(This is the first post in a four-part series)
The new “question-of-the-week” is:
What is the biggest mistake teachers make in reading instruction, and what should they do instead?
Reading instruction, especially if you’re in a state with the Common Core Standards, is the responsibility of all teachers these days. However, there are probably more ways to teach reading that you can “shake a stick at.” And, with all the often competing research recommendations, it can be unclear to teachers which ones they should use in the classroom.
This four-part series will specifically examine the biggest mistakes many teachers make when it comes to reading instruction.
Today’s contributors are Diana Laufenberg, Pernille Ripp, Valentina Gonzalez, Jeff Wilhelm, Barbara A. Marinak, and Linda B. Gambrell. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Diana, Pernille, Valentina and Jeff on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
In addition to the recommendations you’ll find in this series, you might want to explore the many past posts that have appeared here on Reading Instruction.
You might also want to explore a few other collections of related resources I’ve put together:
Response From Diana Laufenberg
For 16 years, Diana Laufenberg taught 7-12th grade students social studies in Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Most recently, Diana Laufenberg partnered with Chris Lehmann to start Inquiry Schools, a new non-profit working to create and support student centered learning environments that are inquiry driven, project based and utilize modern technology. She currently serves as the Executive Director and Lead Teacher for Inquiry Schools:
How many teachers are excited to read a page long email from an administrator? How many read it with the same enthusiasm and intensity that they might read their favorite novel? People read so many different things for different reasons and teachers tend to be good at reading all the things for all the reasons (except maybe emails from administrators).Students, on the other hand, may find reading something incredibly flummoxing and overall uninteresting. The chasm between the skill of reading and the want to read is one that needs more and more attention. For anyone reading whole class novels in the age of the internet—what percentage of kids do you think are actually reading those pages?
Let’s say for example you have James—a natural reader but has no desire to read what they are told to read. And seated next to James is Leah—a struggling reader and also has no desire to read what they are told to read. How do you increase the reading level and pages read for each of these students? By giving them agency and choice. James will engage with increasingly challenging texts if they are about manga instead of a topic that the incredibly well-meaning teacher finds appropriate. Leah will attempt to read because she wants to know more about the new makerspace projects. Interest, opportunity, and permission are all required to send the message to kids it’s about reading and not about doing what they are told.
More choice, more options, more interest, more student. Reading is an absolutely critical skill, one so important that we must be willing to accept that not all kids will find the same content interesting or engaging. Turning the reading assignments into something the child chooses will increase the likelihood that they will read and read with purpose. Supporting them along the way with reading strategies, assistance with comprehension, and an encouraging voice to help them continue to challenge themselves are all methods that teachers use—now I just encourage them to use the methods around books and reading of choice.
Response From Pernille Ripp
Since Pernille Ripp was a child growing up in Denmark, she knew she wanted to work with kids. She began her journey in education as a math resource teacher, then transitioned into the classroom as a 4th and 5th grade teacher, and has now found her home as a 7th grade English teacher in Oregon, Wis. She is also the founder of The Global Read Aloud that has connected more than 2 million students in 60 countries. Her newest book is Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child:
Teachers of reading seem to work miracles. I still marvel at the fact that my own daughter has somehow figured out what those words on the page mean and can make sense of a story because of what a teacher has taught her. Her world has changed because a teacher has helped her crack the code of these symbols and given her confidence to figure it out on her own. When we speak of the magic of school—teaching a child to read is one of the biggest real life magic tricks there is. And yet, we are not perfect. Even though we wield our magic daily in our classrooms, we still sometimes mess up. When I think back to my own teaching experience, my biggest mistakes is glaring. It wasn’t at the time, mind you. If you had wandered into my 4th grade classroom during my first few years as a teacher, you would probably have been happy. Happy to see the students cared for.Happy to see books. Happy to see the shared writing on the walls and tables of children all engaged with their work some way or another.
My classroom would have seemed like a good place to be, one that produced learning, better readers, kinder human beings. Had you stuck around though for a while and started to ask some questions, your perception may have changed a little. Perhaps the kids were not as engaged as you first thought. Perhaps their shared writing hanging on our walls was just for show, decorations because that is what good teachers did. Perhaps I wasn’t really producing better readers, even though it seemed like the kids were reading. Perhaps if you had stayed a little bit longer you would have discovered that in all of my planning there was one big thing missing. That in all of my crafting of our reading experience, I was leaving out hope.
You see, the biggest mistake we make as reading teachers is that for some of our kids we do not protect the hope they have for becoming and remaining a reader. We get so caught up in the skills of reading that we leave no time to discuss or nourish what it means to be a reader and why we should be lifelong readers beyond the scripted version in our curriculum. We ask our kids to be readers and then dismiss them easily when they tell us they are not.
Instead, start with their truths; ask them who they are as readers and tell them it is okay to not be a reader yet. When I ask my students, “When did reading become something you didn’t like anymore?” they point to 3rd grade a lot. Not their 3rd grade teachers, they love them, but the 3rd grade year. When asked why this year, they tell me; this is when reading became a chore.
This is when reading lost its magic. This is when we had to read not to discover the wonder of reading but to produce writing, to discuss the text, to use reading for something. And it is not that we should not be teaching these things, but it is that alongside it. We must specifically plan for keeping the hope alive. For protecting the love of reading. For planning for time to read just to read and fall into the pages of a book, not for post-its, not for summaries, not for comprehension questions.
So, as we plan our reading lessons, plan to make them experiences instead. How will we incorporate joyful reading moments? How will our experiences change us as human beings, not just because we now have a new strategy to use, but because we grew in some bigger way? How will we make room for all of the reading identities that are with us? As teachers, it is so easy to go through the motions and keep our eye on the data, of course, we want stronger readers, of course, we want kids that can comprehend, but let us not forget that we also want children who want to read. Who find joy in the written word and know that within the world of books, they have a home. So if a child tells us that reading is not for them, ask them why, and then do something about it, try to create joyful moments, try to bring the magic of reading back, not just the strategies and skills you have to teach. Help them re-ignite their hope that they too can become a reader, protect it at all costs, question the programs you use if you see them doing damage, and find your own courage to create better reading experiences.
Response From Valentina Gonzalez
Valentina Gonzalez is a Professional Development Specialist for Elementary. Her 20 years of teaching experience include teaching 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades as well as serving K-5 as an ESL specialty teacher and district program facilitator. You can visit her blog at elementaryenglishlanguagelearners.weebly.com and connect with her on Twitter @ValentinaESL:
One of the biggest mistakes we make as teachers is not giving kids enough time to actually read. Children seem to be doing so many activities about reading and worksheets to practice reading skills but very little authentic reading.
Effective reading instruction is balanced in its approach allowing for ample teacher modeling, independent reading, and small group instruction. Instead of worksheets and activities about reading skills, students need to see what good readers do, they need to practice on their own, and they need to be coached along the way. Here’s how.
The opportunity to see and hear what good reading should look and sound like helps students to understand what they need to do as readers themselves. The best venue for this is through read aloud. When teachers read aloud to students, they are able to share with the class what goes through the mind of a proficient reader, what reading strategies the reader experiences, and how the reader uses fix up strategies to comprehend the text. Read aloud is often shared in a whole group setting but can take place in small group as well.
After students have seen and heard what a proficient reader goes through in read aloud, students need to have daily experiences with their own texts. Independent reading time is the time when students apply the strategies they have learned to their own personal reading in self-selected texts that fit their reading level. This time is crucial for students. Sometimes as teachers we feel the heavy burden of curriculum and grading and therefore lean heavily on worksheets to assess reading ability. We have to shift our focus from teaching to learning. In order for students to learn how to read and use reading to learn, they must have plenty of opportunities to practice reading from a variety of texts.
Small groups are yet another way to meet students’ reading needs in a smaller ratio with coaching. During independent reading, the teacher meets with small groups to address specific student needs. Small groups come in a variety of types. One type of small group is the guided reading group. In this group, the students are all reading at very similar reading levels and the goal is to advance the students to the next reading level. Another type of group is the strategy group. The strategy group is a group of students at different reading levels with a similar skill needing to be addressed. The goal of this group is to help students master a skill. Another small group is one-on-one conferring. This is the smallest group since it is simply the teacher and the student. There can be many goals to a one-on-one conference. A teacher can observe and take notes for future strategy groups or observe and teach on the spot. The overall point and advantage of small groups is that the teacher will be able to coach students as they navigate through texts in an effort to grow as readers.
I like to think of reading instruction similar to baseball instruction. Both are balanced in their approaches. Before a baseball team plays a game, the team does a great deal of practice. The coach shows them how to swing the bat and throw the ball. But then the kids do most of the work. They apply the knowledge and try out the skills the coach taught them. The coach walks around and watches players to see who needs some extra guidance. The coach pulls a group to work on fielding. That’s us as teachers. We are there to coach the kids as they read. They should do most of the work.
Reading is not completing fill in the blank worksheets. It’s not answering multiple choice questions. Reading instruction is about teaching students to grow as readers, to comprehend, question, grapple with ideas, and make connections, inferences, and predictions in authentic texts.
Response From Jeffrey Wilhelm
Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm is currently Distinguished Professor of English Education at Boise State University and regularly teaches middle and high school students. He is the founding director of the Maine Writing Project and the Boise State Writing Project, and author of 32 texts about literacy teaching and learning. He is the recipient of the two top research awards in English Education: the NCTE Promising Research Award for “You Gotta BE the Book” (TC Press) and the Russell Award for Distinguished Research for “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys":
When I am asked what we can do better when it comes to improving reading achievement, one of the first things that comes to my mind is this: we need to do much much more to highlight, promote, and leverage the immense pleasures of reading. In addition, we need to set aside time for pleasure reading, in order to model and reward it. Giving time to something shows that you value it, and insures that students get the chance to experience it. Research shows that quantity of reading in youth has huge positive effects on reading and much else. This focus on pleasure and on time needs to be part of a larger project that pays mindful daily attention to cultivating motivation in classrooms and schools.
Motivation and Pleasure
In our studies of boys’ literacy, reported on in the books “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys” and “Going with the Flow,” my co-researcher Michael Smith and I found that students would only match a teacher’s passion and engagement. So, if teachers are not modeling engaged pleasure reading, they are not promoting it for their students. We also found that students assigned importance to an activity based on the time provided for that activity. So, if schools and teachers do not provide time and support for pleasure reading, then they fail to promote it.
In one interview, we asked our informant Buda why he refused to do his reading homework. He replied: “I’m not doing this crap! Even the teacher wouldn’t read this crap, so why should I?” Buda has given me a mantra. Would I be enthused by doing or reading the ‘crap’ I assign? If not, I need to promote the kind of readings and assignments that give pleasure, that do work, and that can engage me as well as my students. Plato observed in “The Republic” that a slave is anyone who does someone else’s work. Motivation and pleasure come when we are helped to do our own personally and socially significant work.
We also found that the conditions of “flow experience” formulated by Czikszentmihalyi explained every case of motivation, with literacy and with all other activities, in our multi-year study. Every case where motivation was missing was likewise explained by the lack of these conditions.
The Conditions of Flow Experience
Czikszentmihalyi defines “flow” as a state of total engagement and pleasure that is so strong that it results in total immersion, in which we are unlikely to get distracted. This is a fairly conventional understanding of an engaged reader: as someone who gets lost in a book as the time flies by. The conditions of flow are as follows:
- Clear goals and feedback that provides visible signs of progress and accomplishment
- A sense of developing competence and control
- A challenge that requires an appropriate level of skill--and assistance at the point of need to meet the challenge
- A focus on the immediate experience
- The importance of the social
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
What’s at stake when it comes to motivation in general and pleasure reading in specific? Short answer: basically EVERYTHING. So we need to make sure that we are cultivating the conditions of flow in our teaching. This is particularly important when it comes to reading. In our recent book “Reading Unbound: Why kids need to read what they want and why we should let them,” co-researcher Michael Smith and I argue that pleasure reading is a civil right. That’s because pleasure reading is correlated with not just improved literacy, but with learning itself, cognitive progress over time, and social mobility over time. Pleasure reading, in fact, is more explanatory of these effects than a parent’s socio-economic status or education level. That in itself is mind-blowing. (For more information, see the British Cohort study: Sullivan & Brown, 2013; John Guthrie et al’s 2001, and Kirsch, et al’s 2002 analyses of PISA data, among others)
Pleasure reading can be defined is reading that is freely chosen or that readers freely and enthusiastically continue to read. We think that our own research data into the nature of pleasure reading explain why pleasure reading leads to this kind of profound cognitive growth and capacity to improve one’s lot in life.
The major takeaway for teachers of our pleasure reading research is to focus on pleasure in our teaching. Pleasure has many forms: play pleasure/immersive pleasure is when you get lost in a book. This is a prerequisite pleasure and we can foster it in various ways like teaching through an inquiry approach, using drama and visualization strategies that help students directly experience a text, etc.; work pleasure is when you get a functional tool for doing something in your life; inner work pleasure is when you imaginatively rehearse for your life and consider what kind of person you want to be; intellectual pleasure occurs when you figure out what things mean, how things work, and how texts were constructed to convey meanings and effects; social pleasure is when you relate to authors, characters, other readers, and yourself—by staking your own identity.
Our students (like all other human beings!) do what they find pleasurable. You get good at what you do and then outgrow yourself by developing new related interests and capacities. So, we need to actively promote all of these pleasures in our teaching of reading and of all learning. We found that schools rarely promoted any pleasure beyond sometimes highlighting intellectual pleasure. But our informants also pointed out how schools also undermined intellectual pleasure by “playing the game of guess what the teacher already knows!” as one informant put it.
Interestingly, we found that these very pleasures map on to the conditions of flow experience, so that when students are reading for pleasure, the conditions of flow are being met:
• Immersive Play Pleasure: immersion in the immediate
• Intellectual Pleasure: competence and control, and assistance to become more competent
• Work Pleasure: purpose, continual feed- back, immediate functionality
• Inner Work Pleasure: Assistance to meet your goals, become transformed as a person
• Social Pleasure: social identity work--relating to authors, characters, self, other readers
Make no mistake, the next-generation standards worldwide, such as the Common Core in the United States, require profound cognitive achievements. Meeting such standards will require student effort and the honing of strategies over time. The data from our studies demonstrate that the necessary effort to develop such strategic facility will not be forthcoming without the promotion of motivating contexts for learning and the foregrounding of pleasure.
Given the explanatory power of flow for creating motivating contexts, I have argued long and hard for using teaching models such as inquiry/cognitive apprenticeship that necessarily meet all the conditions of flow. Given the benefits of each pleasure of reading (and learning), I am convinced that pleasure reading is not only a civil right, but that it is a personal necessity for individual development and a social necessity of democracy. That is why I urge you to use inquiry approaches at the unit and lesson level, and to promote pleasure reading in your classroom and school, and it is why “Going with the Flow” is filled with practical ideas for how to use inquiry at the unit and lesson level, and why “Reading Unbound” is filled with ideas for promoting each of the five pleasures. This promotion of motivation and of pleasure is monumental work—and it is work we must undertake with the greatest urgency—particularly at this moment in history.
The true education of our children and youth will lead not to dependence and compliance, but to independence, transformation and liberation. How can our students be liberated if they are not supported to inquire on their own, and to organize and pursue their own reading lives, their own interests, and their own paths to outgrowing themselves and then to serving the human community and the natural world?
Response From Barbara A. Marinak & Linda B. Gambrell
Barbara A. Marinak, Ph.D. is Professor and Executive Director of the Division of Education at Mount St. Mary’s University. Linda B. Gambrell is Distinguished Professor of Education at Clemson University. They are the co-authors of No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers:
With no ill intention, teachers sometimes engage in practices that undermine literacy engagement and intrinsic reading motivation. The bad news is that if some of these practices persist, students may not fully engage with text, give up when tasks become challenging, and avoid reading for pleasure. The good news is that many of these practices can be easily addressed. One persistent practice that concerns us is the use of extrinsic rewards for reading.
Concern: Use Extrinsic Token Rewards for Reading
Decades of research clearly indicate that extrinsic token rewards can undermine intrinsic reading motivation. One of the reasons for this is that every extrinsic reward carries with it the potential to either control or inform. If the reward informs it can result in greater feelings of competence and foster intrinsic motivation (for example, the teacher provides feedback that informs such as, “You read that passage with great expression!”). If, however, the reward is seen as controlling, the result can be an erosion of intrinsic motivation (for example, “You will get a sticker for every book you read.”). Though well intentioned, extrinsic rewards can actually serve to undermine the desired effect of nurturing intrinsic reading motivation (Marinak & Gambrell, 2016).
Alternative: Consider Rewarding Experiences versus Token Rewards
Consider a few alternatives to extrinsic rewards. If you feel a “reward” for reading is necessary, offer a reward that is proximal to the desired behavior. For example, give books as a reward for reading. Better yet, rather than offering rewards, consider planning rewarding interactions about reading. This might include holding book discussion groups about independent reading. We want students to read independently but rarely afford them the opportunity to share their likes (of dislikes). Consider inviting students to tweet or blog about their independent reading. This can be done by arranging a Twitter board in your classroom (with post it notes) or establishing a blog where students can talk about independent reading in a digital space. Last, offer personal invitations. Inviting students into text is especially powerful for those readers who run for the hills when it’s time for independent reading. Select a book, magazine, or article about a topic that is of high interest to your reluctant reader. Offer the text as a personal invitation from you. Consider even gift-wrapping the text complete with a personal note. For example, “Sam, I know you really love dogs, so I thought you might really enjoy this book about how search and rescue dogs are trained. Can’t wait to hear what you think.”
These are just a few rewarding experiences that can nurture intrinsic reading motivation. They increase access to text, are relevant, and offer students choice. And best of all, they promote enduring engagement with a wide variety of print!
Marinak, B. & Gambrell, L. (2016). No more reading for junk. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publisher.
Thanks to Diana, Pernille, Valentina, Jeff, Barbara and Linda for their contributions!
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