How Can Educators Shape Students as Readers? Bloggers Weigh In

By Kate Stoltzfus — April 04, 2017 6 min read
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Each year, the first weeks of spring thrust reading into the spotlight. Between March’s Reading Awareness Month and April’s School Library Month, many educators focus on the importance of reading and school libraries’ role in shaping student literacy.

As teachers and librarians set aside more time to help their students engage with books in the coming weeks—and beyond—I invited Education Week’s opinion bloggers to share their most effective strategies for sparking students’ interest in reading.

Some also shared the books that have been most influential to them as educators, since teachers shouldn’t forget to read for themselves, too.

Ariel Sacks, Teaching for the Whole Story

BEST STRATEGIES: I always start the year by telling a folk tale aloud from memory from start to finish. It’s a novel experience that draws everyone into a story world. Then I simply ask, what did you notice? What did you think or wonder? Everyone has something to say, and I record their responses. There are many directions to go toward from there, but I’m sending a message that stories are engaging and that all students have authentic, valuable responses—then we apply the lesson to printed text.

Deborah Meier, Bridging Differences

BEST STRATEGIES: The best strategy is reading wonderful stories and books aloud without any didactic interruptions. And to make it easy for children to pick up beautifully illustrated books for all ages and answer any questions asked. Many countries that surpass the United States in literacy don’t teach or instruct reading until the age of 7, so don’t push anything that’s not fun, intriguing, or a response to a child’s questions. It works and leads not only to “knowing how to” read, but being a voracious lifelong reader. Don’t forget the library!

BEST BOOK: My favorite books on teaching to read are both by psycholinguistic Frank Smith—Reading Without Nonsense (Teachers College Press, 1978) and Understanding Reading (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978), or anything else by him.

John Troutman McCrann, Prove It: Math and Education Policy

BEST STRATEGIES: In math classes, anything where students are reading something and then making sense of it as a group is more effective. One structure I use: Read once, read and underline numbers and circle units, read again and write down one problem-solving strategy or question. Students work in pairs, then share their problem-solving strategies and questions as a whole group.

BEST BOOK: Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project (Beacon Press, 2001). Author Robert P. Moses (who wrote the book with co-author Charles E. Cobb Jr.) was an important organizer in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Later, he applied those organizing skills towards the movement to expand civil rights through access to high-quality algebra curriculum.

He makes a compelling case for why this is an integral social-justice fight in the current economy and provides evidence-based examples of the kinds of curricula that will empower young people to “read their world” through math. The book is part organizing manual, part memoir, and part math text. Great for anyone interested in rethinking mathematics curriculum and fighting for social justice.

Larry Ferlazzo, Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo

BEST BOOK: I was a community organizer for 19 years prior to becoming a high school teacher, and Saul Alinsky’s book Rules For Radicals (Random House, 1971) has had a huge impact on all aspects of my life, including my work as an educator. Alinsky is famous for his community organizing work beginning in the late 1930s. He offers many nuggets of great advice, including emphasizing the importance of developing relationships to learn the dreams, goals, and interests of people as a way to help encourage intrinsic motivation—whether it be for reading or any other learning activity. What effective teacher doesn’t employ that strategy? One other quote of his that I try to keep in mind when interacting with students, colleagues, and policymakers is: “The price of criticism is a constructive alternative.”

Megan Allen, An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy

BEST STRATEGIES: Modeling being a reader myself. Carrying books. Having them on my desk. Mentioning them in conversation. Talking to students about having to be intentional with time for reading—carving out time on my calendar and appointments with myself that help me practice something I love...being a reader.

BEST BOOK: The Witches by Roald Dahl (Jonathan Capell, 1983). I remember my teacher reading it to us after lunch every day in 2nd grade, and I fell in love with the story. It transported my soul into the pages of that book. That stands out clearly as a moment in my life when I remember thinking about how cool school was, how cool teaching was, and that someday I wanted to be a part of it. Thank you to Mrs. Wilson!

Nancy Flanagan, Teacher in a Strange Land

BEST STRATEGIES: As a 30-year music instructor, I teach a completely new, symbol-based language that must be read precisely in sync with other students in the class at a fixed rate. Figuring out how to interpret—to decode and make meaning from—this new set of symbols is just as challenging as learning to read conventionally in one’s native language. The strategies to motivate reading and playing are the same, however: wide availability of “cool songs” in the sweet spot between flat-out easy and frustratingly difficult; non-competitive classroom; diverse, enjoyable literature; having fun; and building community.

BEST BOOK: One book I keep coming back to is Awakening the Sleeping Giant by Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller (Corwin Press, 2009). The academic research and literature on teacher leadership has headed in a different direction since their first edition in 1996, but Moller and Katzenmeyer have stuck by their conviction that teacher leadership is a real and useful thing that can only be learned through experience and practice. It’s one of the few books on teacher leadership that focuses on leadership teachers can create, initiate, and carry out for their students and colleagues, rather than how teachers can be trained and persuaded to pursue the goals of administrators and policymakers.

Starr Sackstein, Work in Progress

BEST STRATEGIES: A reading strategy that has worked with my students is, first and foremost, choice. From there, chunking text and helping them learn to annotate with different purposes. There is always specific modeling of expectations, and students are encouraged to access texts in ways that work for them once different strategies are provided.

BEST BOOK: As far as a book that has been most influential, I’d say Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades (Pearson, 2010). Reading this book set me on my path to rethink assessment and grading, and I have never looked back.

The responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Source: Image by Flickr user Presidio of Monterey, licensed under Creative Commons

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.