“Stop Teaching Reading”

4 05 2011

While setting up an after school tutoring group for a group of struggling readers, I wondered how we could help to turn things around for them. The last thing this group of kids would want to spend more time doing was, of course, reading.  In a conversation with a trusted mentor, I asked:  “How am I supposed to teach this disengaged group of kids to be better readers?”  He responded:  “You need to stop teaching reading.”  Huh??  Stop teaching reading?  Are you crazy? 

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  We had been teaching reading rather than teaching them how to use reading.  We began to shift our focus from teaching reading, to using reading as a means to get to the information they wanted.  We started an after school “club”, with a focus on extreme weather phenomenon.  We spent time looking at YouTube clips, Discovery Channel clips and reading online articles.  We followed stormchasers into danger, and read accounts of families who narrowly escaped the most recent tornadoes in Arkansas.  We read X-Men comics about the character “Storm”.  The kids were hooked!  They were engaging in rich dialogues about online text examining various media pieces and starting to think critically and analytically about the information they were finding.  We provided them with inquiry questions that motivated them to dig deeper into the resources, to form meaningful connections, and to constantly find evidence for their thinking through the texts.  The kids were using reading as a way of accessing information that was engaging and relevant.  

Yesterday, two of these boys approached me at recess to ask if we had our club that night.  When I told them we didn’t, they walked away, clearly disappointed.  Yes, these reluctant readers, disappointed they didn’t have our reading club  that night.  Why?  Because we had stopped teaching reading, and started using it.

Their engagement has dramatically improved, and as a nice little side-effect, their reading has too!




6 responses

5 05 2011
Royan Lee

Do you think Strategies That Work still work? I too have been thiing about this topic of ‘teaching reading’ a lot recently. I am a huge fan of a the approach you took with these kids. An inspiration as usual.

5 05 2011
Lisa Donohue

Yes, I think reading strategies remain an important focus. However, I think that too much attention has been place on “teaching the reading strategies”, instead of teaching kids how to use the strategies to dig deeper into texts. Strategies were never intended to be the end-goal for students’ learning. They were designed to be a tool-kit that kids could use to engage with texts and make meaning from them. Unfortunately, I think they have become the object of kids learning, rather than the vehicle through which they learn.

5 05 2011

Awesome! What a great approach.

I think it comes down to this: why do we read in the first place? It certainly isn’t to learn reading strategies for texts we will read in the future. Besides, internalizing those strategies is a lot more likely when the the students are actually interested in the text.
My basic approach is this: don’t kill the love reading in those who have it, and foster it in those who don’t.

5 05 2011
Michael Cohen

As always, Lisa, you clearly articulate your thoughts about a topic you are so passionate about. To engage these learners in “reading” you have done what all good teaching requires – find something that students are interested in. It is far more interesting to read about the topics you and your colleagues have presented as options for students as opposed to what is too often given. Staff and student voice and choice goes a long way! Keep chasing those storms!

6 05 2011

Your paragraph was great! Now I can teach my students the proper way to use reading! Great job, Lisa!

12 06 2011

Without strategies in their back pocket, could they make any sense of the cool information they were trying to access.

With due respect Royan, this seems like a case of baby and bathwater to me.

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