Monday, June 19, 2017

Teaching Reading: Opening the Cover to a World Full of Possibilities

Reading is an activity that many people enjoy later in life. Even my husband as a child would never have considered reading for any reason beyond being forced to for school until he graduated college and started taking a train to work. This sentiment is a common caveat among adults. When speaking with current high school students about whether they choose to read, the response I receive is either a chuckle or an exasperated reply, "With what time?" In the ever increasing treadmill-paced trot that too many of us, adults and youth alike, find ourselves trapped within either because of the current societal expectations or our natural intuition to overcommit, numerous young people (and adults too) often find themselves unable to sit still long enough to engage in this sustained and solitary activity.

Every summer for the past five years, I have had the opportunity to dive into reading with a group of my district's incoming freshmen students. Bright eyed and eager to start school, they often reluctantly come to this particular class because of the preconceived notion that they are enrolled in this class because they did poorly on a placement test, or they simply are not skilled enough to read on their own without support. Their self-efficacy is lower than their peers, and the level of discouragement in their eyes is apparent as they enter the uncharted territories of high school. While the curriculum does require direct instruction with fundamental reading strategies such as summarizing, evaluating, predicting, and inferring, the conversations and connections that can be made during this time to a wide variety of nonfiction and fiction texts provides students with keys that can unlock not only their academic success in their freshman year but also a new perspective on who they are as readers and consumers of diverse literary genres.

This summer, my focus has been placed on the question, "Why do we read?" and "How can we make reading more fun?" The conversations and reflections that my students have generated this year have impressed me immensely. Candidly and honestly, these students have truthful discussed why they do not read and have come to discover that reading is so much more than skimming the pages of the novel they have been assigned in their language arts classes. Reading is a skill, a habit, and a way to communicate with the world. The act of evaluating and deconstructing a text allows us to gain more information that can be used in conversation, to make decisions, and to understand more about ourselves.

Students read much more than they initially recognize. They are constantly latched to their devices like leeches - attempting to devour whatever social media post or notification comes their way. They read online. Even if the articles lack credibility or what many might deem quality content, students (and countless adults) find themselves caught by a catchy title and topics that pique their interest. As our conversations have divulged this summer session into the reasons and motivations for reading, I have attempted to steer our conversation toward nonfiction - toward articles that continue to rouse their curiosity and the types of literature they are far more likely to consume on a regular basis. From sources such as the New York Times Learning Network, Center for Urban Education resource bank from DePaul University, Kelly Gallagher's Article of the Week, Newsela, and Jamestown Reader articles, I have sought to encourage students to recognize what they can learn when they have the patience to search for a text that truly interests, engages, and relates to them. In addition to exposing students to texts, they may naturally encounter online, developing a familiarity with nonfiction reading skills will benefit them in school and on standardized tests. This type of nonfiction reading will also allow them to develop a richer understanding of the world in which they live. While I do love the Abraham Lincoln Books, which are often filled with young adult novels that students often love, I want to encourage my students to access all types of texts. I want them to understand and recognize how much they are consuming online and have resources to which they can turn for credible, high caliber articles if they so choose to explore a particular topic that sparks their curiosity. 

Regardless of age or educational experience, reading has the power to unite us. The more versed in literary content and familiar a person is with the skills required to access knowledge from texts, the more he or she can make informed, educated choices. Reading does not have to necessarily be a top priority or a favorite hobby (a fact I am trying to instill in my students), but it can be viewed as an enjoyable and empowering tool from which a person can gain vast amounts of information from and even an activity a person chooses to do in whatever free time he or she can muster out of life. Will they enjoy everything they read? Absolutely not. Can they gain the confidence and skills to make reading a meaningful part of their daily lives for a variety of purposes? Of course.
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