important thing is that the students reflect on their own experience, on the student they research, on the reading they do and the discussions and lectures they attend.
Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?: Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12
Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?