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 Technology Integration, Virtual Book Club

Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller

I’ve never liked textbooks. Early in my career, I taught 6th grade for several years in a school where the only textbook I had was for math. I gathered my own materials for science, social studies, and ELA. In those pre-internet days, this was not easy, but I had help from my school librarian and members of the community who would donate books and magazines. We had plenty of print content, I often invited local experts to come to my classroom to talk to my students, and we took lots of field trips. I think I embraced PBL before I knew what it was. I could not imagine teaching from a textbook and letting it define my curriculum.

High pile of hardcover books
flickr photo by albertogp123 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Matt Miller promotes similar ideas in his book Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your ClassroomThe title of the book intrigued me, given my aversion to textbooks, and I expected the book to be about the harmful practice of assigning reading from one-size-fits-all textbooks to a class of diverse learners. I was looking for arguments to use when I discuss literacy issues with teachers who depend heavily on textbooks and who have students who struggle to read them. Instead, I found arguments for teaching with technology which seemed obvious to me but may be helpful to some teachers.

The author makes some good points about ditching the “textbook mentality” which means getting out of the rut of conventional teaching including reading from a textbook, answering the questions at the end of the chapter, completing the related worksheets, etc. His ideas are similar to what I was doing with my 6th graders except now it’s easier with technology. He discusses using digital resources from the internet, creating your own resources and sharing them, connecting with experts and with other classes through Skype, and using social media for teaching and learning. He also describes his paperless classroom and admits to making many mistakes in implementing it. I especially liked Chapter 21, ” You Are Your Own Best PD” where he says, “But if you’re waiting for school-provided PD to answer your every question and guide you on the path of high-quality teaching, you’re waiting on the wrong thing.” I think many teachers will find this book reassuring with the apparent theme being, “I did it and you can do it too.”

So, here’s the question I’m pondering: How do we nudge teachers out of the textbook driven practices that they find so comfortable? I’m thinking mostly about high school teachers, although I know a few middle school teachers who could use some nudging too. Let this be fodder for a healthy discussion in the comments for this post.

This week I’ll start reading Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess. I’m still working my way through 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Gene V. Glass (I tend to read one lie at a time) but I hope to finish it soon.