As I finished reading Cleveland’s book Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School, I realized I need to rethink how I teach reading in my classes especially in my all boys class. I asked a colleague to lend me some of her reading comprehension books by Cris Tovani. So, for the last couple of weeks, I have been reading about how to teach my students to become better readers and re-engage the boys in my classroom with reading. I
I began with Tovani’s book I Read It, but I Don’t Get it. Tovani begins her exploration into reading comprehension by describing what I encounter at my own home with my daughter- fake reading. My daughter has great fluency, can read with dramatic effect, but when you ask her what happened? what did you understand, etc... she has little clue as to what she read. So, how can I help her, my boys, my students become better readers?
Tovani ask her students to jot down on the first day of class, “What do you expect from this class?” I think I also want to add to this question, “what has your past experience with Language Arts been like? What have you enjoyed? What areas are challenging to you? What do you do when you read? Where do you read? What do you do when you don’t understand what you read? What kind of books, novels, magazines, do you like to read?”
Tovani instructs her class by telling them they are going to be learning thinking strategies to help them be better learners and readers, “ A strategy is an intentional plan that readers use to help themselves make sense of their reading. Strategies are flexible and can be adapted to meet the demands of the reading tasks. Good readers use lots of strategies to help themselves make sense of text. We’re going to become better readers by imitating what good readers do when they read.”
Then Tovani has the students jot down on a sticky note, “ What do you think good readers do when they read?” and then “What do you do when you read?” She shares out with the entire class all the responses. Tovani struggled with reading until she joined an adult book group and realized that adult readers “read aloud portions and share connections they made between their lives and the book. They asked questions and made inferences”
So how do we do this with our own students who often appear in ninth grade as reluctant readers void of passion with reading and sick to death of analyzing for the teacher’s meaning? Tovani echoes my same feelings,”By ninth grade many students have been defeated by test scores, letter grades, and special groupings. Struggling readers are embarrassed by their labels and often perceive reading as a drudgery. They avoid it at all costs. Reading has lost its purpose and pleasure. As a teacher, my toughest challenge is getting reluctant readers to read. Sadly many don’t see the value of reading. It isn’t worthy of their time”. Tovani has the students recount one memory of reading that was a positive experience and bring that book to class to share. With every assignment Tovani asks of her students, she models as well. She chooses a book from her youth, from adolescence and her adult life. What a powerful example to not only have kids reconnect with a positive experience but to share her experience as well.
Tovani’s second chapter examines the realities of reading. She begins explaining what a difficult process reading is, “In general the public’s perception of reading is simplistic. Many believe that reading is merely sounding out words. They don’t stop to consider what sophisticated thought processes are involved and that reading becomes more demanding as students get older. Adolescents today are expected to plow through difficult material in a short time with little or no reading instruction.” When I read these words, I thought about my own easy experience with reading. I plow through books. I love to read, but I know my own daughter really struggles and so do many of my own boys in class. How can I help them see and achieve?
Tovani breaks struggling readers into two groups: resistive readers and word callers. Resistive readers can read but don’t. And Word callers decode words but don’t understand meaning or recall what they have read. Many of our struggling readers just want to blast through an assignment not worrying about understanding but rather focused on completing the worksheet that accompanies the reading or aren’t concerned about long term comprehension. Tovani shows how we as teachers need to redefine reading for our students. We need to show the real-world applicability behind what they are learning. They aren’t just learning how to read, but rather how to think. Researchers today define reading as a complex, recursive thinking process. Tovani includes that “reading is about thinking and constructing meaning. So what strategies do successful readers use?
- They use existing knowledge to make sense of new information
- They ask questions about the text before, during and after reading
- They draw inferences from the text
- They monitor their comprehension
- They use “fix-up” strategies when meaning breaks down
- They determine what is important
- They synthesize information to create new thinking
- They create sensory images
“When readers construct meaning, they do so by way of deliberate, thoughtful cognition. They must do more than decode words. Decoding is important, but it is only one part of the process by which readers comprehend. They must also understand concepts and register subtleties. They need to determine what is important as well as connect their knowledge and experience to what they read.”
How do teachers and parents help our students become successful readers?
1. Become passionate reader of what you teacher- search for interesting texts and put them in the hands of your students and kids.
2. Model how good readers read- show they how you would read the assigned material.