Posted in Literacy, Virtual Book Club

Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers by Penny Kittle

Book with pages forming a heart
flickr photo by Pradyumna Prabhu shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

We’ve all seen it. We give students a reading assignment and they pretend to read it. They get by in class because we feed them what we want them to know, and they give it back on the test (often with a little help from SparkNotes). If you ask, many middle and high school students will admit that they haven’t read a book from cover to cover since elementary school (and some not even then).

This is the issue Penny Kittle openly and honestly addresses in Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent ReadersMost students are not reading much and therefore are not building the stamina they need to keep up with the reading that college courses require, around 200-600 pages a week according to Kittle. This may in part account for the low percentage of college students who actually graduate, but success in college is only one of the consequences of increasing reading volume. People who read often and a lot are lifelong learners who make wiser decisions and are more likely to pass the reading habit and love of books on to their children.

A large portion of this book is devoted to the idea that students will read more when they are given choice and allowed to find and read the books that interest them. They also need time to read in class and guidance (mostly through conferencing) in setting goals, choosing books, overcoming challenges, and responding to what they’re reading through writing. Kittle provides advice gleaned from years of experience as an English teacher whose classes are workshops where students read independently, reflect on their growth as readers, and share their love of books with each other. While she understands the curricular and assessment requirements imposed on ELA teachers, she advocates for a balance of individual choice and required  whole-class text study, but suggests a greater percentage of time for the former.

In the last chapter of the book, Kittle addresses the challenge of creating a school-wide reading culture, a community of readers. In my mind, this is the greater challenge, but one that must be met if our goal is to inspire lifelong readers. We’ve all seen attempts at school-wide sustained silent reading time, and most of them fail, generally through a lack of commitment and shared intent. Kittle describes her success in creating a school-wide reading break, as well as other ideas for creating a reading community.

A few years ago, Kittle created a video where she asked students about their reading habits and whether they read assigned books. I’ve asked this question in my school with similar results.

Our students’ lack of reading stamina is something most of us will acknowledge, but how do we turn it around? Is allowing more choice the answer? Is this something we can do while focusing on standards-based instruction and proficiency-based assessment? How important is it that all students read the classics? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

By the way, Penny Kittle will be one of the keynote speakers at the MAMLE Conference at Point Lookout, October 20 and 21.

Posted in Literacy, Virtual Book Club

Reading Nonfiction Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

Nonfiction stacks in a library
flickr photo by Timberland Regional Library shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I first read this book last October after I purchased it at the MAMLE Conference. I had been thinking about how students attack demanding reading tasks, especially after a teacher told me about the difficulty some kids in her homeroom were having with an assignment. They were given a long nonfiction text to read on their own, outside of class, with no preparation or support. The amount and density of the text paralyzed them; they had no idea what to do. Their homeroom teacher wanted to help them and was looking for strategies. This book proved to be exactly what teachers need to help students become more skillful, active readers of nonfiction.

I knew I would like this book as soon as I read the introduction where the authors made clear that this would not be a didactic screed that purports to have the one true answer for producing excellent little readers. Instead, they suggest you read it, question it, and pull from it whatever works for you and your students. It’s a book for practitioners, and while research is referenced and cited, the focus is on practice, and the authors recount their experiences as they modeled these practices in real classrooms with real students.

As the subtitle suggests, Beers and Probst offer three big questions to develop students’ questioning stance, five signposts to help them understand the author’s craft and intent, and seven strategies to help them think about the text and fix any problems they are having. They describe their experiences modeling and teaching students how to use these questions, signposts and strategies for close reading and discussion of nonfiction texts.

Although all of these seem valuable, I can see spending a whole year just teaching and practicing them with students. Having said that, I do think all teachers can at least get students started with the three big questions they should ask themselves as they read. The questions are:

  • What surprised me?
  • What did the author think I already knew?
  • What challenged, changed, or confirmed what I already knew?

These are described in Part II of the book, and as I read this section, I realized how familiar it all sounded. I usually read nonfiction books with a pencil in my hand so I can mark them up (or use sticky notes if it’s a borrowed book). I do this because it helps me focus and make connections, and apparently I’m asking myself questions that are similar to Beers and Probst’s big three. Most of my notes are answers to one of those questions. I think teaching students to do the same would be an effective first step in helping them read and think more deeply. The authors suggest making classroom posters with these questions so students can easily refer to them, and I did just that for the teacher who wanted to help her homeroom students. I think the signposts and strategies that are described in Parts III and IV  would be most effective if they were part of a comprehensive literacy initiative adopted by a whole school or district, but the three big questions are simple enough for any teacher to begin using right away.

The intended audience for this book is not just reading teachers or literacy coaches. It is a valuable resource for any teacher at any grade level or in any content area. This would be an excellent choice for a PLG book study or as a faculty-wide common reading. You can preview the book and view a video of the authors on the publisher’s website. If you’ve read this book and tried using any of the questions, signposts, or strategies, please share your experiences in the comments and let us know how your students reacted and whether it helped them with close reading of nonfiction text.

 

Posted in Purpose, Virtual Book Club

It’s Summer! Start Reading!

Woman reading book
flickr photo by Spirit-Fire shared under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

I’m starting a little later than I intended (other projects got in the way), but I’m resurrecting my little summer book club. I’ll be reading and reviewing some professional books this summer and I invite you to join me. The procedure is the same as last summer and I’d love to have some company in reading and thinking about topics in education. If you’d like to be a co-author of this blog and write some reviews, let me know and I’ll send you an invitation. In compiling my list, I noticed that many of the books I’m reading are literacy related (I guess that’s what’s on my mind now) so I’d welcome some topic diversity.

I’ll begin by reviewing a book that I’ve already read. I’m rereading  Reading Nonfiction Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. I read it last fall, soon after it came out, and I recommended it to several of my colleagues then. Look for my review of it in a day or two. I’ll also be reading (and listening to) some fiction. I probably won’t review any of it unless something momentous like last summer’s Go Set a Watchman comes my way, but I’d be happy to host other readers’ reviews.

I hope you’ll consider joining the conversation, whether it’s in the comments or by reviewing books you are reading this summer. All opinions are welcome, and remember, actually reading the book isn’t a requirement for commenting. This isn’t that kind of book club.