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.

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