Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Challenging the Way We Teach Reading

I'm not sure which has been crazier - my work life or my personal life! Either way, I feel like I'm that chubby little gerbil running insanely in place on the wheel of life, wondering if I'm really making any progress on any front. The only solace is that I know I have many friends and colleagues who completely empathize as they are racing around their own gerbil world!

With that confession off my mind and just in time for Halloween, I want to share some insights I gained from reading Kelly Gallagher's latest book with the freaky title, Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. I first "met" Kelly via his book Reading Reasons: Motivational Mini-Lessons for Middle and High School - a must for your professional library - and have followed him ever since. (Not "followed" as in stalking, but as in Googling for updates about his work.)

Kelly Gallagher is a practitioner with more than 22 years experience in teaching and inspiring students and teachers alike. While some may challenge his credentials as lacking research experience, that does not mean Mr. G. doesn't do his homework. He backs up his opinions by quoting the research of education heavy weights as well as sharing teacher research from his own classes. Additionally, he is not hesitant to challenge poor programs or ill-advised ideas, be they from the US Department of Education or best-selling practitioners like himself. Because of these reasons, I value his insights.

While Readicide is a bit unnerving, the pages substantiate what many educators believe but no longer practice in light of the pressure of student performance - aka NCLB and standardized testing. Kelly's book maintains that schools are killing off the love of reading, often through the "mind-numbing practices" found inside classrooms. While we may be driving up test scores, we're lynching life-long reading, which is defeating the purpose of teaching and supporting reading in school.

The author reiterates the importance of reading through graphs, charts, and quotations from reported research. The strongest argument in my mind, however, is his concern over the lack of "knowledge capital" in the lives of so many of our students. "Knowledge capital" is what readers bring to the page - schema, background knowledge, prior knowledge are possible synonyms for the term. Kelly reminds us of "the large wealth of knowledge capital that comes from the voluminous reading of books, newspapers, blogs, and magazines" (p. 38).  If the systematic annihilation of the love of reading continues, so will knowledge capital dwindle.

What then are the factors contributing to the state of affairs? Kelly lists six:
  • There is a dearth of interesting materials in our schools.
  • Many schools have removed novels and other longer challenging works to provide teachers and students with more test preparation time.
  • Students are not doing enough reading in school.
  • The overteaching of books prevents our students from experiencing the place where all serious readers want to be - the reading flow (when a reader is so engrossed, he is oblivious of anything else going on around him.)
  • The overanalysis of books creates instruction that values the trivial at the expense of the meaningful.
  • The overteaching of academic texts is spilling over and damaging our students' chances of becoming lifelong readers.
What can be done to stem the tide? Kelly declares that if students are to "discover what it is like to come up for air while reading, if they are to have any chance of becoming lifelong readers, they will need what all readers need when they read: access to great books and large doses of uninterrupted time to read them" (p. 73). Sounds simple, doesn't it? Raises lots of questions, too, right?

If you're interested in some of Kelly's suggestions for ending readicide, check out Literacy Link Up!

What are your thoughts about the way educators teach reading? What do you think we can do to restore the love of reading AND teach students what they need to KNOW and DO to become proficient readers?

Please respond; you have my attention!



caribookscoops said...

Thanks for your review of Readicide. I have had it on my tbr pile for a while now.

PS. I can totally relate to feeling like a gerbil in a wheel. My life has been crazy lately too.

Recycled Art Girl said...

Love love LOVE your blog. I am a teaching assistant and soon to be reading specialist (hopefully, if all goes well) in an urban Minneapolis school. I read Kelly Gallagher's DEEPER READING as a part of my certification program and use it as the basis of many of my teaching practices. I love that there is someone like you in the blogging world that is leaving their mark in cyberspace. I, too, feel like a gerbil on the wheel of reading reform in my school, but hopefully that will change soon. I look forward to reading more of your blog posts and keeping it as another resource for practice. Thanks for sharing! (I found your site through your comment on NaBloPoMo tonight.) Congrats on finishing, by the way. I started this month, but I'm already feeling the lack of motivation. You've inspired me to both teach and blog better. :)

link2literacy said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's always nice to know someone in the world reaches into cyberspace to grab onto something launched out there! I plan to post more reactions to READICIDE because it supports and impacts my own views; so of course, I like it!

Best of luck to you and keep in touch! rbs