Patrick Higgins, Jr.

Some quick thoughts on reading

In rant on January 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I’m at a session sponsored by the American Reading Company, and in the course of their presentation, we’ve stumbled upon some interesting discussions.  The presenter is moving through three of the shifts that the Common Core brings about:

  • Shift I: 80% of our reading is spent on fiction and stories, we need to shift that to 50% non-fiction or informational text and 50% fiction.
  • Shift II: Reading and Writing grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
  • Shift III: Regular practice with complex text and it’s academic language

At various junctures, he asks us to think about the changes that each of these shifts bring about for students, for teachers, and for school and district leaders.  The audience, consisting of supervisors of Language Arts, some Principals and Vice Principals as well as some teachers, has hit on the fact that we need more “text” in classes, and by that they have taken to mean that we need more books.  I’m struggling with this a bit.  Here’s why.

When we first got into the room, the presenter asked to list all of what we read in the past twenty-four hours, his point being to prove that the majority of what we read these days is informational text or non-fiction text.  However, as we dove into discussions about these shifts, and heard from folks saying that they see the need for more “texts” for students, it dawned on me to ask the group how much of what you read in those twenty-four hours was on paper?  How much was on a screen?

That’s significant.  The way we access text is different when we access it on a device.  Even a device as basic as a Kindle or a Nook, there are features that change the way we read and how we access text.

Are we thinking about that?

Plus, before we begin pushing more text into the classroom, much thought has to be given to what those texts are.  Looking at the books in the baskets in the front of the room, I see many books that are tradebooks or basals.  I’m not so sure that our diet as readers should consist of all that form.  Personally, I would have gone nuts.  I cut my reading teeth on long-form magazine writing.  Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and even those wonky J.Peterman catalogs totally saved me from the doldrums of classroom reading.

Additionally (and now this is bordering on rant) one of the issues many districts have in changing the complexity of text (Shift III) is that they rarely have an exact picture of where there students are reading.  Part of the pitch today is the ARC’s IRLA system, which is analogous to DRA2, Guided Reading Level, Lexile, or SRI.  Whichever flavor your school or district uses, having an understanding of where your students can read is so paramount to beginning the work required by the Common Core.  How many of our schools have teachers that have and use this information?  It’s incumbent upon school leaders to make sure this is happening.

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  1. I have been arguing this all week here. Just submitted PO’s for close to 30K for text books. Teachers insist the students need them, yet they are rarely used in class, rarely brought home, and in my mind are wastes. That is a good amount of iPads, Kindles or Nooks we could purchase. I am all ears on how to shift staff away from text books.

  2. I teach at a small rural school in North Carolina and the Common Core has brought about many changes at our school as well as other schools across the nation. This year we were required to attend a book study on how to teach non fiction text. We read the book, Reality Checks, and shared ideas with our colleagues. Our library specialist bought many brand new nonfiction books to stock the shelves for student and teacher access. Not surprisingly, students often read non fiction books over fiction before the Common Core Standards were mandated. Teachers, however, just weren’t focused on teaching the genre in our school.
    I like the strategy your presenter used when asking you to write down all the things you had read in the last twenty-four hours. I think I will use this strategy with my fifth graders in hopes to give them a broader view of reading. In my reading class, I require my students to read each night. They may read any genre of their choosing. After reading, they have to record what they read into a reading log. I collect them each morning and write notes to them based on what they have read. Many times they respond back to the notes I have made thus engaging in a discussion on their book. On the weekend, I assign them to “read for fun”. With this assignment they just read and are not required to log anything. I think it would really open the children’s eyes and mine if we made that list of all the things we read in a day. It is, in fact, so much more than books!
    At our school we have stopped buying text books. There is no money for that anymore. Instead our school is purchasing iPads and iPods for student use. Here we can access an unlimited number of resources for students to use and read!
    I hope that all the new shifts in the new Common Core standards involving reading will enlighten some and help instill in children a true love of reading, instead of boring them and turning them off to the subject. Your post has inspired me to discuss with my students (on the first day of school) about what the read daily (with out realizing it) and try to instill some of that love of literature back into our future generation.

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