Tovani discusses the growing concern all teachers face:”too much content and not enough accessible text.” How do teachers deal with all this content? They end up lecturing in order to cover the content. The concern with lecturing is students don’t take ownership over their learning thus they are not able to connect with what they are learning. As a result, “students aren’t getting an opportunity to construct meaning.” Tovani quotes from Janet Allen what a devastating effect this has had on our current history curriculum, “ I think this is one of the things that has left most of us with such sketchy understandings of historical events: someone tried to cover all the events rather than help us understand the social and political concepts several events might have shared.” We should be focusing all along on helping our students discover the patterns and connections throughout history rather than covering every detail.
Tovani uses accessible texts with her students. She says, “ a lot of my accessible text comes from newspapers and magazines. It is timely, well written, and short. Often it can be read in one sitting or in a class period. Accessible text helps students make a connection between school subjects and the real world because it helps them experience reading that is done in the real world.” I can see this connection being especially pertinent with reading texts that students would have difficulty understanding such as Shakespeare. For example, I am thinking about teaching Othello next year. This is a challenging text for most students to read, yet the thematic topics of racism, prejudice, betrayal, war, anger, are all topics still very relevant and apparent in our society today. Perhaps I can match up what we are reading in Othello with current war situations in Syria, Afghanistan, etc... Tovani quotes, “ My intention is to give students something to read that is worthy of their time, something that they actually have the potential to understand- and maybe even finding a piece of text that will turn kids on to the content.”
I think Tovani unearths a problem I know many teachers face: putting relevant and thoughtful texts in front of our students that give them something that is challenging and captivating to read. Tovani includes how to get around the textbook problem many teachers face:
1. Create multiple sources of texts at various reading levels, without abandoning textbooks completely.
2.Provide managed choice: select from a range of options based upon interest and background knowledge.
3. Individualize instruction- tailor instruction to student needs, with more small-group work and less whole-class lecture.
reading this section in Tovani’s book reminds me of a question someone used to ask me, “ What do you teach?” I would always respond with, “I teach Language Arts. “ and he would always correct me, “No, you teach students.” This is applicable to what Tovani is asserting. Don’t we need to consider if we keep plugging information into our students, we will find we aren’t teaching kids anymore but just teaching facsimiles of kids? We are losing the interaction between teacher and student by trying to cram them so full of information. Tovani brings up the ability for teachers to create “text sets.” Text sets:
- contain a wide variety of written texts
- contain materials that vary in length, difficulty and text structure
- contains examples of text that are relevant, interesting, and accessible to most students
- gives students several options for obtaining information
- provide opportunities for students to practice reading strategies and learn content information
I can see this being a great addition to my all boys’ class especially for my struggling readers who need visuals or additional shorter pieces to read in order to increase their learning and understanding. As Tovani concludes this chapter she states, “I think that as kids move on to middle and high school, the material they’re asked to read is too hard. If kids are always reading textbooks that are too hard for them, their reading is never going to improve. If we want to ensure that our students’ reading ability grows, we have to give them text that they can practice with, at a level of difficulty that is appropriate.”
Chapter 5 discusses the importance of setting purpose with our students before they read. Too often students assume that the faster they read, they better reader they are. Tovani comments on this misconception, “the purpose readers set for themselves as they read affects comprehension in several ways. First it determines the speed of reading....Purpose also determines what the reader remembers. When readers have a purpose, they tend to remember more of the text. Recognizing that purpose often determines what is important and what a reader remembers has major implications for content instruction.” THis made me think that if I assign 20-30 pages a night, and one of my kids blazes through the reading to just get the pages done, I have really lost multiple days of learning. Why? Because the student won’t have connected to the text since there is no purpose set, also, he will either have to reread and fake his way through reading the rest of the novel in order to keep up.
Tovani makes a contemplative argument that really hit me as a teacher, “many of us become experts on our content. We become familiar with our textbooks and novels and often forget what it was like to be a beginning student of our disciplines. Inadvertently, we water down our content because we try to cover too much content.” She further explains that often we expect our students to be masters of the content the first time they have read a text. However, we weren’t experts the first time we taught the text but rather had to learn and learn year after year what is important. In order to help our students and ourselves, we must cut down the content. We must establish our own instructional purpose for what we are teaching:
- Decide what students should know after reading the piece. Focus on essential information only.
- Anticipate what might cause students difficulty.
- Are students lacking background knowledge?
- Will difficult vocabulary interfere with meaning?
- Will difficult concepts need to be explained further?
- Is the text about challenging subject matter?
- Is the text organized in a confusing manner?
- Model how you would negotiate difficulty. Try thinking out loud at one of the places where you anticipate students will experience difficulty. Give them a tip on how to negotiate the next part
- What do you want them to be able to do with the information once they have finished reading? How will they hold their thinking so they can return to it later to use in a discussion, a paper or a project?
- Model how they should hold their thinking and provide tools. Should they mark text, use sticky notes, complete a double entry diary?
Tovani really stresses the importance of giving kids a clear purpose before reading even so much as for our students to understand specifically what will be asked of them upon completion of their reading at the end of the novel. Helping students to connect the piece to their own lives also creates an additional motivation and understanding as they read. Sometimes purpose isn’t given before reading is assigned. Tovani also addresses this with her students so they know what to do:
- Look for interesting details that could have multiple meanings. Ask yourself, why did the author or cartoonist add that detail?
- Ask questions about the title and subtitle. Try to figure out how the title and subtitle are connected to the piece.
- Ask questions about the piece. As you read, record the questions and keep them in the back of your mind. Look for the answers as you read. If you don’t find the answers, ask the questions the next day in class.
- Look for the author’s opinion. Compare his or her opinion with your own. Does the author agree or disagree with you?
- Read a piece to learn new information. Is there anything in the reading that helps you understand the topic better?
- Make a connection to the piece. Does the piece remind you of an experience, a movie, or information you already know? Does the connections help you relate to a person or situation? Use information you have about the topic to connect more personally to the piece.
- Who is the author? Do you know anything about the author and his or her style of writing? Is he or she sarcastic or serious? Is he or she politically conservative or liberal? What you know about the author might help you anticipate what is coming in the reading.