Monday, March 06, 2006


Thanks to Michelle and Jessie for their thought -provoking presentation related to reading strategies across the curriculum and the responsibilities we ALL must share: to teach our students how to ACTIVELY ENGAGE in text and to help each of our students create an " INTENTIONAL THINKING PLAN" as they read. As their presentation and subsequent activity progressed on Friday, I thought about the assumptions many teachers make about our students related to reading when they enroll at our school and how it parallels society's assumptions about our students readiness to drive responsibly at age 16 or vote intelligently at age 18 as if age created a magical transformation to maturity, skill and good judgment. As our discussion continued during the activity, I thought about a typical freshman entering our school and what h is expected of he or she related to reading skills. I started with them them entering the building at the east end/main entrance. Let's assume they were enrolled in courses offered only in the east end of our building. What would we expect of them? In orchestra /choir/and band, our student would be expected to read musical notes and scores; in drama, to read and interpret a play; in journalism, create newspaper- formatted and yearbook text;in art, to "read" a piece of artistic work - a photo, drawing, painting or instructions on how to fire a piece of clay;in technology, to read a blueprint or a very specialized computer text program;while in consumer/family studies, to read a recipe or analyze a family's budget. Holy cow!We haven't even reached the main office and our core curricular areas in the main and western part of the building. And we yet we become frustrated when our students don't read, or don't try to; and if they do, fail to take from the text what we had hoped.This leads to some questions for us to consider:

  1. How do you ( and your peers in your curricular area ) MODEL for your students how to engage your specific style of text?
  2. How do you set purpose when you give your daily assignments? As some of you indicated,if many students are not completing your reading assignments in their assigned texts,what have you learned from your students about why they aren't engaged in the texts? ( This requires a time commitment on your part and carefully constructed questions. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve through such a discussion and what questions will get you there. ) How do you prepare your students for what might be challenging parts of the text assignment? What real life connections have you tried to make related to the assignment? How will this assignment help address the "BIG PICTURE" questions for the unit? What role have the students played in creating these "DRIVING" questions?
  3. What "common reading language" and skills could we create/use as a staff to support students' engagement with their text ?
  4. How do we engage students while using electronic/computer text? How can we apply old strategies with this new format, or do we have to start over by developing new strategies? As we change over to this new format of text, do we have to look for /demand that publishers provide/create materials which allow students to interact with text? What should that look like?
  5. Finally, a big picture question: How do we, as well as our students, learn to effectively and efficiently deal with the explosion of information made available via the computer and internet? Can we teach it all, or have we ever been able to?

As one of your instructional coaches, I've thrown a great deal out there for you to think about. I look forward to your reading your responses.


  1. Wow! That is a lot to think about. I will try to tackle at least some of it. When I think back to teaching in a classroom I have to say that I did not model this. I assumed they already knew this, even though I was dealing with special ed kids! I was probably guilty of assuming that they were too lazy to read or care. I have learned so much as an instructional coach and had so many opportunities to see so much good teaching going on. If I went back to the classroom tomorrow I would be a better teacher just due to the discussions, observations and opportunites to see others. Cris Tovani opened my eyes back in November but now I realize that there are so many here at AHS who are just as good as she is (Jess and Michele's presentation last friday). It is just good teaching. Why didn't I do it? I don't really think I thought to do it. Now I know better. I realize now that taking a few minutes reinforces a skill that students can use their entire life as well as in other classes.

    This is all I can tackle at the moment. I am anxious to read what the rest of you have to say!

  2. To answer a few of Ray's questions: I believe that students coming to high school should be able to read and understand material. I know that Biology is like a foreign language to a lot of kids. I do not think that it is so much that they cannot read it, it is that they do not want to read it. Students hardly ever do outside, fun reading, so why would they want to read for a class? I try to model good reading, at the beginning of the year I will try to teach them how to read, especially in AP Biology. I feel that we are pretty limited in teaching reading, since most of the class is driven by the amount of material that is to be covered. Again it brings up the issue of covering everything but only scratching the surface, or actually taking the time to go in depth and helping students understand. I really do believe that by high school if a student is not a reader that they will not become one. If students are not introduce to books or articles at an earlier age, it is very hard for them to become a reader, at least one that enjoys it, at a later age.

  3. I'm going to focus on just one issue that Ray brought up - purpose. I think purpose can be a very tricky issue, because I teach a course(World Civilizations) where I know that many students see no purpose in the subject in the first place. This is something I attempt to deal with throughout the course, but the truth is that there will always be some students who see no purpose in world history. Therefore, for these students, there is inherently no purpose in reading history. I know there is more to this idea of purpose than I am discussing here, but this certainly poses a big challenge. Usually the students with no interest in reading also have no interest in history.
    I'm sorry I'm not actually answering a question here, but I think I have more questions than answers, so I am looking forward to reading others' comments.

  4. Adam - I'm not sure that you necessarily disagree with the idea of "teaching reading" so much as how to squeeze it in to a jampacked day for them. It is really about creating an incentive to read, and like all of us, it may be about "so what's the payoff for me?". It may also be about preparing them for the challenges of a difficult piece of text. Or perhaps itmay be about finding a small piece of text that generates excitement in engaging text taht poses a question for them to engage with . There are lots of little tricks that don't take a lot of time.I'd love to talk to you about it, or have this conversation with the rest of the team.
    Melissa - I think that we are all aproduct of what was modeled for in our own education. I was fortunate enough to team teach with a reding teacher for several years. It helped raise my awareness and I feel it gradually began to inflence how I presented assignments.
    Roger - It is a huge issue for all of us. It is difficult when students, who have varied interests, come to us and we are not on their chosen list. I think we have to continually try to chip away at that resistance. Sometimes the engagement the engagement is incremental and we aren't always aware of it. I feel this must be a part of our conversation with colleagues as much as the content we are delivering. If we don't have buy-in at this point, we face an uphill struggle with the rest of the content. Again, I would love to continue this conversation with you.
    Thanks to the 3 of you for putting your ideas out there. How do the rest of you feel? Is it still up to the language department only to get it done?

  5. OOPs! I was in a hurry and didn't proof my typing. I apologize and hope it didn't get in the way of the message.

  6. I agree in some ways Adam-I expect kids to know a lot more than they actually DO when they come into high school. I think to myself-"what a lofty aspiration for me to want our kids to know how to read and understand information." But, the truth is that many of these kids don't know how or haven't been taught because teachers have passed them up and have not invested the time in their learning. Again, it's not teaching them HOW to read-phonics, decoding, etc.-it's helping them think about what they read so they can reuse and remember information. We can't ignore this ideal. A kid may not be a "Reader" but we can teach that kid how to engage in that reading so that they can be successful and deal with all the content that we have to teach; otherwise, aren't we setting kids up to fail? I hear the arguments being made, but I hope we were clear int hat this is not about teaching kids to read but to THINK and we have to give them strategies to do that-if I expected that every kid knew this already, then my life would be so muchg easier regarding my subject. Also, with respect to purpose-I think it's setting purpose in every assignment you give-students do need a buy in, a reason to why the information they are learning is valuable to their learning. If purpose is not set, then we should just accept the fact that they can blow it off and only study it for the short term. And it IS hard to do, especially withlimited amount of time.
    You guys, it has taken me over a full year, after trying things, failing, reworking them, re-reading new information, trying things that work for me, and to buy into some of these ideas-to get them down-and still, I don't-there are things I truly beleive in and some things which I feel I can't change and haven't addressed. I agree with Adam when he said that students may just not want to do it, rather than can't-I still struggle with certain concepts and getting my kids to buy into these, practice them so they become habitual, and see practical application to their learning is even harder. I think it's even more difficult toget teachers to buy in-but even if we are trying soem of these things or just pondering them, then we are headed in the right direction. I am more than happy to talk about these concerns or issues. But I have seen lightning strike in these kids' brains when I have given them soemthing to work with as they are reading, and I have seen soem of these ideas work, which make me a beleiver every day.

  7. I agree with Adam and Jessie in that so many of these kids come with preconceived ideas about reading and it is hard (Really har dthis year) to change their perceptions about reading. But I think Jessie brings up a great point for us all to consider and that is that we are not just teaching reading but teaching thinking skills. If they can find a way to connect to the text in whatever means works for them, they will learn to be successful readers and then successful thinkers. Who knows, eventually from their they might incorporate Karl's motto of one day ruling the world. And to think, all we need to do is get kids to, "think about what they read so they can reuse and remember information" (Comp Master Fly Shizzle). I am not saying this is an easy job; I definitely don't think it solely belongs to the English department to complete this job. However, if we are all slowing down and focusing on what really matters, both the kids and the teachers will be successful in the long run. Go team!

  8. Wow.... lots of great comments and questions I am not sure how to answer. I think that I do have fairly high expectations for what my students should know before they step foot into high school. For the majority of my freshman, i thik they have the tools, but they might not know how to apply them. They have a hard time taking a skill that they learn in English and applying it to social studies. In social studies I always get the comment, "why do we have to write in history". They do not understand that the skills that we are teaching them are not only for a variety of contents but life skills as well.
    Something that I find a lot of for my freshman girls and junior girls is that they will read an entire section of a text and re-write the textbook for their notes and then have no idea what they just read. They are taking notes for the sake of taking notes. So I have tried several strategies with my textbook reading. What are the 3 most important concepts that came from the reading? What is one thing you need clarification on? I think that by guiding them through the text and having them ask questions and make connections, instead of just taking notes is something that could really help them. I think they have learned that they can read to get by, but understanding what they read is the part that they struggle with.

  9. As I read through the comments, I couldn't help but pick two pieces to focus on. First was Adam's comment about students who don't read much for fun. At first, I looked out at the 9th grade honors students before me who are reading for fun and for class. As compared to my regular class, they are much more likely to read a book for fun - some even choosing books over videos for supplementary assignments. Why? My hunch is their parents model it more. We are so quick to blame technology, but forget about the rise of two-income homes and the other reasons that families see less of each other. By the time they get here, choices to be readers have been made. BUT...many do seem to be readers of other types of writing. My difficulty is in recognizing the value of less traditional "books" so that I can incorporate different strategies with assignments to fit the other types of readers.

    As I looked at my home, I wondered what type of reader my kids will be. I watch the work being done in 2nd grade to develop the reader as a thinker and not a word sayer. I think that they are trying to do what we assume many don't do. I know my daughter wants to read all of the time and we discuss what she is reading. She watches her parents read as often as she sees them watching TV. So if she is in the early stages of what we hope for, where does it go wrong? Do parents stop reading with their kids as the books get longer? DO teachers stop working on the skills as they assume skills are already developed? Does the computer replace the book and images replace the words? Does our comfort level with our reading strength/style make us less likely to work with their strengths/style and more likely to focus on their weaknesses (ie. books vs internet)?
    Do we need to model more?

    yesterday after CSAP, we had some spare time so I asked "Who is reading a cool book?" The first 4 mentioned - Angels and Demons, Into Thin Ait, Harry Potter, and Stiff - were either ones I've read or one I want to. SO we talked a bit. A student later said, "I never thought my teachers would read anyting like that." Why? "Because it isn't history and boring." Hmmm.

  10. Brad - tell your student that I've read 3 of the 4 as well. Guess I'll have to put Stiff on hold this summer . . .

  11. Actually, I think that we might be a bit surprised about how much our kids read on their own time.

    Regarding Ray's big picture technology question, I think that modeling the skill of efficiently and effectively dealing with information that is found on the computer is key. If we show students (via our projectors and blogs, for example) how we analyze information that we encounter, and show them how to correctly incorporate information obtained via the Internet into their writing, I think that we will be taking the first step. In my freshman class, for example, I have been talking about Wikipedia this year. When I found an article that had been "attacked," I brought copies of the correct and malicious information into class and we talked about how important it is to double-check facts from Internet sources, and about why it is important that we never intentionally post false content online. I don't think, in response to Ray's question, that we can "teach it all," but I do think that if we focus on those essential skills (like analyzing information researched electronically), we will have a shot at teaching what is really key.

  12. I want my students to read; even in math! But, something Karl said in one of his posts really stuck with me. How does what we 'want to do' and what we 'actually do' coincide? What am I doing to help my students read a math text book? I have begun to change some practices like giving a reading assignment about something mathematical and then having students write about what they have read. But I don't do it in every class. I need a push (help!) to get over this ledge. Don't get me wrong...I appreciate greatly what Jessie and Michele shared. I hope next fall with a fresh start I can do what I want to do!

  13. I'm going to focus on question #5. Perhaps I'm influenced by the "EPIC" video Karl put on the blog, but I think we need to keep the role of technology in our classrooms in check (will this get me kicked off the team?). What I mean by this will not interfere with Karl's plan for world domination...I just think that we need to keep the focus on critical thinking (as Jesse said quite well already). Technology is only an overwhelming explosion of materials if you approach it without a focus, and I think our students are sometimes better than we are when it comes to navigating. When the internet is working in the other direction--kids putting their own information out there for everyone to see--I think we should approach it the way we approach any safety issues---by reading articles on the subject, sharing stories, and weighing the pros with the cons (with perhaps a heavy emphasis on the cons).

    I know in my classroom that an online book will usually take a backseat to a physical book, just as Wikipedia will never replace an hour of wandering up and down the dusty aisles of an old library. Call me a romantic, or old fashioned, or a total English dork, or whatever, but I don't think research is about convenience. In my experience, the best path to "truth" is wandering, slow, and entirely inconvenient. And perhaps online encyclopedias will one day replace library shelves, and Googlezon will replace the New York Times, but hopefully our critically thinking students will wander, reject, and select information the same way that we do in libraries instead of blindly accepting the first window that pops up.

    I'm kind of all about the journey right now because I just finished Huck Finn. Sorry for this rambling, lengthy comment.

  14. I think that many of the students that come to the high school, might be good readers but still lack the ability to read a math textbook. The math book is so caught up in using the correct definition that it does not consider its audience. I have spent a lot time with my students trying to get them to create their own definition so that they have something that makes sense to them. It seems that many of the math books that we have were written for mathematicians not students. I also agree with Adam that the focus of our math classes is not on teaching reading, but making sure that the students get all the math requirements for that subject. All of the emphasis for those classes is on solving problems, not reading words.

  15. The key term that I mention the most to my classes is processing. I believe that one of the biggest differences between some of the students that we consider to be good students versus others who do not do as well is the ability of those who process information. I think this goes back to what Jesse and Michelle were talking about. It is not necessarily strict reading ability that is hurting some students but that they are not processing what they are reading. The next big link to processing goes back to what Roger said. There needs to be a connection to the information. They need to see it as relevant information and to see the connections that it has to other things and not just useless, boring information. This idea of processing information then goes beyond reading and it also applies to the classroom. If a student is and active learner in the classroom and is processing what is being discussed in the classroom they have such an advantage over the student who is just taking notes with the goal of learning the information later for the goal of a test.

  16. Talk about reading, it took me fifteen minutes to get through the post and everyone's comments!

    Two ideas surfaced as I read:

    1) I agree with Amanda that kids probably read more than we think. They just read what they like, not what is assigned. I believe that kids don't read their biology book because they don't have to. We'd like them to and we assign pages as homework, but do we actually integrate that information into our classes? And by integrate, I mean going beyond a reading quiz or homework check? I know that I typically cover the "important" material through notes and in class discussions, so kids that don't read can pay attention and get by just fine. I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I like what Brad said about choosing less traditional materials that might engage kids more. Maybe I focus a little less on the textbook and more on what kids would probably enjoy. You know, have them read about venus fly traps while we study plants...

    2) Ray did a great job of giving us options for our commments. Out of the 15 comments before mine, each one was really different. I could "hear" our personalities oozing out of what we wrote. We picked what was interesting to us, and as a result, put some life into our comments. So often, we don't give kids any choices. Here is the assignment, do it or don't. We might get better results if we allowed kids some freedom to choose. Give them some options, and we might see more passion.

  17. Wow, I like what you guys have to say. Also, let me caution people against waiting to post.....

    I am not too sure that kids read more than we think. I know that a lot of adults do not read for fun. We are involved in a special profession and group. I keep thinking about something that Anne tells he students and that is, if they do not like to read, they just have not found what interest them yet. I think about that as I am trying to make sense from difficult readings.

    The issue that I have deals with the first thing that Ray talks about. I have a real hard time modeling the reading process with the students. I do not think that anyone ever sat down and helped me figure out how to read a science book. I learned it by myself from other class instruction. So like Adam, I think that kids have a lot more ability to understand difficult material than they do. I, like Barbara, am excited to start fresh in the Fall. However, I am trying new things that we learned about with my classes now and I really am finding the presentation useful!

    About engaging the students with computer text, I am interested to hear about this one. I have never thought about it.

    Roger even talks about the inability of the students to connect with the information. Chemistry is a hard one for this. I wish that people were excited about chemistry but they really are not. There is lots of cool stuff out there to read that is written at the high school level. Like the other comments, I find myself wondering about time and what I want to cover. Sometimes the team approach has a down side and this would be it.

    I know that I cannot possibly do everything when it comes to helping the students deal with the "Big Picture" question but, I hope that I can help them start down the path where they are reaching their own conclusions. If I can help them become an expert on one thing but aware of most things in chemistry then I think that I have helped them the most.

  18. Sitting at my parents' kitchen table at 1am over spring break, I am amazed how I can hear your voices as we ponder Ray's questions...and so many of you posted over a month ago (when you were supposed to!).

    I couldn't help but be a little frustrated, guys, as we discuss reading and our expectations when they come to us. I know we all expect high schoolers to be ABLE to read, but what do we want them to DO with the information we give them? Isn't that part of reading: sharing what you know, judging what you read, and even acting upon it? I know my seniors read well and efficiently, but when I have discussed this very notion of reading for a purpose, their purpose is strictly to pass the quiz that comes up and then they forget the information. I don't know about you, but I want more than that. And certainly, teaching English is just as boring to a pretty majority of kids as any subject. So, how can I engage them? How can I provide a meaningful reason to study what we study?

    I know I am challenged with this question...well what is my purpose? Why do I teach satire? Why is teaching poetry chronologically from the Elizabethans to Post Moderns necessary for a senior? The answer is that it isn't, but thinking, analyzing, dissecting, and learning to write down their ideas thoughtfully is important.

    I guess as I ramble at this early morning I hope that we will remember that reading is not being able to put the letters together into words and sentences. It isn't just taking away meaning from the sentences. What I hope that we all can do, is think about what we will have our students do with that information...and why. What am I teaching them about this concept, this piece of history, etc. that is helping their critical thinking skills?

    You all ARE the experts on how to access your information, whether it's chemistry, algebra, world civilizations, economics, or British literature; we all have to show our students WHY we should study a subject for more than it is just part of the curriculum and it's required.