Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Deeper Reading

I just finished reading Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts 4-12 written by one of my favorite boyfriends in all things literacy--Kelly Gallagher. The book was published in 2004, but it has been sitting on my "To Read" pile for about two and a half years.  That pile seems to miraculously reproduce on its own every few weeks as I purchase yet another professional book here and there. (Translation: I am obsessed with Barnes and Noble and

It took me awhile, but it was only a few years ago that I learned a very important lesson.  Those of us who teach English/Language Arts need to see ourselves "less as literature teachers and more (as) literacy teachers."  (Quoted by my boyfriend and additional evidence as to why we are made for each other.)   Every teacher of literacy should peruse this book either as a reminder or as a new discovery. (It's actually a quick read and you also learn that my boyfriend has a sense of humor! BONUS!)  On a serious note, Gallagher offers several strategies for teaching students how to read challenging text, to focus readers, to collaborate, to use metaphors to deepen comprehension, to encourage meaningful reflection and to create critical thinkers.  However, he reminds us that our students must be able to see the relevance of the reading assignment--to care about it. We, as educators, must offer the answer to the student question "what's in it for me?" This will provide some motivation and engagement, but it also highlights how crucial it is to provide background knowledge and relevant connections for the students.

With the advent of the Common Core and new discussions about text complexity, this oldie but goody also provides a model for teaching challenging texts as well as a guide for how to plan an effective reading lesson.  (Gallagher hangs this right above the desk where he does his own lesson planning.) He also emphasizes the importance of backwards planning.  Instead of trying to assess whether our students understand every layer of a a complex work, we would better serve them if we consider the one or two areas within the text we think to be the most important and target those areas for our students' consideration. (p. 210)  Knowing the questions that will be asked on the final assessment not only leads to better instruction by the teacher, but it also encourages deeper reading for the students.

Lastly (but only for the purpose of this entry as there are several more great ideas in the book), Gallagher generates the questions we should all be asking ourselves in our teaching no matter the content area.
  • What do I hope my students will take from the book (or reading)?
  • Have I provided my students with a reading focus?
  • Are my students willing and able to embrace confusion?
  • Can my students monitor their own comprehension?
  • Do my students know any fix-it strategies to assist them when their comprehension begins to falter?
If you haven't yet grasped the concept that we are all teachers of literacy, you should do so quickly--as it is inevitable.  If you have already embraced this notion, I recommend you spend some quality time with my boyfriend. You won't be disappointed!

      Sunday, February 19, 2012

      A Haphazard Early Morning Book Review: Where She Went

      where she went by Gayle Forman
      Hardcover, 264 pages
      Published April 5th 2011 by Dutton Juvenile (first published November 4th 2010) 

      I have been reading since 4 am and I think am seeing two computer screens through my sore, crusty, drying eyes, or maybe due to my lack of solid rest as I write this. Forgive me if it doesn't make sense.

      You know how it is when you get caught up in a book and you read it so fast you feel like you never got a chance to really enjoy it? I do it all of the time, but I loved this book so much that I had to mentally force myself to watch my pace. In most books, I skim over the things like the quotes under chapter titles, but in an attempt to model good reading (for no one other than myself at this hour), I even devoured Adam's lyrics placed at the beginning of every other chapter. (I noticed this pattern shifts near the ending. Purpose? Meaning? I will investigate and see if I can find the significance of this after I've had a nap.) 

      Yes, it's a sequel.  The first book is if I stay.  (See link below.)

      The story of Adam's and Mia's relationship three years after the accident can be appropriately referred to as my personal reading vortex for the past few hours. (Vortex is a great word--I am almost certain I stole it from the author.) I had to stop and re-read episodes from the book in an effort to catch my breath, hiccup through sobs, and grapple with Adam's emotions while completely enveloped in his story. I was thankful that I had finished the first book only a few weeks ago. I enjoyed this book more than the first and without trying to spoil the story, I was satisfied, prepared, and able to come to terms with the ending that I originally thought was meant to be. Even though I was on page 191--still 69 pages away from the end, I trusted the author would help both Adam and I through to the end. If this was how it was going to be--it made sense. It was fair. Oh, but I was pleasantly surprised with the direction that it took. I sobbed all over again as I finished.

      I am such a sucker for a good love story. 

      Check it out here!

      Wednesday, February 15, 2012

      Twitter: My Strange New Addiction

      Okay, I had heard of Twitter, and I had seen plenty of television tickers and websites with tweets scrolling across the bottom of the screen.  One of my reading education professors even required us to create Twitter accounts to follow her for updates, but that was more than two years ago.  Unfortunately, she was the only one I ever followed and I never took the time to actually tweet. (Which is strange as I usually have PLENTY to say.) I was completely satisfied using Facebook, my favorite social network, to obtain the latest news, status updates and gossip.  After all, it was through Facebook that I first learned of the death of Whitney Houston.  (May she rest in peace.)

      Admittedly (and probably unsurprisingly) I am/was a Twitter-verse neophyte. It was only a week or so ago that I set up a new account (of course I could not recall my username or password on my original account.  It WAS two years and several usernames and passwords ago!) and began following some of my favorite reading peeps such as Donalyn Miller and my boyfriend Kelly Gallagher (my apologies to Mr. Gallagher, his wife and to my husband as they are all completely unaware of our phantom relationship). It was from viewing who THEY follow and viewing their followers, that I began following several other teachers who are experts in this wonderful world of education.  Suddenly, I find myself checking Twitter more often than I should be, yet I am completely enamored with the wealth of information, ideas, lists and links provided to me with every one of those checks.   Who knew you could obtain so much information  from 140 characters or less? (Apparently, from the looks of it---just about everyone!) 

      I know there are some of us who haven't discovered the realm of Twitter.  If you haven't embraced or even attempted to use this medium, I highly recommend it.  Don't overwhelm yourself and feel as if you have to start tweeting, but do take the time to search for and start to follow your favorite authors, celebrities, politicians, friends, and maybe even your students. Eventually, they could follow you too! You could post reminders, assignments, links to articles, etc. I suppose that reading professor of mine was trying to model this for me.  (Unfortunately, I STILL haven't taken it that far yet. Stay tuned in future posts...)

      Anyway, today I read an interview on Education Week's Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook with Will Richardson, a teacher turned technology expert. There were several points made in the interview that resonated with me, but when asked what traits he would look for in teachers who embody what is needed for advancements in technological literacy, he offered the following:

      I would want to see that they have a presence online, that they are participating in these spaces, and, obviously, that they are doing so appropriately. Also, I’d want to know that they have some understanding of how technology is changing teaching and learning and the possibilities that are out there.

      My mind is spinning at the possibilities! I believe that Twitter could, in fact, help me to be a better teacher because being a good teacher is no longer just about teaching--it's about learning.  

      The irony here is that this article was originally published in October 2010 and I never even saw it until today. Guess how I found it? Yes, my friends, through Twitter.

      You can view the full article here.