Before summer vacation comes to an end, I begin to plan for the upcoming school year. I consider some of the new selections of children’s and young adult literature that I have read over the summer for my literature study groups. I create and add to the resource files I maintain for the various units of study and literary experiences I provide each school year. If there is time, I re-read some professional literature that has had a tremendous impact on my thinking for the past fifteen years. Some of the books that I have revisited many times during the summer months are Life in a Crowded Place by Ralph Peterson, The Reader, the Text, and the Poem by Louise Rosenblatt, The Culture of Reading and the Teaching of English by Kathleen McKormick, and The Pleasures of Children’s Literature by Perry Nodelman. Re-reading these books helps me remember the theoretical foundations upon which I build my reading workshop, and provide an impetus for refocusing my thinking about the complexities of teaching reading and writing.
Throughout the past few years I have been offering a statement in my workshops that has become a “pedagogical slogan” for my thinking about reading instruction. That pedagogical slogan is; In Service of Meaning. What I mean by this statement is everything we do in the reading workshop must be done in service of making meaning when we read. Whether we are discussing literature, investigating the relationship between written symbols and oral language, helping readers choose an appropriate book to read independently, or working on understanding the nature of the alphabet, I am constantly assessing how the practices and procedures I am enacting in my reading workshop serve the primary goal of supporting readers’ construction of meaning in transactions with texts.
The criteria for deciding what is the best way to teach reading is directly associated with one’s definition of what it means to be a proficient reader, how one defines comprehension, and how reading ability and comprehension is assessed and evaluated. Based on one’s definitions of reading and reading comprehension, many programs could be shown to be somewhat effective. Unfortunately, this is the case with many of the commercial programs being touted as scientifically, research based by the federal government. All reading programs help some children, to some degree, at some time, learn to read, depending on how reading is defined and assessed. We have to remember, the most important variable shown in numerous research studies on effective reading instruction remains the quality of the teacher in the classroom, not the purchased resources. The better the teacher, the better the teaching.