As you may remember from my last post, readicide refers to the decline of a love of reading among students. In his book Readicide, Kelly Gallagher offers hard data linking our new focus on testing to this decline. Gallagher shows that we simply are not going deep enough into the curriculum. We are not teaching as effectively as we should. We MUST find the balance between teaching students effectively and preparing them for the test, what Gallagher refers to as “the sweet spot.”
As a competitive softball player, I completely understand that concept. There is nothing as wonderful as swinging the bat in a game and feeling it swoosh, almost effortlessly, propelling the ball out with a vengeance because you hit it in just the right spot. Teaching is like that as well. Seeing that light bulb go on, watching a child “get it,” those are the moments that we live for as teachers. What can we do to ensure that our students really “get it” AND do well on their tests? Well, Gallagher has suggestions, too, ones that are changing the way I teach with positive results in my classroom.
I cannot tell you how ecstatic the idea of returning reading to the classroom made me. My Sustained Silent Reading time was dwindling as I spent more effort on the types of lessons I was led to believe would help my scores. However, Stephen Krashen reports in The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, that students that have daily silent reading time show improved vocabulary, writing style, and spelling, and increased comprehension. They build prior knowledge and background, and show gains in grammatical development as well. He lists some hard truths:
1. “Reading is too complex to learn one rule at a time" (14).
2. In 38 of 41 studies, students that were given free voluntary reading (FVR) time did as well or better than students that received traditional instruction.
3. The longer FVR is practiced, the more consistent the results (3).
4. Each time a student encounters an unfamiliar word, a small increase in word knowledge normally occurs.
5. Students that read novels with a lot of unique words increase their vocabulary through the use of context clues (10).
Additionally, in their 2004 study, "How the Amount of Time Spent on Independent Reading Affects Reading Achievement: A Response to the National Reading Panel," Yi-Chen Wu and S. Jay Samuels found that students that received more time for reading had significantly greater gains in vocabulary and word recognition than students with controlled reading conditions, and that poor readers showed greater gains as they were allotted more reading time (2).
Students have to be offered more than academic reading in order to become successful readers. However, in order to successfully implement SSR in your classroom, you must adhere to a few rules:
1. Read with your kids. Don’t spend the time grading papers or answering emails.
2. Offer lots of interesting reading choices.
3. Don’t make the time a mandatory homework time or a time to do academic reading.
4. According to the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2007 report "To Read or Not to Read," students who read from the Internet actually read on a shallower level, gleaning information from headlines and small blurbs rather than engaging in deep, effective reading.
5. Let the reading flow. Don’t stand over the students’ shoulders and ask questions. That doesn’t allow them to get hooked, to feel the flow, to appreciate the story. Let them get sucked in. That will not only create a greater love of reading, but will also help them comprehend what they are reading more effectively.
6. Don’t grade recreational reading!
Gallagher also suggests that teachers use the 50/50 method for teaching reading, which avoids using choppy methods of instruction and instead encourages a deeper approach to reading instruction that is truly effective AND will result in better test scores. It also encourages utilizing not just books, but real-world texts. Students have to be able to understand how to read from different sources because this will also help them with their knowledge and vocabulary base.
Another imperative to reading success is to remember that we are the best readers in the room. We have to read WITH the kids, as Nancie Atwell emphasizes in her book In the Middle. We have to teach them the skills of being good readers by discussing strategies, walking them through good literature, and coming out from behind our desks to actually interact with them. We have to frame what we are teaching, and we have to find the balance between teaching big and little chunks of information versus chopping up the literature ad nauseam.
However, one of the most important things that you must teach your students is how to be a good reader. Show them the skills that good readers, as opposed to struggling readers, use. Students that don’t have that basic skill set will struggle. We have to remember that WE are the teachers in the room. We are there to guide them, to help them learn to use strategies that will promote their reading success. We have to teach them skills such as:
These skills will make students stronger readers. In addition, these skills are also great test-taking strategies and are included in many of the state standards in reading.
Common sense dictates that as their reading skills increase, so will their test scores because they will be better able to read and comprehend the questions — regardless of the discipline. Thus, by helping students authentically improve their reading skills, we can also show success in testing as well.