I am not often speechless. But it’s not often I hear statements like this — from teachers no less:
“There are so many other ways for students to get information. I think reading may not be all that important to students today.”
We were into the second hour of a three hour workshop on conferring. We had already brainstormed and charted what we believe are the needs of our students:
- trust in authority
- time and attention from adults
- a caring teacher who is a listener and is consistent with discipline and classroom management
- technology to learn and communicate
- critical thinking skills
- a context for what we want them to learn
- positivity and discernment
- a focus on what matters/ability to ignore “the noise” of unnecessary information
- the opportunity to freely think and to take risks
- the ability to communicate in ways that are socially acceptable and responsible
We had just read research on reading as detailed by Nancy Motley in the book Talk, Read, Talk, Write. I share it here:
Literacy skills for the twenty-first century are far more complex than in previous generations (Goldman, 2012). In addition to the basics of reading comprehension, today’s students must also know how to read with purpose, integrate new information, resolve conflicting content in different texts, and identify the writer’s perspective (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006). Students can only learn these skills by reading. Because many students enter the classroom with underdeveloped literacy skills, we often replace reading tasks with lecture and interactive activities to ensure that students stay engaged and learn the content, Hoyt (1999) explains.
“…expository reading for many students is often a listening experience. Well-meaning teachers, concerned about textbooks that are too difficult, often create situations where one student reads from the text and others listen or attempt to follow along in the book. This situation does little to build conceptual understandings, and it can actually deter from the learning process as the listeners are engaging in very little reading.”
When teachers “deliver” the curriculum to students, students lose the opportunity to construct meaning for themselves (Tovani, 2000). According to the Reading Next (2006) report (a meta-analysis of adolescent reading), three of the most statistically significant practices for increasing the academic achievement of middle and high school students included:
- direct, explicit comprehension instruction
- reading and writing skills embedded in content area classrooms
- text-based collaborative learning
“When we routinely model and make explicit the methods adults use to read, think, and make connections, students learn to do it, too. Furthermore, they will see that such close, insightful reading is within their reach — that they can do such reading and thinking, which is central to an education.” (Schmoker, 2011).
I am not often speechless. But this teacher’s comment left me chewing my lip. Did he read the research? Did he understand what it meant? Does he really believe that reading is not important?
“If I gave my students The Canterbury Tales and expected them to read it, that just wouldn’t happen. I read it to them, and they get a lot of information, and they come to like it,” this teacher continued.
And I countered, embracing my inner Penny Kittle, as I facilitated another hour of professional development: “What is your purpose for ‘reading’ The Canterbury Tales — or other texts you choose for your students? What skills are you teaching with that book? How do you know your students are learning them? How are you helping your students develop as readers — because that is our job as English teachers. If we are not helping students become better readers than they were when they came to us, we are not doing our job.””
“Today’s students must … know how to read with purpose, integrate new information, resolve conflicting content in different texts, and identify the writer’s perspective. Students can only learn these skills by reading.”
They must also know how to discern viable information from the barrage of biased and unreliable information. And know how to understand a rental agreement when they sign a lease, a sales contract when they purchase a car, a speeding ticket when they get one, a ballot in a voting box when they are standing in line next to you and next to me.
Students can only learn to read by reading.
What do you think? Is reading important to the students we teach? How would you have responded to my teacher friend?