Friday, June 13, 2014

Life Demands Reading

Life demands all sorts of reading. This week alone I’ve read how- to articles, movie reviews, recipes, and contracts. I’ve learn about silk screening, corticosteroids, and “new adult” literature. I’ve read several books: The Woman Upstairs, Sophie’s World, Burning Blue, The LastRunaway, The Center of Everything, and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight to name a few. I’ve dipped into many more: Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory, The Collected Poems of Nikki Giovanni, TheEssential Rumi, and Readers Front andCenter by Dorothy Barnhouse.

I am a reader.

Last year at this time I was thinking and writing about the readers I’d yet to meet.  It was my first year teaching in Cypress Creek’s IB program. Though a couple teachers on the team cautioned me against letting students read independently, I just could not do that.  

Students can read more on their own than I could ever “cover.” My first period class of nineteen students recorded reading 374 books independently this year. That’s 19 ½ books per student on average. You can see our Reading Record here.  We also read six long works together: drama, fiction and This I Believe essays) as well as a host of nonfiction, short stories and poetry.  Even the sharpest IB English teachers I know typically cover eight to ten longer works a year. I want to lead students to discover. Sometimes that means we read the same work as a class and sometimes that means students connect learning to works of their own choosing. Together, student readers and I do much more than I could ever cover alone. I believe in balance and reading in community.

That is not just my own belief. An alphabet of educators stand across decades of research at my back: AllenAlvermannAtwellBeersCalkinsDanielsEarlyFountas,  GallagherHydeInghamIRAJagoKajder, KittleKrashenLayne,LesesneMarshallMillerNewkirkOgle,  PearsonPilgreen,
WiesendangerWilhelm,  YooZemelman and more.

At a recent meeting a member of our team again criticized independent reading practices saying something to the effect of, “well, I heard a lot of kids just lied about their reading record.” I will have to default to Stephen Krashen (one of my reading heroes). Krashen addresses such attacks   in “Non-engagement Issues in Silent Sustained Reading.” I know from practice and in my heart, that if I am reading and passionately sharing my reading life with children, the majority of them will read too--especially if they have readers and access to books at home (outside of school). Children learn from observation and example, even in high school.

Still, I am sure some students were fake reading.

I could name names. I could talk about how this student or that student continued to “sample” books, dipping in for ten or twenty pages and then abandoning story. I could point to students who only recorded books—whole works—read on Saturdays, some were legitimate read-the-day-away records and some were just a falsification for a weekly grade. I could describe reading conferences with students who admitted that they had faked part of their reading year and reading conferences where students attempted to spark note speak about the book.  Sometimes students fake reading. Teachers kill reading or reading (or homework overload) kills student readers.  I do not have the one answer that fits each unique non-reader.

NCTE book haul --this was just to carry on. I ship boxes too.
I do know that sometimes teachers fake reading too. Some teachers refuse to read professionally. They are turned off to teaching and learning through reading.   They refuse to read around, above, beyond or even below their comfort zone. They distain YA as much as Ruth Graham and see little or no value in professional conferences. Their arguments against such reading are unfounded and fallacious. Some may “teach” the summer reading book, without reading it, by giving a test or an essay the first week of school. Then they swiftly move through their personal or prescribed cannon, summarizing enough of the plot and analyzing enough of the characters for students to seem competent when culminating assessments are given.

I would estimate that less than ten percent of my students are fakers at the end of the year. Students’ reading test scores this year—that limited one day snapshot—support that assessment. Nearly thirty-five percent of the readers in the room had double digit gains in terms of their reading score, even students at the highest score points made gains. In total, sixty nine percent of the readers made a gain: anywhere from one to forty-five points. Only eight students of one-hundred and four fell below proficient—two of whom missed that arbitrary mark by a mere point or two. 

Books work. A reading life sustains a person. Reading matters. 

Works Cited

Allen, Janet. Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading
          4-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2000.

Atwell, Nancie. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate,
          Habitual, Critical Readers. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2007.

Barnhouse, Dorothy. Readers Front and Center: Helping All Students Engage with
          Complex Text. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2014.

Beers, Kylene and Robert Probst. Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.
          Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.

Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Reading. New York, NY: Pearson, 2000.

Center on Instruction. “Adolescent literacy resources: An annotated bibliography.”
          RMC Research Corporation, Portsmouth, NH: Author, 2007.

Early, Margaret. “Stages of Growth in Literacy Appreciation.” The English Journal.
          49.3 (1960): 161-167.

Fountas, Irene and Gay Su Pinnell. Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All
          Children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.

Gallagher,  Kelly. Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can
          Do About It. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Ingham, Jennie. Books and Reading Development: The Bradford Book Flood
          Experiment. Second Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1982.

IRA, “Providing Books and Other Print Materials for Classroom and School Libraries:
          A Position Statement of the International Reading Association.”  Newark, DE:

Jago, Carol. “What English Classes Should Look Like in Common Core Era.” The
          Answer  Sheet Blog. The Washington Post. 10 Jan 2013. Web.

Kajder, Sara. Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students.
          Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2010.

Kittle, Penny. Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent
         Readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.

Krashen, Stephen. The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, second edition.
          Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004.

Layne, Steven. Igniting a Passion for Reading. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2009.

Lesesne, Teri. Reading Ladders. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2010.  

Marshall, Jodi Crum. Are They Really Reading? Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2002.

Miller, Donalyn and Susan Kelley. Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys
          to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits.  Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2013.
Newkirk, Thomas. The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for
          Engagement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2011.

Ogle,  Donna. Coming Together as Readers: Building Literacy Teams. Thousand  Oaks, CA:        
          Corwin, 2007.

Pearson, David and Nell Duke. “Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension.”
           Newark, DE: IRA, 2002.

Pilgreen, Jan. The SSR Handbook: How to Organize and Manage a Sustained Silent
          Reading Program. Porstmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000.

Quinones, Viviana. “ Sister libraries for Children's and Young Adults' Reading: An
          IFLA Programme for International Exchange and Cooperation.” World Library
          and Information Congress. Gothenburg, Sweden. 10-15August 2010

Reif, Linda. Read Write Teach: Choice and Challenge in the Reading-Writing
          Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2014.

Routman, Regie. Reading Essentials: The Specifics You Need to Teach Reading Well.
          Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002.

Strickland, Dorothy and Donna Alvermann. Bridging the Literacy Achievement Gap
          Grades 4-12. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2004.

Tatum, Alfred. Reading for Their Life: (Re) Building the Textual Lineages of African
          American Adolescent Males. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009.

Tovani, Cris. I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Stratgies for Adolescent
          Readers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2000.

Underwood, Terry; Yoo, Monica and P. David Pearson. “Understanding Reading
          Comprehension in Secondary Schools through the Lens of theFour Resources
          Model.”  Secondary School Literacy: What Research Reveals for Classroom
          Practice. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2007.

Vacca, Jo Anne; Vacca, Richard; Gove, Mary; Burkey, Linda; Lenhart, Lisa and
          Christine McKeon. Reading and Learning to Read. New York, NY: Pearson,

Wiesendanger, Katerhine D. and Ellen Birlem. “The Effectiveness of SSR: An
          Overview of the Research.” Reading Horizons, 24.3: 197-201.

Wilhelm,  Jeffrey and Michael W. Smith. “Don’t Underestimate the Power of
          Pleasure Reading.” Education Week. 22 Jan 2014.

Yoo, Monica. Students’ Perceived and Actual Use of Strategies for Reading and    
          Writing. Diss. University of California, 2010. Berkeley, CA: 2010.

Zemelman, Steven; Daniels, Harvey and Arthur Hyde. Best Practice: Bringing
          Standards to Life in America’s Classroom, fourth edition. Portsmouth, NH:
          Heinemann, 2012.

Literature Cited

Chevalier, Tracey. The Last Runaway. New York, NY: Penguin, 2013.

Gararder, Jostein. Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy.  New York, NY: Farrar,
            Straus and Girox, 2007.

Giovanni, Nikki. The Collected Poems of  Nikki Giovanni. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009.

Gregory, Danny. An Illustrated Life. New York, NY: HOW Books, , 2008.

Griffin, Paul. Burning Blue. New York, NY: Penguin, 2012.

Messued, Claire. The Woman Upstairs. New York, NY: Vintage, 2013.

Moriarty, Laura. The Center of Everything.  New York, NY: Hyperion, 2009.

Rumi, Jalal al-Din. The Essential Rumi. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 2004.

Smith, Jennifer. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. New York, NY: Hachette Book 
          Group, 2012. 


  1. This is a superb post, Lee. My response to the teacher who criticizes independent reading and spread rumors is this: "And kids never lie about having read the teacher-assigned text?" I suppose I'm just too tired and old to worry about whether or not kids lie about their independent reading, which doesn't mean it doesn't concern me, but such worries take too much energy and bring me down. I'd rather focus on the ones who do read and try to work w/ the others. You and I are definitely on the same page of the book here.

  2. Just spending some time reading your posts and really enjoying and appreciating your deep thought