Monday, April 25, 2016

Ditch the Textbook?

Taken together, my posts point in at least one obvious direction:  it is abundantly clear in the literature of cognitive science that learners need to read - a lot!  Reading gives learners fluency which shows up in their speech and writing as well as oral reading.  When I direct students in musicals, it is the enthusiastic readers who typically earn the major parts.  They understand characters.  As I’ve reported before, readers, particularly those who’ve been encouraged or directed to read a variety of genres, build far greater background knowledge which they can then bring to a multitude of tasks both in and out of school.  I’ve even read that there is research that suggests a positive relationship between reading and improved math skills.

All that said, I find it altogether too common that classrooms don’t have time for reading.  There’s time for teaching reading, but little for reading.  Reading, I’ve been told, is what students are supposed to do when they go home;  there isn’t time in school for reading.  It is my fundamental conviction that once the code has been taught, most likely by the end of second grade at the latest, the foundation of reading in school should be reading, not instruction.  This is where the title of this post comes in.  If teachers are masters of their craft, then they know what’s taught in the reading curriculum and they can teach it, when it’s most appropriate, when students are engaged with their reading.

There is a popular blogger whose blog is titled “Ditch the Textbook.”  I borrowed my title from him, not because I wholly endorse eliminating textbooks, but because I think that textbook work can be trimmed - a lot - in favor of students practicing the fundamental skills that they need.  I’ve mentioned before the Accelerated Reader routine of “status of the class” where the teacher visits each child during the reading period and interacts with each student about their reading.  The interaction is, in a manner of speaking, a coaching session.  Progress and effort are noted.  The student’s current book is discussed and “teaching” takes place during the conversation.  New books are suggested or required.  It’s instruction, assessment on the fly, and warm personal contact on a daily basis.  Never did I have a class that did not, on a whole class basis, average a growth of less than two reading levels in a school year.  Students wanted to read and the classroom supported all student reading levels with hundreds of books in the classroom library.  They read books that they wanted to read, quite often within parameters set by me.  And, most became independent, enthusiastic readers who needed very little direction to maintain their reading both at school and at home.

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