Reading Reconsidered

This summer, students in READ courses were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Dani Cajiri

In 2005, I attended an IRA convention in San Antonio, Texas.  As I walked towards my next session, I overheard a resounding voice full of conviction say “Reading must be reconsidered.”  My mind wanted to stop and listen to his explanation of such a directive, yet the group I was with quickly shuffled me along the myriad of people.

The term stuck with me.  Why would we need to reconsider reading?  Isn’t there a general consensus of what reading is?

I have come to understand that reading can be described in two parts: Learning to read and reading to learn.  This of course in an oversimplification of the complex nature of the reading process, but it is one that clarifies it for me.

Learning to read involves mastering basic procedural reading skills that enable readers to recognize written words.  Reading to learn requires the ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information from multiple sources.

When I look at what it entails to read to learn, the cognitive demands of analysis, synthesis and evaluation leave me with more questions.  It is easy to say to a student read this, but truly teaching him to analyze text requires teachers to be content/discipline knowledgeable.  Teachers must become pseudo-academicians in order to delve deep into the content.

I have come to be disillusioned with the teaching profession at times.  When I encounter teachers who continue with ineffective practices or are completely unprepared to deliver a lesson, and the lack of general knowledge.  I have met many colleagues who do not read books at all, yet expect their students to be proficient and excel at academic work in their classrooms.

Teachers sometimes can create struggling readers due to ineffective instruction.  There is so much data on struggling learners, yet I have yet to see data on those students’ teachers.  In my opinion, teachers sometimes exacerbate the reading dilemmas our nation faces.

So, yes, reading must be reconsidered not as a student problem but as a teacher problem.  Teachers must be willing to discard ineffective instructional practices, be content knowledgeable, and internal auditors of their own practice.

As students progress through school, the reading challenges become greater.  The cognitive demands become so overwhelming for some students that they disengage and many eventually drop out.  Many high school teachers either blame the student, parent or elementary teachers for the students’ lack of basic knowledge and skills.  Yet, those disengaged students are still sitting in the classroom and it’s the teacher’s job to engage and teach them.  Then, why is it? Knowing full well that what they are doing is not engaging the students and many are failing do teachers continue with the ineffective practice? Here, I do not see a struggling reader; I see a teacher unwilling to meet her students where they are.

Flexibility and Teaching the Writing Process

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Joel West

The reading-writing connection is something that scholars have been discussing for many years and studying in earnest for decades now.  While it may seem like common sense to most Reading and Language Arts teachers that these two skillsets are interrelated, many still teach these skills in isolation with the hope that students will eventually be able to “put it all together” in the end.

Writing is a necessary component of literacy that is all-too-often set aside in order to teach reading skills and strategies related to high-stakes tests, especially when writing skills are only assessed at very specific intervals.  Usually, several years go by between these writing assessments and students aren’t given enough opportunities in the interim to develop and hone their skills as writers.  When they are finally given these opportunities, it occurs under the looming shadow of yet another high-stakes test—and the vicious cycle continues.

When the time comes to address writing skills with regard to high-stakes testing, teachers must invest a lot of time in teaching writing strategies, more specifically, the Writing Process.  The Writing Process, as it is generally presented, is a linear strategy made up of the following components: Pre-writing, Drafting, Revising, Editing, and Publication/Performance.  With some variation, these steps follow the standard approach to teaching writing to students, often prescriptively.

A book could be written about any of the steps mentioned above in relation to the Writing Process.  However, it is in the instructional approach in teaching the Writing Process that the connections between reading and writing can sometimes become fuzzy.  Sure, the piece of writing students may be working on does have a connection to what has been read or what will soon be read in class, but often the topics have been decided upon by the teacher, which doesn’t allow students to explore topics that may have come up within their own explorations of the text.

While it is great to learn all of these aspects of the Writing Process, it might be better for all parties involved to recognize the cyclical nature of the writing process.  Sometimes, when a writer is at the revision step, it is necessary to go back and explore the topic further.  Although it’s not pre-writing necessarily, the strategies taught as such might need to be employed once again.  Editing may have to happen more than once.  And, as most prolific writers know, there is no such thing as a final product.  There is rarely an example of perfect writing.  Final drafts are just that—drafts.  They can still be revisited for additions, amendments, and further revision.

All writers use a process of some sort, yet ask any writer about their process, and you might hear an entirely different answer from one individual to the next.  There should be a sense of flexibility with each individual’s approach to writing.  We should be sharing guidelines and best practices rather than hard and fast rules with young writers.

Word Spokes

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

by C. Ramos

One of the many things we learned in our Literacy Development and Language Study course this summer is the way to incorporate word study strategies to improve vocabulary acquisition. We read Timothy V. Rasinski and Nancy D. Padak’s book titled From Phonics to Fluency. They explained how helping students gain knowledge of affixes and root word meanings allow them to be more successful in understanding unknown words, in particular academic vocabulary.

As a teacher, when it came time to introduce prefixes and suffixes to my students I would begin with the definitions of what they are. I would follow this definition by supplying a list of common prefixes and suffixes that my students will come across when they read. Along with each prefix and suffix, I would provide the meaning of each and give my students examples of words with prefixes and the words’ meaning. I realize now that this method does not give my students opportunities to interact with new words involving affixes, nor take ownership of learning how to make meaning of these words.

One activity I came across in From Phonics to Fluency really caught my attention because it made me think about the way I teach and reinforce affixes and root words. This activity is titled Word Spokes. Through Word Spokes, the students create a visual display of affixes and root words to understand their meanings. To begin the students are placed in groups (can be done individually) and given a prefix or root word. Then they are handed a chart paper with a drawing of a spoke (think of a wagon wheel). In their groups, the students brainstorm words that they have come across that has that specific prefix. Next, each student will write down the words they thought of at the end of their designated spoke section. The teacher will then guide the students into discussing the meanings of the words they wrote and write them down. From there the students will create a sentence using their word. Once they have completed this, the students will draw the meaning of the word in the sentence. Each Word Spoke chart can be placed around the classroom to allow students to refer to them to help them understand unknown words, and teachers can encourage students to add onto each Word Spoke.

Although the photo example given below is a poster by Smekens Education Solutions, Inc., Word Spokes can easily be created using markers and chart paper.

word spoke pic

Accelerated Reader

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Garcia

Accelerated Reader is a software assessment tool used in the elementary, middle school, and high school grade levels throughout the nation; it helps teachers know their students’ reading level. The Accelerated Reader program is supposed to motivate all students to read, and improve their fluency and comprehension as well. There are many varieties of books that can be tested on by students from different grade levels. However, some of the AR quizzes I have read are comprised of very simple questions, which mean that students do not have to think in a higher order level to answer them.

It is recommended that in order for students to take an Accelerated Reader quiz, they read the book at least three times, without considering if the book is of the student’s interest or not. To add to the burden, students are expected to complete a certain amount of points every six weeks, which is called an AR goal. Many students get bored by having to read a book all those times just to take a quiz, and they sometimes lie, taking the quiz without reading the book, whichcauses them to get a bad grade. Furthermore, struggling readers get frustrated to know that sometimes they are the only ones that have not met the AR goal or that sometimes they already met the goal, but their average is too low and does not meet the requirements to accomplish the AR goal. The last day before each sixth six weeks end, we can see students outside their classrooms, siting on the floor in the hallways reading in a hurry just to meet the AR goal. Meanwhile, the teacher is teaching the rest of the class that has already completed their points, and those students that are reading outside fall behind because they are missing instruction.

I have seen students that are fluent readers that don’t take any quizzes, simply because they don’t want to read for that purpose. Due to that, there is always constant pressure to read, their purpose has changed to just take an AR quiz and complete the goal imposed not only by the school district but also by the campus that usually sets the AR goal higher than the school district does. This was the case with my youngest son when he was an elementary student, thankfully he still reads for pleasure, and ever since he was in fourth grade his reading level according  to a Diagnostic Report by STAR Reading was at a twelfth grade level or higher. What he would do because of the pressure for completing the AR goal, was that he took several quizzes at the end of each sixth six weeks from books that he had read before. He was always the top AR reader in the campus with more than a thousand points each year, but it was just because my husband and I, along with his teacher persuaded him to take those AR quizzes. His response was always, “I don’t have to prove to anybody that I read and comprehend.”

Students are supposed to read for pleasure, so that they can choose the book of their preference, and teachers must provide them with opportunities to write a short summary about the books read. Unfortunately, most of the time, we are not able to do so because of the pressure we have to make sure that our students complete their AR goal.

The Literary Catwalk: How Teachers Model

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly


“Read, read, read. Read everything… and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write…”

                                                                       – Mark Twain

 As writing is an artistic form of communication, and communication is a critical skill in our society, an individual who writes well has the opportunity to be successful in many different areas in life. As teachers, we hope to produce students who have a deep understanding of this form of art. Yet, because it is one of the highest forms of output, many of our students struggle. Over the past few years, I have sought to improve myself as a writing teacher and I believe I may have found the golden ticket; let it be understood that this golden ticket in itself is not enough for admittance into the Wonderful World of Writing, but it is hugely important in helping students develop as writers.

This past school year, I was in tears over how poorly some of my students were writing. We had been working for MONTHS on simply writing paragraph-length responses to literature and providing textual evidence as support. I had tried every formula that I knew of (ACE- Answer/Cite Evidence/Explain, APE, ABC… the list goes on) to help students understand what these paragraphs should include. I had given them examples that they had taped into their interactive journals. We had looked at and rated all of the samples that had been provided by the state, but all I had to show for it was a bunch of choppy sentences, some of which were quotes that students had slapped down in an attempt to fulfill the requirements of the formula. Why is this so difficult? I mused. What am I doing wrong? Then, as if from the heavens (or from the long-disregarded advice of a co-worker), the answer came. I have to show them! In my desperate attempt to right my wrongs, I sat down at my document camera the next day and wrote. From that point forward, writing was real for my students.

Modeling writing for students with my own writing has proven to have a number of benefits. As with many forms of text, a teacher’s writing can provide the input that students need to in order to produce written output. Students can begin to mimic my writing examples and use them as a springboard for their own ideas. Direct and delayed spill over occurs, meaning that the conventions, spelling, syntax, structure and vocabulary that I use often shows up in my students writing both immediately and in future writings. Once students become comfortable doing this on their own, they can begin to play with my style and bend it to make it their own.

Additionally, I make sure to model the entire writing process for my students in order to emphasize that even experienced writers do not jump straight into a final draft. When they see my extensive planning and multiple drafts, they begin to take more time in these areas. They also lose the fear of putting ideas on paper, because they understand that it’s ok to write something that isn’t perfect. This also provides an excellent teacher-student bonding opportunity when students are able to see that even their teacher makes mistakes.

Most importantly, students become increasingly motivated and engaged when they realize that people they know, including their teacher, actually write and use their writing as a mode of expression. When I made the choice to share my writing with students, I gained a little more respect from them. All of this together lowers students’ affective filters and causes them to “drop their guard” so that real learning can occur. That in itself makes it worth it for teachers to take the time to “walk the literary catwalk” and model good writing as a master writer.

Reading Authentic Literature

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Rogelio Rios

As a teacher, I want to make certain that each and every student that enters into my classroom, leaves being a life long reader.  Reading authentic literature not only fosters critical thinking skills but also instills a love for reading.  Only authentic literature can create an ambiance of excitement and interest in my students that workbooks, worksheets and even the basal can’t do.

Due to federal mandates intended to raise the quality and level of literacy instruction, now we have so many standards to teach before administering the state mandated reading test. Many of us worry about not having enough time to teach all the standards that will be assessed on the test so that teaching has become covering test taking skills, strategies and standards. I don’t feel that this is helping students achieve their academic potential. The focus should be on the content and meaning of reading authentic literature and not on skills and strategies.

With so many skills to cover before administering the state mandated reading test, many educators would say that due to time constraints teaching from a worksheet or workbooks is convenient. These workbooks come with questions to go with the reading selection. Teaching students skills in isolation doesn’t transfer into knowledge that they can retrieve later. Reading in isolated skills from workbooks is unrelated to their lives and experiences. When a child is working on a worksheet they’re not internalizing what they’re learning. Besides, not all the students are the same, It’s unlikely that a worksheet will help each child meet their academic goals.  We are making students be test takers instead of life long readers.

I wish magic sticks would exist so that I could make assessments that are making students become disengaged from school disappear and replace them with authentic ways to assess the students.  Testing students in ways that don’t involve multiple choice answers or filling a paper with strategies before they can answer the questions. Students who read for fun have higher reading scores than students who rarely read for enjoyment. Children who are engaged in authentic literature are actively discussing plots and characters and finding ways to relate this to their own lives. They are going home and discussing books with their family. These are the type of student we want to have in our classrooms.  Our school districts, along with our state, and federal government need to be aware that there needs to be a change in our school system.

Again, authentic literature fosters not only the critical thinking skills that our students need, but also a love for reading that is not found on worksheets, workbooks and basal. By reading authentic literature students will have many favorite books that they will want to read over and over again.

Advantages of the Language Experience Approach

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Delma

I first read about the language experience approach (LEA) as an undergraduate in the education program. The foundation of the language experience approach is the students’ own experiences being written and read as dictated to the teacher verbatim, with no editing.  Then, the teacher and the students read the story aloud.  Through LEA, beginning readers can learn about the conventions of print, print directionality, basic punctuation and that what they say, that is, oral language, can be written and read. Other activities may include writing the story in their journal and illustrating it.

One of my class assignments was to design a lesson plan that implemented LEA during my field observations.  The students in the class I was assigned to were first grade emergent bilinguals.  They chose to dictate to me a five-sentence story about their favorite holiday, Christmas.  Below are examples of Kathleen’s and Raul’s copies of the story.

delma 1

delma 2

I realized, then, that students had authentic experiences that they were eager to share.  Seeing their own stories in print and reading them afterwards provided a rich learning experience for them while validating their experiences.   Just as they read what someone else has written in their textbooks and library books, their stories are meant to be written and read, too.

Now, as a graduate student, one of our assigned textbooks, From Phonics to Fluency by Timothy V. Rasinski and Nancy D. Padak, offers many more methods and techniques for implementing LEA.   As the students progress to higher-grade levels, teachers can continue to plan lessons using LEA.   These lessons can focus on a specific academic subject, with emphasis placed on the vocabulary, their prior knowledge of the topic, or their new understanding.  Teaching advanced grammar can be incorporated into any academic subject with LEA.  Indenting paragraphs, placing exclamation marks, colons, semicolons and commas in the appropriate places as the students dictate their experiences will provide them with an added learning experience.  Also, the use of conjunctions can be learned through LEA activities.

The language experience approach is a philosophy that has been studied and implemented for many years.  It has provided an advantage to students at all grade levels with their reading, writing and in the content areas.  Enriching students’ learning is important. LEA activities will provide this and, at the same time, it will encourage them to be a part of their own learning experience.