From Every Book…. Learning the Pleasures of Being Literate {Slice of Life}

I wonder:    Who taught you the pleasures of reading and writing?  Did you discover them in high school? Earlier? Later?

High school student writing at his desk

In my high school Intensive Reading/Critical Thinking class, it takes a while to get students to ‘buy into’ reading for pleasure.  It’s not uncommon to hear, “You want us to read???” followed by:  Do we get a grade??

My classes are a mix of AP and Honors students who don’t use strategies (because they ‘know how to read’) and are insulted that they’re in my class, thinking they most certainly do not need to be, and struggling and reluctant readers who haven’t read for pleasure in years and have limited knowledge and nearly no use of reading skills and strategies or critical thinking.  They’re also insulted, because in spite of their limited skills and strategies, they’ll tell you they can read just fine and WILL graduate.

You can imagine how much fun the first six – nine weeks of each school year are for me.

Call me persistent. I plug away at showing them how ‘normal’ reading and writing really are.

I demonstrate the ‘naturalness’ of reading and writing every day. I share how I stumble on to new words in most things I read, I talk about current writing projects, and I find ways to tie the two together.  I tell them, “We’re always readers and writers. This is not about school. This is about life.”

I am Chief Learner, right beside them, never assuming to know it all, willing to show what I don’t know, and genuinely excited to learn new stuff……

This seems to alleviate some anxiety for some students, once they trust me.  But it’s a slooooow process.

Trust me.    Really.Slow.

In August, my reluctant and struggling juniors and seniors look at me like I’ve lost my mind, have three heads, am speaking a foreign language. Their eyebrows furrow, their arms cross defiantly across their chest, and an unknown power seems to pull some of them lower and lower and lower in the chair ~ as if swallowing them up so they don’t have to hear this nonsense.

You can almost hear inside some of their heads, (but thankfully, not!), “What is up with this lady? Has she lost her mind, talking about reading and writing like it’s something people do, something she expects US to do!?”

The AP and Honors students typically take out a book to read the first opportunity they get.  They seem to be thinking, “This might be the one saving grace to this class!”  The reluctant and struggling readers find this odd or just plain stupid.

Then September arrives. A few more books and magazines are evident on Wednesdays.

By October, most students have found something to read, even if it’s ONLY for the 30 minutes each week.

 

Girl on desk, reading
I encourage my HS readers to get comfortable…..

Sometime after October, though, the magic begins……

  • Mrs. Kyle, I’ve got a book on my phone. Is that okay?
  • Mrs. Kyle, I got a new magazine. Can I bring it Wednesday?
  • Mrs. Kyle, my friend told me about a book. Can I go pick it up from the Media Center?
  • Mrs. Kyle, can I borrow this book to take home and read?
  • Mrs. Kyle, I brought my e-Reader. Check out this book!

Finally, even the most reluctant readers find that treasure that makes me them sit still and just…. disappear for 30 minutes…..

Reluctant reader settles in for independent reading

With little time to read for pleasure and wanting so much for my kiddos to find that pleasure, I’m thrilled when all students, even the reluctant ones, find the sweet spot… that book or magazine that works just.for.them.

No longer do I have to babysit or ‘police’ Wednesday Reading.  I can actually sit back, enjoy my own books (while keeping half an eye on kiddos… just in case), and model my own love of reading, my own literacy. I often notice kids glancing up at me, as if to see if I’m really reading, too.

During a recent Wednesday Reading Day, as fifth period was coming to an end (and I closed my fifth book ~ I’m a grazing nonfiction reader) this thought popped into my head for Six-Word Wednesday….

 

Six Word: From Every Book....

 

I quickly jotted it down and in the last eight minutes of class, I shared it on the doc cam/screen.

I showed my kiddos where this thought came from:  the five books I had sampled that day ~ two books on my iPad/Kindle and three print books I brought to school, telling students, “When I get bored or distracted or interested in some other topic, I change books.”

Puzzled faces.

I often tell them, “As a nonfiction reader, it’s okay to close one (book, Web tab, magazine, etc….) and open another when things get…… well, boring.  “And, as a writer, I’m always finding interesting things in everything I read.”

I showed my Kindle library on the big screen and held up the three books I had been reading/annotating, flipping through pages so the highlights and margin notes were evident.  I explained that, as a writer examining other writers’ work, I liked the content of one, but not the writer’s voice and that I liked the layout of another, but not the content.  Students listened intently.

I pointed to my reading motto on the wall:   Life is too short to read boring stuff.   Read.Good.Stuff!  

A senior then asked, “Is Kindle free? How do you get it?” while another asked, “What’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction?”

Me {in my head}:  I’ve talked about – and demonstrated – the difference several times this school year, but apparently, you weren’t ready to hear the message. Today is your Need to Know Day.  Welcome to the Literacy Club.

Aloud, I once again briefly mention the differences.

“Thanks!” he cheerfully replies. “That helps.”

It’s amazing what we learn when we don’t assume what kids know and we teach them the pleasure of reading and writing… even when they’re 18 and 19 years old.

Join us every Tuesday and share a slice of your life at TWT.

5 Ways to Build Authentic Reading and Writing Into Any Class

Why do you read? 

 

Chances are pretty good your answer goes something like this:

  • I don’t read much.
  • I don’t like to read.
  • I like to read, but don’t have time.

Or, if you’re a reader, your answer might be more like this:

  • To escape.
  • To learn new stuff.
  • To keep up with the world.
  • For my work.
  • I read to my kids/grandkids.
  • I read to my students.

Recently, while visiting blogs discovered via Twitter, I ran across a great post from Heidi at 21st Century Classroom, titled Blogging Helps Me Understand Reading, in which she talks about authentic reading and writing.

She says,

“If you were to ask teachers to list their priorities in the classroom, the teaching of reading would most likely be near the top of that list. Developing good readers is what we do.  This would be closely followed by the teaching of writing. Reading and writing are the foundations upon which our instruction lie.”

She adds, “Most teachers that I know are passionate readers.  There are not many, however, who are also writers…..”

Being a literacy educator who also facilitates professional development and is a lifelong reader and writer, I was hooked.

Heidi  shares her insights into how creating a blog has changed her understanding of the process of reading:

“One idea that I thought I understood before beginning this blog is that readers create meaning as they read, that the text has no inherent meaning except that created by the reader. Intellectually it made sense and I taught with that in mind… I’ve gained new insight…. What is interesting is how readers interpret my blog …..I get this now in a way that I didn’t before.”

Wow! The bells were going off in my head as I read Heidi’s words… for a few reasons:

First, I was intrigued by the idea of blogging affecting a teacher’s instructional perspective.  I’m always looking for ideas related to educators’ professional development (what can we do to  improve our  instruction??), and with so much misunderstanding of social media and Web 2.0 tools, school districts often deny access to blogs on their servers to protect their students. Understandable, but short-sighted?

Since a typical teacher’s school day is hectic from start to finish, then they head off to do a gazillion other things from coaching to parenting to classes to keep up their certification, to grocery shopping, to (maybe) meeting up with friends, to probably grading papers, well, you get the idea … the last thing most are going to do is go home and get online to write a blog post or read others’.   Why can’t reading/writing a blog post be done during a planning period, since after all, the blogging community can be part of our PLC (Professional Learning Community)?

As Heidi discovered, engaging in authentic reading and writing is a valuable tool for professional development that also offers benefits to students.  When we do things that are real and purposeful, we grow as learners. We engage because we see the value and purpose.  We want to share what we’ve learned (with colleagues and students.)   Imagine that!

Another reason Heidi’s words caught my attention:

Our experiences (or perspectives??) with fellow teachers are clearly very different.

 

As a middle/high school and college-level remedial reading instructor and a staff developer/teacher-mentor, I have spent my entire career trying to convince content area teachers why and how we all need to build the process of reading into our classes, regardless of content.  In fact, after seventeen years in education, I still hear these words from teachers *all*the*time* …

“I’m not a reading teacher. I don’t want to teach reading.”

Hmmm…

Okay, so you don’t want to be a reading teacher.

I get that.

But what if (just hear me out for a minute….)

we all built a little authentic reading and writing into our classes?

While supporting hundreds of students on the road to more authentic reading and writing, and some of their teachers, too, I’ve watched students not only improve their comprehension (make meaning out of the text) along the way, but also discover:

  • they really do like to read ~ if it’s something they’re interested in
  • reading is necessary to function in daily life ~ in and out of school, and for many ~ at work
  • that it doesn’t have to be a battle to get the reading done
  • different kinds of reading = different kinds of focus (purpose drives path: fast vs. slow, loosely vs. closely, testing/studying vs. pleasure)
A few tips for creating authentic reading and writing in your classes:

time1.   Build time in for Open Reading:  We like to read our own stuff, right? The things we find interesting? Not just things that are required for work or a class we’re taking. Students are no different! Build 10 minutes into a class period OR (I know time is super-tight on a 6 or 7-period schedule) plan 30 minutes one day a week into your weekly lesson plans.  It takes practice for everyone to actually just sit and read during this time (including the teacher!), but it’s possible. Suggestion:  Start in small increments to acclimate everyone to reading for extended periods of time.  I typically start with 15 minutes and monitor students’ body language for tolerance.  Add five minutes at a time.    Eventually, you and your students will be wondering why you waited so long to do this!  Want to add authentic writing? Ask students to write a short note to a friend with 1 – 2 sentences about what they read and how it made them feel or think, such as:

“Dear Joey, Today I read an article in Car and Driver magazine called ‘Tires: Which  Ones are Best,’ and it made me think about that cool car I’m going to build with my dad this summer. I’m wondering if the ___ tires would be better than the ___ ones?” 

Give students a list of prompts and ask them to choose the one that works best for them this time.  For example:

  • It made me think about…
  • It reminded me of ….
  • I wonder…
  • I feel …
  • I agree with ….
  • I disagree with ….
  • I predict…..

These are just a few reading response prompts. There are lots of them online.  *Caution:  Don’t overwhelm students with too many prompts from which to choose. They will spend their time deciding instead of writing, especially when they’re still learning this writing process.  Ask students to exchange notes with a friend.  Then, collect them as Exit Tickets (formative assessment) as students exit your class for the day.

 

book reviews2.   Online book reviews: My students did this before “Web 2.0” existed (I’m dating myself!), and book reviews were one of the few online tools for sharing content. Creating an account on sites such as amazon.com, bn.com, or borders.com gives readers a place to share their thoughts about what they read and teaches them how to analyze, evaluate and synthesize.  Can you say ‘critical thinking while having fun’??  My middle and high school students loved this!

 

 

3.   Professional journals/magazines: Do you teach a technical class?  Do you read things related to your profession?  Invite students to read about your course content.  For example in my current role in Career and Technical Education, our teachers teach gaming, culinary operations, early childhood education, health and dental sciences, business applications, pharmaceutical tech, etc…. I’m betting most students do not read professional journals and magazines related to these professions when they’re at home. Why not build time in to your class and make these resources available to them?  Then, how about writing a short letter to a potential classmate who’s thinking about taking the class?  Authentic. Interesting. Purposeful.  (*and excellent marketing for student recruitment!)  Not sure how to fund those subscriptions or how to order? Your media specialist is a master and always willing to help!

https://ithacalibrary.com/sp/assets/users/_rgilmour/tradeJ-banner.jpg
https://ithacalibrary.com/sp/assets/users/_rgilmour/tradeJ-banner.jpg

 

4.   Real World Reading:  This can be built into nearly any content area.  Build a lesson plan around reasons why we read & write in our daily lives:  job applications, memos, text messages, e-mail, notes to friends, parents or children, reading prescription bottles, road signs, and labels. I’m sure you can think lots more ‘real reasons’ we read.  Ask students what they read in their daily lives. Build activities with purposeful discussion. Working with older students? Have them bring applications (work, school, financial aid, etc…) in to class for review, discussion, and how-to ideas. Maybe your students do the cooking at home because a single parent is working? Can you support them (and their classmates) in how to read a recipe, including measurements and directions?

RealWorldReading1RealWorldReading2

 

5.   Read and write on educational blogs and websites: If you’re fortunate to be in a district that doesn’t block access to online content, then introduce your students to ‘the good stuff,’ and teach them how to evaluate online content. Makes for great discussion, reading, and writing.  A couple of favorite student-oriented resources: wonderopolis.orgdiscoveryeducation.com, and nationalgeographic.com Of course, there are dozens more, but these come to mind.  What are your favorites you share with fellow teachers?

 

Source: wonderopolis.org
This I Believe
Source: thisibelieve.org

Are you a classroom teacher/instructor/professor?  What does authentic reading and writing look and sound like in your classes?  Is it time to build more in?  Do you have ideas to share? Would love to hear from you.

Are you a parent/grandparent?  What’s happening in your children’s classes?  How do you know?  Feel free to share this post with their teachers.  Chances are, if we’re talking about elementary-age children, authentic literacy is happening. However… if the ‘wee ones’ are in middle or high school (or beyond), chances are much slimmer than their elementary counterparts….

 

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Robin