Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Good at Reading, or Reading is Good?

Today, I had a half day of professional development that focused on close reading and writing from sources. All tied to Common Core, of course. While I could see how someone who is new to the gig of teaching could get some good information from this, what I fear the most is the message being sent about teaching reading. Everything when it comes to close reading needs to be text-based. One of the videos we watched today is this one on writing text-dependent questions. On the surface, I see the value in close reading and having students respond to text-dependent questions, but the more I thought about it, the more upsetting it became. Here's why.

Here is how this strategy is supposed to work.

Kids are given a text to read. Let's say they are reading a short story, or even a magazine article. Close reading means the text needs to be read three times. Each reading is done for a different purpose and should allow the student to delve more deeply into the text. Then having students respond to text-dependent questions will be their way of demonstrating their depth of knowledge of what they learned. We are told this will help our students become good readers, they will be able to master challenging texts. Lord knows teacher bemoan the fact that kids aren't good readers. This close reading thing sure does sound like a great way to develop our kids into readers.

But I can't help but wonder if while we are trying to make out kids good readers, they might end up not thinking reading is a good thing to do. This process of close reading has the potential to be overkill, making kids dread having to read something over and over and over again. Asking only text-dependent questions has the potential to make talking about what they read very clinical and meaningless all while trying to make the text meaningful. If you watched the video I linked to above, then you know that posing questions that ask the students to find ways to personally identify with and connect to the text is not a good thing; remember (as said at the end of the video): "It's what's INSIDE that counts...stay inside the text!"

While we work so hard to make out students good readers, are we killing any desire they might have to read for fun? Because close reading doesn't seem to be at all about reading for fun; it's all about making meaning.

The crux of my teaching philosophy is that I want to help students make their education meaningful to them personally right now. It's hard to make thirteen-year-olds see why prepositional phrases and mythology are meaningful, but if I want them to care about prepositional phrases and mythology, I have to help them connect to those topics personally right now. It does no good to constantly hit them with threats of high school, college, or jobs. Those things all seem a lifetime way when you're in 8th grade. But close reading -- and writing from sources -- eschew those personal connections in favor of a focus on understanding the text as it is presented, not from a personal perspective.

It seems to me that the harder we work to make out students good, critical readers, the less success we have because our students learn pretty quickly that reading isn't fun and it isn't personal.

And that is really sad.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed! Wholeheartedly! Sharing our personal experiences and creating an open/sharing community in the classroom is what makes learning important. Thanks for a great post!