Thursday, March 4, 2010

What Ever Shall We Do with GOOD Readers?

I am very very concerned with struggling striving readers - or whatever the politically correct term is for students who don't read because they are ...
  • hampered with decoding or fluency issues
  • UNengaged
  • UNmotivated 
I also appreciate the focus upon adolescent reading and "the core of reading: comprehension, learning while reading, reading in the content areas, and reading in the service of secondary or higher education, of employability, of citizenship" (Snow & Biancarosa, 2006,p.1). I am grateful for the research and recommendations represented in the Reading Next report, including "The Fifteen Elements of Effective Adolescent Literacy Programs" (p.4). But I have been long concerned about those students who read AT or ABOVE grade level because I know they can lose their enthusiasm for reading and become another of those UNengaged and UNmotivated readers that populate our classrooms.

For this reason, I've been searching for a model that focuses upon students who LIKE to read and who are good at it. In 2007, while attending the Utah Council of International Reading Association (UCIRA), I stumbled onto the World Class Readers Model and liked it VERY much, but I ran into a few challenges.
  1. The model MAY be a copyrighted gifted and talented reading framework, but I haven't been able to confirm or refute that. 
  2. WCR, as developed by Nebo District, focuses upon elementary readers - not a big problem as it can be easily adapted for secondary classrooms.
  3. Other than what Nebo has shared with me, I cannot find any additional informations or resources about this model.
Last fall, I organized an Advanced Readers professional development class that invited secondary teachers to attend with the purpose of earning PD credit while working collaboratively to develop an advanced readers curriculum. Three teachers - Lis Thomas and Barbara Burt of Elk Ridge Middle and Pamela Spitzer of Fort Herriman Middle -   stayed the course, and we created 4 unit outlines based upon the WCR model for 7th and/or 8th grade reading or language arts classes.

We poured over the JSD approved reading list to find books that could both challenge and engage readers. Two are "advanced" books - a memoir and a classic - and two are currently "HOT" reads with controversial and/or compelling content. Those books include the classic Treasure Island and the memoir of Beryl Markham - West with the Night. The two popular novels are Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick and Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

Lis Thomas of Elk Ridge Middle read and created plans for West with the Night. This book shares Markham's adventures as an aviatrix in South Africa during the 30s and 40s. Ernest Hemingway said of this book, "... she has written so well ... that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt I was just a carpenter with words ... . But she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers." ERNEST HEMINGWAY - mind you!

Barbara Burt, also from Elk Ridge Middle, organized plans for Last Book in the Universe. The Kirkus Review writes of Philbrick's futuristic novel: "Enriched by ... allusions to nearly lost literature and full of intriguing, invented slang, the skillful writing paints two pictures of what the world could look like in the future—the burned-out Urb and the pristine Eden—then shows the limits and strengths of each. Philbrick, author of Freak the Mighty (1993) has again created a compelling set of characters that engage the reader with their courage and kindness in a painful world that offers hope, if no happy endings."

Pamela Spitzer from Fort Herriman Middle created the plan ideas for Unwind, the very popular Neal Shusterman novel. This nail-biting thriller operates on the chilling premise that "life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age 13. Between 13 and 18, however, parents can have their children 'unwound'." The book also gives a new meaning to the concept of organ transplants! 

I worked on the Treasure Island lesson ideas, and along the way, I fell in love with Stevenson's classic. I decided to center the learning activities on the theme of survival, especially the characteristics of a survivor. I was intrigued with how Jim Hawkins' changed because of what he did to survive his adventure and juxtaposed that with Long John Silver's ability to survive his scrapes.

While working on this project, I approached the Jordan Education Foundation to see if we could procure funds to buy the books, thus allowing a "test drive" of our lesson plans. With some luck and good timing, I was able to buy one classroom set of books for each of the participating teachers. Each teacher will use the WCR model to study the novel with their students. They will reflect upon the lessons and make changes to their plans, if necessary. After this process, we will share the plans with other teachers. 

Now here is some pretty good news - NOT great news when compared to all the bad news we've been faced with, but something nice, nevertheless. With additional help from the Jordan Education Foundation, we applied for another grant through QWEST and received enough money to supply each middle school with at least one classroom set of the above novels. IF teachers aren't interested in using those books, they can choose another from the list I am creating from the JSD approved book list.

This "list within the list" will include books we hope are challenging and engaging. We'll look at old and newer classics as well as Lexile levels. I plan to check out availability, summaries and reviews of unfamiliar titles, and then I'll ask you for your opinions before publishing the final Advanced Readers Book List. Does that sound good?

To receive a classroom set of books, you'll be invited to attend an orientation about the World Class Readers Model. If teachers want a set of books off the Advanced Readers Book List, we ask that they develop a unit plan using the WCR Model. Watch here for more information and thanks for all you do for our students!


Ladida said...

I was hoping to be able to access your lesson plans for UNWIND. Just finished reading the novel -- I mean JUST -- and am excited about using it in my intensive 7th grade reading classroom. I need more information about the WCR Model! I have high expectations for my struggling readers, and good literature is ALWAYS the bridge to growth.

link2literacy said...

So fun to hear from such a far-away educator. You are awesome, and so is your beautiful blog. (Yes, I visited it! Makes me want to become a bona fide cook.)

Anyway, one of the teachers featured in this post created a skeleton of a lesson plan to use with UNWIND.I can create a link to it to get you started and I'll pass along some additional ideas as well. Watch for this to happen in the next week or two.

And thanks again for stopping by! rbs