Ben Fisher – a member of our PLC – asked this question about reading and my response is below. There is no intent to be contrary in my answer – it’s just the way I think, which always has some bais in the need for equity in American WL classrooms.
Here is Ben’s question for the PLC –
Hey Ben! I am presenting a PD to teachers of my school on Monday about literacy strategies. I am going to model and have them practice some strategies that I feel are high leverage with ELLs and struggling readers. I was looking for your input…
I’m planning already to show them Write and Discuss, Embedded Readings, and 3 Lap Reading (a la Jon Cowart) as powerful ways to get eyes on scaffolded academic texts. (I’m also going to sing the gospel of SLOW, of course.) Are there any others strategies you can think of that would be good for content area teachers to get students working actively with text in different ways?
My way too lengthy response:
Hi Ben –
I personally feel that there are no such thing as struggling readers if they are accepted as where they are by the instructor. I am opposed to class-wide reading activities of any kind, because the wide range of kids’ abilities in a typical American classroom automatically creates imbalances and, in my view, there are no reading strategies out there that can truly erase them.
I hold equity as more important in a WL classroom than language gains by the few.
Reading input differs greatly from listening input, where it’s very easy to blast an entire group of 35 kids with high quality auditory input and, as long as they are focused on the message, they all process it just fine with no splitting the class into those who can and those who can’t, as happens in reading.
Notice that auditory input is an unconscious event, whereas reading, when kids are forced to read up above what their rich bed of auditory input can naturally provide, requires immediate activation of conscious thought. This is not what comprehensible input is, not how it works and is thus in conflict with Susie’s message on reading that kids should read as if what they are reading is “like a movie in their mind”.
The moment the class starts a certain class-wide reading activity, many of the “strugglers” are immediately disenfranchised through no fault of their own except to be “where they are” as readers. We can’t teach them with faster processors physically next to them in the classroom and expect any particular reading activity to work for them simply because their base line staring point in being able to read a text differs so widely from faster processing readers next to them.
So, for me it’s all about free reading. Same for Krashen, I think. I’m not aware that much of his research if any was done with groups of teenagers, esp. of the YouTube generation. Would love to learn more about that aspect of his research, but wasn’t it mainly about researching individuals? I just don’t know.
So, in my view the whole thing about reading is that it needs to be preceded by a goodly amount of auditory input as a base for reading. The way I see the way reading happens in the mind – and of course I am no researcher so it’s just my opinion – is that the mind bases what it reads entirely on sounds that it has heard and has understood, vs. when we use reading “strategies” (I don’t even like the term) it’s no longer based on deep sound identification (i.e. associating previous meaning with sound from stories w/o any thinking at all) but rather on how well the kid can think and make associations while doing some scaffolded activity.
The important thing in that regard is to do what we see done on Sesame Street, which is really how kids learn to read – all based on recognized sound that slowly turns into the ability of the whole mind to decode reading by connecting it to sound. Otherwise we shove everything up into the conscious faculty and kids sitting in the room next to higher performing decoders who think faster than them are left out and it must be a really shitty feeling for them.
One of my last buildings in Denver Public Schools was 99% Latino but the new arrivals, many of whom weren’t lucky enough to get much reading done in their home countries, really struggled and it is one great kid who about six years ago who taught me not to try to include him in the class because it isn’t fair. He needed more auditory input in French I before he could read, because he didn’t join it until January. Hugo taught me that more auditory input is a requirement for reading that builds confidence. He just came up to me after class one day and said he couldn’t do it, and yet he had very high intelligence.
So, I’m just saying in my own opinion based on my own experience how well they read is 100% about how much auditory comprehensible input they’ve had and not about finding the magic bullet teaching activity that will rule all the others. When we lose our focus in input, and put our hopes in decoding and thinking about meaning in reading, we float away from the research. Again, it’s just the way I see the reading game from where I am sitting these days.
Susan Gross always said in her workshops that what they read should be “just like a movie in their minds” which thought is in opposition to the practice of “teaching-kids-to-be better-readers-via-scaffolded-strategies that kick the kids up in to their conscious minds, where CI just doesn’t happen.
If you notice, the TPRS people always tell the story first then read it and rinse and repeat in that order and not by reading first. We tried it the other way around here in the PLC – reading sentence that had the target words in them and then telling the story afterwards focusing on those targets about 12 years ago as an experiment in our classrooms and it really fizzled. The kids needed to hear the CI first before the visual decoding piece could work.
Also connected to my position that scaffolded academic texts/authentic texts cannot possible be easily (effortless as per Krashen) interpreted by kids with so few hours of auditory input. As I see it, the 500 hours that we get in a four-year program are not even close to what kids need to be able to read anything but very basic texts. It’s all about the time spent hearing before reading can happen, and to thrust academic texts on kids who lack sufficient auditory background is unfair in my view.
Where’s the rush to get them to read? One of those outdated linear curriculums? They’re not ready, so why is it so important to us to get reading gains when I firmly believe that if a study were done on this topic, or maybe one has been done but I don’t know it, it would tell everyone to chill on the reading thing and stop doing those horrible class-dividing novels and just wait and take much more of the 500 hours available in four years and do a lot more input, with the kids reading, for the first two years at least, only the stories they create because they know the words and then reading the Brandon book, etc. in level 3, when it becomes fair for all the kids the room. The fast readers love it because it is so easy for them there in level 3 and the slow ones because they can do it too. I keep wondering where the fire is with reading? Can’t we give them the time we need first and keep our classes as a group through four years, thus keeping our enrollments way up and guaranteeing our job security. What’s wrong with that?
OK really rambling here so I’ll try to stop the stream-of-consciousness obnoxiousness here.
Kids should in my view “read down” (my term) – always basing their reading at the level of vocabulary collected through their ears. The problem with trying to push kids to “read up” to more complex texts w/o the basic auditory background is that it resembles school in that way, which is always a conscious concrete analytical left brain process and so to activate that in kids w so little auditory experience is not very loving – they need so much more listening than we think they do before they read….
But that’s just me.