Challenge Your Thinking

May 16, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 8 Comments
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Yesterday we used an 11 question anticipation guide to spark discussion on the key topics and concepts we will be exploring during this weekend course. It was interesting to hear the conversations, especially focused on the following statements, because of the opposing viewpoints presented.
• It is the job of all teachers to create lifelong readers. (Agree or Disagree)
• Teaching reading strategies in the content areas will take away valuable teaching time. (Agree or Disagree)
• All teachers are responsible for learning and using Web 2.0 tools for their own personal learning and for classroom experiences. (Agree or Disagree))
• On-line reading requires the same strategies as traditional text resources. (Agree or Disagree)

All of the statements were meant to help us formulate what it means to be literate in our content areas and how we, as teachers, can support and enhance content knowledge and skills through a focused and purposeful approach to teaching reading and writing strategies. The discussions yesterday about these statements reflected personal experiences, both in and out of the classroom.

Let’s expand our personal thinking beyond the traditional approach to content area literacy. Read Angela Maiers’ post, The Changing Rules of the Literacy Club, and her reflection on literacy evolution. Angela writes,

“In an era of new literacies, we are in a simultaneous state of learning to read and reading to learn.”

What is the impact of this statement on content area teachers?

What do these new literacies look like? Read Will Richardson’s post, New Reading, New Writing. Will states,

“But there are skills here that if developed with some intention (read: taught and modeled) can improve literacy in interacting with texts and people in these digital spaces.”

How does this post challenge your thinking about the statements on our anticipation guide? How do you feel about teaching and learning in a digital world?



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  1. The sentence below stood out in the Angela Maiers piece.

    “It worries me that if we base Instruction on a conceptualization of reading as a single line of development from simple to more complex tasks, it will perpetuate the myth that “learning to read” is over and done with by third grade, or that only the “bluebird” group is eligible for “premier membership and benefits.”

    This quotation dovetails the statement cited above about learning to read and reading to learn. Learning to read is definitely not over by the third grade. As a teacher of Chemistry and AP Chemistry, students have to learn to read chemistry texts. I don’t know too many third graders. I would bet, though, that there are not too many who would be able to read and to absorb “Chemistry” by Raymond Chang, the textbook that I use in AP Chemistry. High school students have enough difficulty, since for many it is their first exposure to a college-level textbook.

    “Chemistry” holds a wealth of information. Unless students are able to unlock it, though, the text may as well be a doorstop. As content-area teachers, we have to teach our students how to unlock the material presented in order to aid their successful comprehension of the subject matter.

  2. One thing that jumped out at me in “New Reading, New Writing” was Richardson’s comment about the ability to share what would normally be written in the margins of books with others. I don’t know about everyone else, but all the books I had to read in high school were school property and, like in the video clip we saw, you got in trouble if you wrote anything in it! Once I got to college, I learned the benefit of being able to write in the margins while reading, as well as highlighting important passages. By forcing myself to do that, it made me pay more attention to what I was reading and critically think about it. I remember the listening portion of my English Regents Exam was about the importance of purchasing a personal copy of books for students so that they would be able to write in the books, and therefore take ownership of the information. In terms of print versus on-line reading, it seems to me like there is more of an ability to “mark up the text” in the on-line readings. Whether students choose to print out a copy of the material to read, or save it as a Word document and use the highlighting and comment features, these are not resources that will be “ruined” or “used up” by student notes. It allows students to comment right on the text where it can jog their memory about what they thought the first time they read it. This also allows students to go back and see how their thinking on a topic has changed over time. I think this alone is a huge benefit for students, and then being able to share their ideas and learn from the insights of others expands that exerience even more.

  3. What really hit home for me was what Maiers said in “The Changing Rules of the Literacy Club” about being accepted into the “Literacy Club.” While I was in school, reading was a chore and stressful, especially reading in class. If a teacher assigned time in class to read I thought if I saw classmates turning their pages faster than me they were better readers because they could read faster and comprehend what they read. I was so envious so I decided to speed my reading; in the end not grasping anything I read the entire time. As an adult I have learned to enjoy reading, it is no longer a chore or a game of speed, I take my time and now I can comprehend what I am reading. It is so important for students to see the importance of “reading to learn” rather than reading to get through something fast.

    I loved what Maiers said regarding different types of writen work. “I am flexible as I move between these spaces; conscious of how to adjust and adapt the strategies I need to interact with and understand text in different forms and multiple mediums. Reading is not desk work – it is lifework.” This is so important because once you learn to enjoy written work you learn what strategies work and how to adjust them to enjoy, and comprehend, off-line and on-line work. The thickness of a book and the speed you read no longer maters, it is what you get out of the reading and how you use it.

  4. Angela’s quote really sums up a lot of the “literacy 2.0” revolution. All readers must now constantly learn new reading skills due to the dynamic nature of information available online. One of the main impacts that this has for content area teachers is that students will now need to be taught the skills necessary for joining this new literacy club.

    Earlier in this blog post Angela says “it is through and with others that I acquired knowledge, gain perspective, deepen awareness, and begin to understand myself and my place in the world.” Students need to work together and how to connect through literacy. In most schools reading and writing are commonly taught as individual, introspective subjects. As a teacher, this will be one of my main challenges in helping students to become literate.

    Will Richardson’s post reminds me that technology is constantly advancing, and that for students to become truly literate in the age of web 2.0 they must have teachers who are active participants in this culture. Tools like diigo are innovative reading tools that teachers should explore and utilize in their own studies. In this way teachers gain literate lifestyles that they can pass on to their students.

  5. Both the of the articles brought up memories for me. I was a voracious reader in school, even to the point where I might have something on my lap, under my desk in class. My parents didn’t restrict what I read too much, either. If it was in the house, and I wanted to read it, I could. So I read Clan of the Cave Bear in fifth grade. Many of my friends had seen the movie, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. I never really thought about how it might make other students feel seeing me reading a book thicker than our textbooks, or when I finished it, and was on to another in a couple of weeks. In seventh grade, I read Mists of Avalon for a book report. I had to admit to the teacher that I had read only 500+ of the 700+ pages, and our assignment was to read 600 pages in however many books we needed to read. It took me a long time to understand why I still got an A, since I had had to slow down to be able to understand much of it. I was teased every day I brought that book to school, about how big it was, and what was I trying to prove since everyone already knew I was a geek, etc. I had already started reading the book before he assigned a book report about King Arthur, so it seemed an obvious choice.
    I don’t know what gave me my reading ability, versus other students that have more difficulty. I don’t know where I learned many of the “rules of literacy.” Much of it was so long ago, that I couldn’t even say when it happened. I know that it may be hard for me to teach literacy because I don’t know, and hadn’t thought about how I made reading meaningful. It makes it hard to teach in that respect. Angela suggests that the rules of literacy are changing, but have they ever changed? When we use hindsight, many of the tools she says we need now, are most likely tools that “exceptional” readers have always had, but like learning disabilities, maybe we never noticed, or had a name for them.
    I love the use of the on-line annotation and conversations that Will Richardson discusses. Had that been around when I was a young reader, I would have spent hours discussing books and reading other’s annotations. It seems like it could be such a valuable tool in the classroom as well, to have students read books on-line with these available, and allow them to bring them into the class for discussion afterwards. How many of you would have put more into the reading that you didn’t want to do, if you saw on-line how many people had strong opinions about a book that you just saw as an assignment, but never realized had been a popular indpendently read book that became an assignment because of the meaning that others drew from it?

  6. I have to say that I agree with what everyone has posted so far. Like Andrea, I too remember reading fast so that I could turn the page before the other person had turned theirs. I also dreaded having to read out loud for fear that I would make a mistake or take too long to read a passage. As time went by and I started to read books that I enjoyed I found that speed is nothing without the understanding. I got so much more out of reading at a normal pace for myself then rushing it. I would like to make sure this happens for my students.
    Pam pointed out another thing that stood out to me about writing in the book. I also remember not being able to write in a book. In college it took me a long time before I dared to “desecrate” a textbook. Then I started to see how others had left really great ideas or notes in the margins about what was being said in the text. It was really great to be able to do that for myself and not worry about being scolded and knowing that it may help the next person with the book. I would like to be able to use diigo. This would allow me to be able to be as interactive with online text as with a book that was in front of me.
    What also stood out to me was when Will Richardson points out that reading used to be a group activity. One in which everyone partakes in sharing their thoughts, feelings, and understanding of the text. Most of the books I remember have been the ones that my teachers have taken the time to allow us to discuss what we are reading. We were able to make connections, ask questions, and compare it to other things that we have read in the past or movies that we had seen. It made the text far more valuable than just reading independently and answering a few questions teachers gave to see if we read it and check for understanding.

  7. I am learning so much from your conversations here! You are emulating what Will and I are saying: “For students to become truly literate in the age of web 2.0 they must have teachers who are active participants in this culture.” Our students need more teachers like you! Good work!

  8. Even though I have become an avid reader over the years, I am relieved to see that my colleagues share(d) many of the same hurdles that I did growing up reading. I can completely relate to the idea of reading fast as an indicator of “good reading”. Simply reading assignments in class or at home tended to be easy for me, only because I didn’t try to take anything from it. Checking off that assignment from my to-do list was way more important than retaining anything from it. It is sad, but true for myself, and likely most others.
    For the reasons above, Maiers’ statement is very powerful and extremely important for content area teachers. It is so simple for students to read words, but so much harder for them to make meaning of them; Especially when the material is totally foreign. Tenth grade biology students learning about the structure of DNA have never even heard of this stuff before. How can we expect them to read textbook material about this stuff if they don’t even understand the language of biology yet? These are important points that many science teachers (and similarly with other content teachers) may not even consider, let alone act upon.
    So, how do we make reading more intriguing? Richardson’s blog about using the digital world as a literacy tool is great! One sentence (from Stephen Johnson’s article) really struck me as I read:
    “Nobody will read alone anymore.” Here, he references the fact that no matter what you are reading, someone else in the world is too, and you can talk about it on the web. I think this a fabulous tool to use in the classroom. We can first start by picking out some more interesting reading for our students, then allow them to socially read and write through use of the web. We would keep our students motivated and engaged with fun activities and they would learn so much. I hadn’t considered any of these ideas before, because I simply didn’t know about them! Now that I’ve become a little more familiar with the importance of literacy, I am definitely an advocate for web 2.0 tools!

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