I was privileged to have the opportunity to once again attend the Wisconsin State Reading Association convention this February. As always, I had so many great take-aways and pages upon pages of notes to go through after that my head is still trying to process. In this month’s blog post, I’ll reflect on my biggest takeaways and inspiration gained from the WSRA reading convention.
On Thursday, the great and wise Mem Fox kicked off the conference. She shared some of her picture books with us, and she also shared some powerful messages which I have since passed along to others. Mem shared that she’s not interested in the reading level of kids; she’s interested in their level of interest. She says, “I don’t want children to understand every word I write. I want to lift them up and introduce them to language they don’t know. I want to give them wings so they can fly.” How will we help our students to understand the English language if we don’t “pour wondrous language into our children’s ears as often as we can?” Mem urges teachers and parents to read books to children often, to read stories that children love over and over again, and to read with passion. “It will change their lives. It will change yours. It may even change the world.” How could a person not be inspired?
Recommended Mem Fox Books:
Tough Boris (Fox)
On Thursday, I also was able to attend two different presentations by Penny Kittle. According to Kittle, “You can read without writing, but you can’t write without reading.” She stressed the importance of using books and texts to help our students analyze author’s craft. She encouraged teachers to ask our students to find beautiful language or interesting writing craft in their reading and to have kids write down interesting sentences or beautiful examples of the craft of writing. She says that when students copy words exactly as they’re written and write them down, it will live inside them. She also suggests having students use mentor texts to emulate poetry and prose. By doing this, we’re giving our students “shoulders to stand on” by paying attention to people who write better than they do. In addition, this writing can take students deeper into the meaning of texts. The use of mentor texts is by no means groundbreaking news, but it is a good reminder of the power these mentor texts can have to support our students as writers and as readers. The more our students read, the better writers they will be.
Kittle also spoke about the importance of independent reading and allowing for student choice in book selections. Independent reading allows teachers to personalize learning. According to Kittle, engagement is the first step to improving student achievement. There is much talk in schools about finding more rigorous and complex texts to provide to students as we prepare them to be college or career ready, but Kittle argues that the combination of student engagement plus volume of reading equates to text complexity. She says, “We are doing RtI all wrong. Our struggling readers don’t need complex texts. They need to read engaging books, and we need to increase their reading.” (Amen.) We need to provide our students with a lot of choice in what they read. Kittle and Gallagher say the balance of texts in a classroom should be 25% teacher-selected core texts and 75% student-selected for independent reading and book clubs (or literature circles). Everyone reads on a rollercoaster; sometimes we read easy books, and sometimes we read challenging books. Kittle quoted Nancie Atwell with the reminder that “the most important statistic we have is the number of books our kids read each year.”
Recommended Penny Kittle Books:
Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers (Kittle)
Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing (Kittle)
Continuing on with what appears to be the theme of the conference for me... on Friday I attended an engaging presentation by Stephanie Harvey. This presentation (From Striving to Thriving: The Best Intervention for a Student is a Good Book) again focused on the significance of students spending time reading books that they can and want to read. Similar to Kittle, Harvey feels strongly that the way to make sure kids become good at reading texts that they cannot read is to give them time to practice reading texts that they can. We need to surround our students with wonderful literature and give them time to read it. She says that if our kids in poverty do not have access to books or are not reading at home, then we need to make up for this in our schools. Volume continues to have the most important impact on reading skills and knowledge.
Harvey also says that text complexity is not about the length of the text or the vocabulary in the text; it’s about the issues, ideas, and societal problems. When kids have time to talk about what they read, their comprehension deepens. They need time to process what they have read and discuss it with others in reading partnerships (book clubs, literature circles, etc.). We also need to give our students a purpose for reading so they find it meaningful. We need to read to our students every day. Free voluntary reading time should be the last thing that gets cut out of our instruction, but is often the first thing to go when things come up or time runs short. Harvey shared that “what kids think, feel, and write about their reading is more important than any assessment we can or will create for them.” We need to share our reading joys and challenges with our students every day. Finally, she urges teachers and schools to get rid of reading labels and to foster a growth mindset in our classrooms. All of our students are striving readers, some just need more support than others. Let’s cultivate a love of reading within our students every single day.
Recommended Stephanie Harvey Books:
Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement (Harvey & Goudvis)
Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles for Curiosity, Engagement, and Understanding (Harvey & Daniels)
*Check out www.wsra.org/convention for more information about the 2017 WSRA Reading Convention and to access the convention handouts.