A new friend asked me if I would share any AP testing data that I’ve gathered since embracing Readers and Writers Workshop. I had to think about it since I rarely think about it. I do appreciate the question though because it led to this post.
I need to tell you right up front: While I appreciate the AP exam as a high-stakes test, I do not lay a lot of value on testing data for many reasons.
So many factors figure into how a group of students tests each year, and looking at figures from one year to the next, and trying to compare numbers with different groups of students has never made sense to me. The only real valid data is the growth I measure from the fall when students walk into my door until they leave me in the spring. However, I can tell you that the first year I implemented Readers and Writers Workshop and gave up whole class novels in favor of encouraging students to read books of their choice and taught skills with short, sophisticated, complex texts, my students’ scores were 12% higher than my students’ scores the year before.
The best I can do to respond to your question is to quote Stephen Krashen in the article “Free Reading:” “. . .research strongly suggests that free reading is the source of our reading prowess and much of our vocabulary and spelling development, as well as our ability to understand sophisticated phrases and write coherent prose. The secret of its effectiveness is simple: children become better readers by reading.”
And… “Research has . . .shown that SSR is at least as effective as conventional teaching methods in helping children acquire those aspects of reading that are measured by standardized tests, and pleasure reading provides a great deal that these tests don’t measure.”
The first two years I taught AP, I tried to do it like I learned at my APSI. I assigned the traditional novels taught in American literature: The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, The Awakening, The Grapes of Wrath — because the other AP teacher on my campus did. I can tell you, my students did not read. They even told me later that they didn’t — lots of joking about that on Facebook a few years after they left me. They knew how to play the fake-reading game perfectly.
I know Krashen’s research centers on much younger grades than our students in AP English; however, reading is reading, and students gain skills by doing it — skills that improve their lives far beyond those tested on one day in May as they sit for the AP English exam.
My students just wrote end-of-year reading evaluations on their blogs. Here’s a few of the highlights about reading this year in their own words. This is the kind of data I value:
“Being apart of a reading community has benefited me deeply within my entire life. Even though I didn’t read as much as I wanted to, the reading that I did do was very beneficial. Reading helped me expand my vocabulary a lot. Sometimes when I would speak to my mom I would use a word that I learned from the book I was reading and she would just look at me like she didn’t know who I was. Reading also helped me become a better writer. So many different books that I read helped me use different structures, understand how to use rhetorical devices, and use my upper level vocabulary.” DeDe, currently reading Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
“Being part of a reading community as a student opened my mind how others thought of the book we were currently reading together. Occasionally, I’m an ostrich that’s always in the ground; thoughts to myself, ideas to myself, and the “this is what this means” mentality. I’ve slowly learned how to use the point of view of others by implementing it into my own work. In addition, this year’s English class did not feel like a burden compared to previous years. The freedom of choice we were given provided us with the decision to pick a book we enjoyed.” Doreen, currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
“I believe the place I need to improve as a reader is being able to find the hidden meanings or putting everything together in order for me to understand a book. Sometimes without me noticing I just read to read and I forget what I read and have to read the paragraph or page again in order for me to understand it. I need to read and take everything under consideration and understand what it is that I’m reading and at the end put it back together. Maybe my problem is that I try to read too fast.” Johnny, currently reading The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith
“Being part of a reading community benefited me because I always felt like I needed to be reading a book. It felt splendid being a part of something, especially something I would of never thought I would be a part of. I understood the importance of reading. The more you read, the better writer you will become. I realized what genre of books I liked and which ones I didn’t. Most importantly I explored a different variety of books and read a minimum of 12 books. Something I had never done before. Usually I would read a minimum of 3 books every year.” Lizbeth, currently reading Playing Dead byJulia Heaberlin
“My journey began with Escape From Camp 14. I moved through different genres and difficulty levels thereafter: Anna and the French kiss, Allegiant, High School Bites, The Glass Castle, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Where’d You Go Bernadettte, The Art of Secrets, The Hot Zone, Little Bee, The Joy Luck Club, Down the Rabbit Hole, Room, Incendiary, The Wright 3, and most recently, Y. During this time, I abandoned The Kite Runner, The Thirteenth Tale, Ready Player One, Saving Fish From Drowning, Telegraph Avenue, and Station Eleven. Even I find it odd, that out of the entire list, I enjoyed The Joy Luck Club more than any other. I say this because I’m not the patient type- I like constant action, fueled excitement. The Joy Luck Club almost counters that expectation, and if I had to describe it, I might even consider calling it boring.” Nawoon, currently choosing — just abandoned Station Eleven
I just need to share one more thing, a little gift I got today as I read student reading evaluations. I know most teachers get these at one time or another.
It is the thing that keeps us going.
“I still need to improve on not judging a book by it’s cover. For us to GROW as people, we must get out of our COMFORT ZONE and pick up a shattered book because it needs someone to appreciate it’s language. As much as reading conference were sometimes nerve wrecking for me, they helped me get a second opinion on my progress in class as a human and not merely as a student. I can never thank Mrs. Rasmussen enough for dedicating chunks of her life to her students. Positivity in a world were criticism is many people’s issue is so rare and pure. She truly cares about each of us and sees past our struggles and attitudes and tries her best to help us understand it’s okay to have emotions and display them for others to see. I’ve learned it’s more important to turn our conflicts into beautiful gifts instead of becoming a bitter person.”
Don’t you think that is better than any testing data?
©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015