July 28, 2006

Final thoughts...

This last section charged me up some. The questions to encourage a personal response to the text and to encourage reflection about the plot were refreshingly comfortable. I say that because the institute has given me so much to process. The questions for response I WILL use.

Another reason I got charged up was because of the political nature of literacy education. Beers comments that phonics alone won't cut it. Phonics has to be pared with semantics if kids are going to make any advances in their learning and automaticity. There is a generation of kids lost in the whole language wasteland--where a panacea approach bankrupted many kids. This is frustrating. Of course, there is the joke about kids being "hookd on fonix." So I liked the point about the necessity of pairing the two. Beers: "But none of that will matter if we fail to give them plenty of opportunity to read at their instructional and independent levels, give them repeated chances to hear us read aloud while they follow along, and teach them how to cross-check cueing systems so that as they sound out words (phonics), they are asking themselves, 'Does this make sense?' (semantics)." Indeed.

Even after taking linguistics for language teachers, I don't remember going into such great detail about how sounds go together in words. To be reminded about the need for one vowel sound per syllable was great. Something that I'd like to try to do (because I'm a geeky terminology person) would be to teach explicitly the terms that Beers describes as a common vocabulary for word recognition strategies. Also, I've never taught rules about syllables. That is knowledge I depend on for pronunciation. It would be a wonderful set of skills for my students to take with them for the rest of their lives.

Reading this part also brought me back to linguistics and graphemes. When I was in elementary school the teachers were very patient with me. I made progress, but I remember making it more slowly than the other kids. In fact, the book we used was called Gateways, which seems rather euphemistical at this point in my life. Anyway, we had to read words that the teacher had on flashcards. I remember being frustrated about not being able to read some of the words. A smart teacher had a box of the same words that we were working on, but they were printed differently on the cards...a different font. Something about the typography was different. I had much greater success with the clearer text, for some reason. I've always remembered that and realized that with students the smallest, seemingly insignificant change can make a huge difference. Go figure!

Beers' book will have a permanent spot on my desk from now on!

July 26, 2006

What's Missing?

After actively reading the abundant, dynamic, kenetic, and dramatic classroom activities delivered in Wilhelm’s Action Strategies, I have decided that it is a book I will best use as an idea generator and a companion resource supported by more substantial text. These are my reasons:

Wilhelm assumes a great deal about the background knowledge of his teacher/adult readers.
Wilhelm frequently cites other texts/authors - directing the reader to seek out those sources for supporting and/or explanatory information.
There are numerous activity suggestions offered in the chapters, but the text is lean in the areas of background information, explicit examples for integrating strategies into existing curriculum, and assessment/evaluation components.

I would have liked at least one example of Wilhelm’s thinking about assessment and evaluation in relation to action strategies. We can only guess at how these work within his teaching paradigm.


Playing the role of Investigator

In our literature circle discussion tomorrow, as Investigator, I won't do any outside research but I'll try to (1) identify places in Gallagher's book where he draws on other texts and resources (like Harvey Daniels' Literature Circles) and (2) to identify places in our discussion (both f2f and online) where we refer to other works. So, I might interrupt you at times and ask for clarification about where a particular idea or strategy you mention comes from.

One thing I really like about the "specific roles in discussion strategy" is that it pushes us out of our comfort zones a bit. In a discussion, I usually jump right in with questions (discussion director) or pithy quotes I love (literary luminary), so I particularly wanted to try a different role. Although they can challenge us, having specific roles is also safe, in that the role is defined and manageable, we can rely on others to do things we aren't doing, and we don't need to feel dumb because everyone is role-playing. That safety makes Gallagher's metaphor of roles as "training wheels" an apt one for me. College teachers often disdain any form of training wheels, but then they complain their driveways are littered with bruised and bloody student bodies. (that extended metaphor is for you, Jen!)

Managing the overwhelm

Having just caught up on reading the group's blog entries on Deeper Reading, I 'm starting get into my own reflective mode about where this book left me. As Joan's last entry reminded me, I like how the last chapter brings together a do-able activity (the Newsweek "My Turn" lesson) and reminds us that we can't do it all. Rather than try to apply every strategy-- or use the same great tools with every text-- his "methodology" of thinking through what our students bring to texts, what we hope they'll glean, and how to scaffold to get them there seems very useful (see pg 198). And, if our students don't reflect on how they learned to read deeply with us, we've missed a crucial piece. So I guess I'm taking away an "act thoughtfully and with reflection" model of teaching from him. Or another way I might say it would be to "slow down, dig deep, and talk about the process of digging." Although Gallagher doesn't talk about it, I'm stuck by how the students I teach now are more overwhelmed by information than those I had 15 years ago, and they are tempted stay on the surface (as a way of dealing with all that information). But, when I see how engaged my students can be "unpacking" an advertisement, a painting, a poem, or a difficult article-- and what confidence it gives them-- I'm reminded why teaching reading is so important.

Too Much Beers Makes the Charles Go Blind

I finally finished WHEN KIDS CAN'T READ, and I am having the same reaction that I do when I read any outstanidng educational text. Where has it been all my life? And, why didn't someone give me this years ago? And, what have I been doing with my students? I can feel overwhelmed by these kinds of texts, and I don't know how to start incorporating her work into my classroom. I do wish she had done more to address issues related to second language learners. I've noticed that, for example, many of my Hmong students struggles with plurals and subject-verb agreement, and late in the year, I learned something about the Hmong language and its grammar that could explain those issues. If I had to pick a fight with Beers, it would be how she argues on p.260 for teachers to maintain high expectations and tells a great story about a class that demanded to read HUCK FINN (262-3), she argues for the use of Young Adult Fiction (275). I have no problem with handing an individual student a piece of YAF or having plenty of it available in the classroom library, but I haven't read much that's teachable - save A LESSON BEFORE DYING and THE CHOCOLATE WAR. Suggestions would be appreciated.

Visual Information

I have done some things with my kids as far as teaching them how to use visual information in nonfiction. I am wondering if anyone has any good ideas on this subject? I liked Stead's examples in the book but I'm thinking of countless mini-lessons on different types of visual information.
One of the things Stead hasn't gone into in his book is discussing with kids the fact that we read nonfiction differently than fiction. This is something I try to hammer into all my students. I usually pick up a Bernstein Bear book or another fluffy piece of obvious fiction and ask the students why they read this book. We usually come to the conclusion that the book in question is fun to read. Then I pick up some huge science textbook and ask them why we read this. We come to the conclusion that we want to learn something. This leads into a mini-lesson on purpose and the need to change the way we read nonfiction. I then teach them the parts of a nonfiction book and how they can help you figure out what you will be learning. Titles, sub-titles, highlighted words, pictures, captions, maps, graphs, diagrams, glossaries, indexes and graphics are just some of the things we learn how to use.


Slogging seems like the best way to describe the way I have been reading this book. I generally consider myself an attentive and active reader with an above average reading comprehension level (50th grade?), but I feel like someone whose been locked out of the house when I read this book. I can see in the windows and catch glimpses, but I can't hear or make sense out of what I am seeing. It's almost like he assumes we already know all this and he is just reminding us about all these great things we can do in our classes without ever really spelling it out.

For instance, in his section on Reenactments and Interventions, he lists basic intervention and transformational strategies. This is his copious and detailed explaination of using the Tempations/Tensions strategy:

"A new, element, temptation or tension, is introduced. Students explore what might have happened." (pg. 147)

That's it. He goes on like this for pages giving us one liners and 3 sentence paragraphs on variations of types of strategies and by about the 125th variation I start to get mad. I'm glad he's thought of so many amazing strategies, but maybe we could maybe just see one, in it's entirety, so we could get in on it too?

I realize I sound a tad negative. And I am. But I think it is because I know this stuff could be amazing and I am sure there are nuggets of pure gold that could transform certain aspects of my classroom, but I can't get to them. I'm overexposed and I feel like instead of having a few well explained ideas starting to take root, I have been coated with a sticky, superficial film of theoretical muck that I can't wait to wash off. Am I overstating? Probably. But this is what frusteration looks like today.

I think this book has the potential to be useful. Really, I do. But I think it should be read after a live seminar or in conjunction with a video so you can stop and picture what each one of these things actually looks like. The information was just too fast and furious and there was no time to create schema in order to make sense of it all. Pre-reading activites is what I'm saying. For all the discussion Wilhelm gives about the importance of 'framing' his experiences, his framing for us, ironically, was not enough.

Finally--it's done!

What a sense of relief to be done with this book! I enjoyed the beginning of it, but as I plugged along, I became more and more frustratingly overwhelmed. I think this book would have been more comprehensible if I had seen it in video, or if I was to attend a Wilhelm workshop. The way he would introduce and idea, and then expand, expand, expand was very confusing to me. I don't know if I thought this book would be a how-to manual, or what. I guess this shows me more that I am a learner by doing. Some of these activities don't make sense to me because I can't see them in my head. The reason role-playing and tableaux make sense to me is because I do them in my class, and I have participated in them at a Jan Mandel workshop.
I would tenatively recommend this book to my colleagues. I think it does have valuable activities, however I would alert them to the denseness of the reading.

I should have known

At the end of the book, Beers includes in the Appendices all of the spelling and word building rules that I should have picked up along the way. I didn't know that there was a rule about when to add -ible instead of -able. I learned "when two vowels go walking...." at some point, but I didn't "know" the rule enough to demonstrate it until I saw another K teacher doing it.
For so many things in the English language, I've heard teachers say "It just sounds right." Well, guess what - to our ELLs, it doesn't just "sound right."
I plan to study and learn (enough to be able to explain and teach) the advanced phonemic principles. Many of my students need these tools.

Blog for Final Chapters of Deeper Reading--Lynn

Within the past year I heard a statistic stating that 50% of our daily print information comes to us through charts, graphs, and tables. As teachers Gallagher places the responsibility of really reading the newspaper and knowing its contents on the teacher. Gallagher shares ideas to help begin the process of comprehension into the classroom with the responsibility falling on the student to unearth deeper meaning and to read with a critical eye or with questions about the articles.

I will begin using this process in the Fall. Newspaper Reading Minutes places children in the position of looking for the most interesting article to share with the class. Students sign up for a day on the monthly calendar and when they are slated to present everyone in the class prepares a one sentence response to the article. This method seems the ideal way to wet the feet of the students.

His next focus is "reading" the political cartoon. I plan to "shop" for appropriate cartoons to share with the students and analyze. A recent report shared the low readership of the 30 and under age group. There are so many ways to be informed however it is vital that the studnets I work with develop a deeper understanding of the print resource.

July 25, 2006

3rd Reading-Reality Checks

Wow! After reading Tony Stead's chapter on Visual Literacy I am definitely going to work on addressing it better in my classroom. It is amazing all of the different visual information that children are bombarded with every day from so many sources around them. They definitely need to be able to critically determine what a picture is saying and how to tell if it has been altered or changed in any way.

I really enjoyed the way that he showed how he looked at maps with students to see what they already knew and then spent time discussing, questioning, and synthesizing information from visual sources from them. I don't believe that I was putting enough energy into this form of literacy and now that I'm more aware of it I am excited to try something new. I totally agree that with non-fiction text, even one that appears easy for a child usually isn't. They definitely need tools in order to comprehend on a deeper level with this kind of text.

I also liked how he brought up building background information and modeling to the students. It is also great to have the students construct their own knowledge and come up with questions about what they see on a map or when they look at a picture. They think of it as a puzzle to solve. The chart used for facts I can see and prove, inferences, and strong/almost certain inferences was really great. Once they understand inferences it would be really interesting to try this with students with non-fiction text.

To continue, one piece I really liked was the link from comprehending visuals to including them in ones own writing. Wow! That really shows that they've transferred knowledge to new ideas. How exciting. Of course, at first he said they overused it. How true! It also means that they were really learning and taking the knowledge to a new learning situation.

Good, Bad, and Ugly

After reading this entire book, I am amazed at how full it is of wonderful ideas to enhance reading comprension. So many times, I have been sitting frustrated with my students trying to figure out how to help them. Most of the times it comes down to throwing something tried and true that the kids have probably seen before. Now, I feel like I have a plethora of ideas for the fall and a great resource for years to come. My only critique is Gallagher's writing style. At times, he's long winded and over-explains some of his theories. For example, when he talks about when he was coaching his daughter's softball team, he goes on and on about the detail(132). I get impatient with this and wish he would do a bit more summarizing-but that's probably just me. Overall, I think this has been a great book!

What I liked about Ch. 9 & 10

In chapter 9, I liked the real world activites of reading product labels, comparing cellular phone plans, evaluating spam popups, writing an infomercial, and focusing on reading the newspaper. My reading in 10th and 11th grade is HEAVY on fiction with the hope that there is transference to the real world, but I don't reach out to the real world for reading material.
In chapter 10 I liked Gallagher's example of a lesson plan for deeper reading using "My turn" from Newsweek magazine. It was very step-by-step and practical. At the end of the chapter, I liked his parting warnings:
don't over teach the book
think of yourself as a painter with a blank palette
there's a difference between teaching and assigning
reading comprehension is complex and multifaceted

I gleaned many good ideas from this book.

Teaching or Overteaching

How much support is too much support? (215) This is my daily dilemma. I have to start out by arranging circumstances--practically aligning the planets, really--so that each of my students experiences his or her first literacy success, many times the first success since elementary school. Just like my own children, it's the weaning that is the hardest part.

Sometimes under pressure of time (because my students are with me for such a short time), I find myself doing so much for them instead of with them, hastening the process of building a positive, trusting relationship. It takes a long time to allow students to attempt, internalize, fail, and build enough resilience to try again.

Gallagher's last chapter is a powerful reminder to me to teach like I parent, with extreme patience and a long term vision.

If We Don't, Who Will?

Probably many of you feel like you need to re-parent your students. It's a dangerous psychological space to inhabit in my case. In many cases, I can't possibly bridge the divide between how my students have developed and mainstream, middle class, American cultural expectations and competencies. However, if I don't, who will?

Gallagher poses this question to persuade me to give up "a bit of the traditional curriculum" to make room for "learning how to apply reading skills in the real world" (196). I find that my curriculum tips the other way. My students have been in mostly packet based programs or special courses like "skills lab" to help them learn to navigate the world of work or renting or balancing a checkbook. What I fear they lack is what Ruby Payne and other researchers call cultural capital, an exposure to great thinking, literature, and art that would allow them entry into conversations with others who possess this capital, usually their teachers, employers, and others who have significant influence over their long term well-being, and that would help them "read the world" with its myriad allusions and references to cannonical pieces of culture.

Gallagher would not suggest that I abandon exposing my students to cultural capital, but I feel I need to stay aware with my population that "reading the world" requires a healthy dose of both classics, or traditional curriculum and real world communications.