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A Reader’s Manifesto

After a hectic summer of being well behind my fellow Book Love Book Club readers, I finally finished Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s latest book, Disrupting Thinking.

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Yay for me!

Its ideas had been disrupting my thinking since page one.  I loved its premise, which centered around two questions the authors returned to again and again–what needs to change?  And in order to make those changes, what assumptions need to be challenged?

These questions are as good an acid test for our teaching as Louise Rosenblatt’s 1956 article of the same name.  Too much of education today rests on the status quo.  To disrupt that status quo, “good teaching sometimes feels like a rebellion,” as Penny Kittle wrote in our book club chat this summer.

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Sharon’s slide on transactional reading

Rebelling has always come naturally to me in teaching.  It’s no different now that I teach at the college level, but I’m lucky to have many like-minded peers to work alongside at WVU.

In our collaborative planning meeting last week, my friend Sharon shared her thinking about a different kind of reading and writing she really wanted our preservice teachers doing–the work of transacting.

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The BHH framework from Disrupting Thinking

“It’s from a book I read this summer,” she explained, and I exclaimed, “Yes!  I read it too!  I was just wondering how we could bring Book, Head, Heart into our weekly readings!”

Our students are proficient readers and writers, and it’s easy to assume that they don’t “need” a technique like BHH to help them interact with a text.  But to me, helping students of all skill levels become responsible, responsive, compassionate readers is the point of teaching reading.  Who cares about comprehension without understanding?  What’s the point of decoding if we don’t connect to the ink on the page?

Sometimes my college students forget that reading is more than a means to an end.  During my whole reading of Disrupting Thinking, I wondered how I could remind them about the aesthetic rather than the efferent purposes of reading from Rosenblatt’s transactional theory.

Because the truth is, the book, head, heart framework–or the aesthetic stance, or helping readers become responsible, responsive, and compassionate, or whatever you’d like to call it–is more than a guideline for students just learning to be strong readers.  It’s a manifesto for all readers.

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My notebook jots on the book

We’ve gotten away from teaching kids WHY we read and focus too often on simply HOW to read.

And that’s the problem–how to read is too simple a standard.  Yes, learning how to read is difficult.  Teaching kids how to read is hard, too.  But how to read, like so many standards we must adhere to, can be measured.  There’s a formula, an algorithm, a process:  first you decode, then you do the mental work of meaning-making, and sometimes in there you need some fix-up strategies to help you scaffold the story into your schema.  Just employ all those buzzwords and voila!  You’re a reader!

But when I shirk a pile of grading on a Sunday afternoon to finish a book, it’s not because I’m all about practicing my phonemic awareness.  And I didn’t spend an hour googling “Hurricane Harvey” at 4:00 this morning because I wanted to try out my word recognition skills, either.

Our highest standard is to help our students become real readers and writers.

It’s a standard that’s difficult to measure, but so are all of our most important, difficult goals–and it’s scary to teach all day, all week, all year, and feel like you can’t prove on paper that you’re making a difference.  The fear that we might be asked to offer evidence of our effectiveness might be what keeps teachers teaching novels and prevents them from teaching readers.  It might be why teachers persist in teaching essays instead of teaching writers.

Any good self-assessment will give you all the data in the world about how important and effective your instruction is, so if that’s what you need, again I say voila.  But if you’re searching for a way to make reading meaningful and engaging for your students, check out Disrupting Thinking, the book-head-heart framework, and their roots in Louise Rosenblatt’s work.  You’ll find a reader’s manifesto that truly shows you that why we read matters most–at every level, in every grade, across every content area.

How will you frame reading in your classroom this year?  Please share your strategies and ideas for helping students become engaged, authentic readers in the comments, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter!

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a somehow-energetic surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, sugar, and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

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4 thoughts on “A Reader’s Manifesto

  1. […] I read the books I know I will share with my readers, I mark passages that make me think and feel. Important moves for any reader. I model these moves as I share books and writing ideas with my students. This passage from The Red […]

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  2. […] are powerful tools to help move students forward.  How can we prioritize those things instead of more measurable (and infinitely less revealing, rewarding, or authentic) methods like reading logs, records, and […]

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  3. Anonymous August 28, 2017 at 8:16 pm Reply

    Loved this book. Really shaped my approach to how we’ll be shaping our thinking about reading this year. I like the metacognition aspect to this, too. The B.H.H. lets readers know where they are in their thinking. That’s powerful for kids and has a focusing element, too. I’m trying to share B.H.H. with the students this week by journeying through each one with some structured activities (I know “structured activities” sounds antithetical to disruption, but said activities feel disruptive…we’re bypassing the comprehension quizzes and the text dependent questions and playing with the text as we glide through the book textually, intellectually and emotionally). Thanks for this entry. It resonates. It’s also an important reminder that we teach readers, not books. 😉 Thank you for sharing and for allowing us to share. -Stacey

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Smith-Chavira Terri August 28, 2017 at 8:18 am Reply

    Yahoo! For preservice teacher work! They must know to show! Happy to hear ~ maybe that will trickle into our universities! Too many kids think reading is a level, AR POINTS or STAAR reading! I do hope I see MORE change before I am reading from above!

    Liked by 2 people

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