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 Amazon.com.)
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?