Saturday, February 27, 2016

From Reading Aloud and Beyond - Best of Frank Serafini

The problem is that we teachers are hurried usurers, lending out the knowledge we possess and charging interest. It has to show a profit, and the quicker the better! If not, we might start losing faith in our own methods.
                                                            Daniel Pennac,  Better Than Life

            In contemporary society, if things don’t happen quickly, we see a need to change them, to hurry them along. For example, fast food restaurants, drive-up dry cleaners and convenient stores have thrived on the basis of providing fast service, not necessarily quality service. In public education, if current school reform efforts don’t show measurable gains on standardized tests in a matter of minutes, they are often discarded in our fervor to locate the next “silver bullet” reading program that will solve the literacy crisis, engage all students, calm the nerves of concerned parents, raise standardized test scores and win someone the next school board election.
            In the opening quote, Pennac refers to the need for teaching methods to show a profit quickly or else face elimination. In today’s political climate, profit equates with increased test scores. Although we believe, and scientifically-based research supports, reading aloud with children increases tests scores, that is not the sole reason we read aloud with children.
Activities designed to mimic standardized test experiences are being forced upon students with greater and greater tenacity. Because of the pressure from federal and state legislatures to raise test scores, public school classrooms may become places where children learn to read well enough to score higher on standardized tests, but may not be places where you learn to love to read, discover great authors and pieces of literature or learn how to read in order to succeed in the “real” world. If we make reading in schools so boring, so sanitized, that children refuse to engage in reading have we, in fact, educated them at all? Reading instruction in schools should develop students’ passion to read, support their engagements with text of all sorts and encourage them to become life-long readers capable of fully participating in a democratic society.
            In order to ensure that teacher candidates (pre-service, education students) come to see the value in reading aloud and learn strategies for incorporating reading aloud into their curriculum once they have a class of their own, they need to be exposed to reading aloud and literature discussions in their university coursework. If college professors do not demonstrate the importance of reading aloud, support teacher candidates as they practice this important instructional strategy and explain how they use read alouds as the foundation for reading instruction, chances are that teacher candidates will not value these learning experiences once they become certified teachers themselves.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reading Workshop: Curricular Components

Five Curricular Components

Five separate, yet interrelated, curricular components form the core of my reading workshop, and offer a comprehensive, balanced approach to reading instruction. These Curricular Components are:
1.     Invitations: Bringing Children and Literature Together – By reading aloud to children and providing access to a wide variety of quality works of literature, non-fiction, poetry and other materials, we invite children into the world of reading. As classroom teachers, it is our job to extend multiple invitations for children to sample, explore and become involved with different reading materials. We need to create an environment that provides the opportunity for literature and children to come together, and successfully invite them to join our literate community.
2.     Explorations: Coming to Know Literature – Children need support in moving past the “I liked the book” phase, in order to make more sophisticated connections to texts. We need to provide experiences that help children explore the various elements and structures of literature. By focusing on particular books, authors, themes and content topics, we help children make deeper, more meaningful connections to literature. As designers and facilitators of the reading workshop, we are trying to provide experiences that help children see new patterns and relationships in the literature that we are exploring.
3.     Investigations: Digging Deeper into Literature – We want children to literally “dig deeper” into the literature they read. The primary means for doing this in my reading workshop is through literature study groups. By helping children develop a “passionate attention” for the literature they read, and by providing the opportunity for them to share their reactions to their readings with other students in collaborative study groups, we help children dig beneath the surface layers of literature to uncover the more complex patterns and meanings possible in quality works of literature.
4.     Instruction: Facilitating Children’s Development  as Readers – In the reading workshop, teachers work hard to help children learn how to read. We don’t simply abandon them to wander aimlessly among our classroom libraries! By using various grouping strategies, sharing a wealth of reading materials, and teaching a range of reading strategies, I carefully guide the development of my students as successful readers. In my reading workshop, teaching is direct, explicit and focuses on the development of reading strategies in the context of authentic reading events.
5.     Evaluation: Coming to Know Children as Readers – The decisions about what to teach and when to teach it are based primarily on the close observation and continuous classroom-based evaluation of children. Utilizing a variety of assessment procedures or “windows” we begin to develop a better understanding of the children in our classrooms. This understanding can then be used to make decisions about the resources, experiences and learning environments that we provide for our students. I will share several of the assessment “windows” that I have found to be helpful in coming to know the readers in my classrooms.