This is the first in a series of workshops about teaching reading at the secondary level.
In the infographic above, the fact that “reading frequency declines after age 8” strikes a chord with me. I’m sure most secondary teachers would heartily agree that elementary students read more than high school students. But why?
We can point our fingers at several things:
- at technology (students can seem like they’re always on Facebook, watching Youtube videos, or chatting with friends)
- homework (homework overload might leave little time to read anymore)
- peer pressure (it’s just not cool to read)
- after-school activities and socializing (are they too busy to read?)
It’s easy to place the blame elsewhere. But as a fellow teacher once told me, “Every time we point a finger, 3 more are pointed back at us.” The truth is, pointing fingers doesn’t help us make changes. The only thing we can change is ourselves and, in this case, what we do in the classroom.
In his thought provoking article “How to Create Nonreaders,” Alfie Kohn delineates all the the things we do as teachers to kill the love of reading in our students. He then goes on to explain how we can reverse this by changing the way we teach.
Our secondary Language Arts teachers read Kohn’s article and then met to discuss his ideas. In his article Alfie Kohn sys “deeper learning and enthusiasm require us to let students generate possibilities rather than just choosing items from our menu; construction is more important than selection.” In previous workshops, I would have come in with my charts all written up and ready to go, taking the decision making away from my teachers and imposing my ideas on them.But in the spirit of Kohn’s article, rather than prepare discussion questions in advance I had teachers generate the questions we would answer (this proved to be a little harder than expected – we discovered that asking good questions is harder, and requires deeper thinking, than giving answers). I taped up a few empty charts and we brainstormed what we should look at, then chose our questions and wrote them on the charts. We decided to look at the following:
- Kohn’s ideas on what kills the desire to read
- What we can do instead
We started out by listing all the things Alfie Kohn said we should do if we want to turn students into non-readers adn then we added red stars to identify the things we’re doing in our classrooms. This was an eye-opening (and somewhat depressing activity). And of course the reactions came: “but what can we do? We have to give grades. How do we get around this?”
At the end of the article, Kohn makes seven specific suggestions. However, three are about writing, one is about assessment, two are about democratic decision making, while only one is about reading itself, leading us to the conclusion that it’s not easy to make changes in the reading curriculum. We realized too, that Alfie Kohn’s underlying message is that the real change needs to be in the classroom environment. We need to give up control and let students take charge of their learning. Easier said than done 🙂
These are own specific suggestions about how to engage students in reading:
- giving students choice in the books they read not only in independent reading, but also in shared reading. For example, give four possible titles and allow them to choose the book they’ll study.
- having students generate the comprehension questions they’ll answer
- having students decide how much they should read during independent reading time and how they should prove that they’re reading
- having students give book talks instead of doing reports on their independent reading (more engaging and at the same time other students will be introduced to great books they may want to read)
In next week’s workshop, we’ll be looking specifically at how teachers can engage students in shared reading and how to run book clubs or guided reading groups.
We’re all pretty excited about making changes!!