Sunday, January 17, 2016

Let Them Read, Help Them Read

“You need knowledge to read, and reading gives you knowledge.”  (Daniel T. Willingham, Raising Kids Who Read, p.20)

Being so excited about Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School, I’ve begun Raising Kids Who Read concurrently.  I am not, in the least, disappointed.  We always like that which confirms our biases, right?  I was an early adopter of Accelerated Reader, later a trainer for the program, and “into” it with both feet.  To this day, I have complete faith in its ability to build both competent and enthusiastic readers if a teacher uses the program as it was designed.

As I visit classrooms now, it frequently saddens me to see, in light of it’s potential power, how poorly managed the program can sometimes be.  The core of the program is daily in-class reading of “A.R. books.”  A.R. is designed to be a teacher-managed program and managed daily.  Willingham tells us that for readers to read with high comprehension, 98% of the words that they read should be familiar.  That insures that students will, typically, have sufficient background knowledge of the subject to understand what they’re reading.  Interestingly, it only takes that 2% of new vocabulary combined with the reader’s background knowledge to acquire new vocabulary, ideas, and understanding, that is, greater background knowledge.

Since looking at a book cover won’t tell a child if they have sufficient background to read a book, readability scales and book leveling is invaluable.  Staying current with children’s diagnosed reading levels and their recent success or difficulty with books near that level, a teacher can direct a child’s growth as a learner.  Research tells us that students who have read widely (a reason to avoid excessive repetition with profitable, but less-than-helpful, series books) tend to succeed at a higher rate at all educational levels.

Rather than excessive classroom reading instruction, students need help finding books in many genres which they can read successfully, allowing them to grow as readers and thinkers.  I like to call this “coaching.”  It was my experience that even my reluctant readers, with months of success, became far more enthusiastic and trusted me to help them find books that they’d enjoy.

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