Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Model Reader

I became a better teacher yesterday when I attended Doug Fisher’s Web Seminar “All Teachers Are Not Teachers of Reading, but....” (You can order an archived copy of the session if you missed it.) Most of my teaching has been done in a college English classroom, where students presumably come in the door with basic reading skills already mastered. I never really spend much time on the matter of reading instruction.

During Fisher’s seminar yesterday, however, I realized why class discussion and students’ writing were often less successful when I assigned complex or unfamiliar texts—I never showed students how to read them. I simply expected them to already know how.

At the same time, I knew why one of my more successful writing assignments had worked. Students were writing explications of a song of their choice. I brought in the lyrics to “Old Friends/Bookends” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and then went through the lyrics carefully, line-by-line and word-by-word, demonstrating how I explicate a text. Reading the lyrics went beyond simply reading the text out loud. Reading, in this instance, involved modeling how to read a text.

While it was natural for me to model how to navigate a literary text, somehow it never occurred to me until yesterday that I also need to spend modeling how to read other non-literary texts in the classroom. I immediately changed the lesson plan I am currently writing. I had been concerned about the appropriateness of one of the resources in the lesson, FTC guidelines for endorsements and testimonials. I feared that the language and legal style might make the document too complex for secondary readers.

As Fisher and seminar attendees shared strategies for teaching content-area reading, I realized that I needed to add modeling to the lesson that shows students how to read the unfamiliar text before I expect them to navigate the document on their own. It seems like such a simple and obvious recognition now. If a text might be too complex for students to comprehend, I need to show them how to read it. I never expected students to suddenly know how to write, but I guess I always expected them to simply know how to read. Thanks to Doug Fisher’s seminar yesterday, now I know better.


Scott said...

Thanks, Traci, for sharing your account of that very important "Ah ha!" moment for a teacher of reading and writing. I consider myself fortunate for being made aware of the importance of modeling early in my career through involvement with the NCTE Reading Initiative. The road ahead is still a difficult one--knowing which modeling strategies to use, when to use them, with which texts, how often, and for which students--but it's the road that will give students the skills and confidence they need to succeed with text that they otherwise would find too difficult to tackle.

Linne Haywood said...

So, what is it that you model when you read? Are you explaining vocabulary? Are you doing read-alouds like explaining connections, asking questions, etc? Are you interpreting? Is there too much modeling? I have lots of questions about the strategy.

Anonymous said...

I have been following your writings, your musings,and your postings, for some years, I am surprised to read this from you and I don't believe it.

One day I walked into the media center at my school and overheard a conversation about how English teachers can't teach to read. I was bewildered! That was not true!
Every time I start something new in my classroom, which is all of the time, I introduce the basics to understanding that piece. Authors are my boyfriends and girlfriends and I show my students how to love them as much as I do. I know that you have been doing the same. Thanks anyway for showing us the link and reminding us that we must introduce before we expect them to have a relationship.

Alan said...

Traci, modeling is good but not sufficient. Modeling becomes more effective if you begin by identifying an explaining one or two reading strategies which you are going to model. For example, if you are modeling the reading of a poem and you are going to focus on imagery and metaphors, you would begin by explaining what those are, , where you expect to find them, and what sense you will make of them when you do find them.

Anonymous said...

alan, I don't think Traci is suggesting the modeling is the only strategy. She simply says she "needed to add modeling to the lesson." linne's questions about modeling remind me of a recent encounter I had with a student who had to memorize a sonnet to recite in class. There had been class discussion about sonnets, yet he was having difficulty memorizing and was not sure how to recite it. I offered a strategy for memorizing and then we went to youtube and searched for the sonnet he had chosen. We found at least 6 different presentations. As a result he felt he could create his method of presentation.

In large part, he had to learn how to read the sonnet as well as figure out how to recite it. One method of committing to memory does not work for everyone. Neither does one way of reading a text. Sometimes we have to be shown how to read the text, the point that Traci makes.

I find that teaching students to read has become the challenge to face before teaching them to write. How to read of course involves a variety of factors. Modeling is one way to teach someone how to read.