Monday, August 31, 2009
In The Reading Zone
I am back-I think I gave myself a holiday from blogging but I was inspired yesterday afternoon.
I am sitting in my backyard and realizing that my wireless connection doesn’t reach out here! So I am offline. I have spent the last while reading The Reading Zone by Nancy Atwell. It’s interesting how you do read texts differently at different times. I have skimmed this book a couple of times, looking for specific points. Often in prepping workshops or planning lessons or units I grab for books rather than reading them cover-to-cover. There have been an awful lot of professional books that have gone through my hands the last five years. And I admit I haven’t always read them all cover to cover.
This time as I picked up The Reading Zone, I found my purposes and thoughts different as I contemplate a new year in a new school with a class of sixth and seventh graders after not having a class of my own for four years.
I think about what I want to do differently and what I want to improve.
I also enjoy reading Nancy Atwell, as she is someone whose thinking you can see evolves.
Right now I am reading about response journals. Heavily influenced by Nancy Atwell’s In the Middle I began using reading response logs long ago and not just with my students at elementary school but also university students. My path hasn’t always been smooth. In this book, she talks a great deal about getting students to be in the “reading zone”. She discusses how dogmatic teaching of reading strategies can actually prevent students being in the zone. She also looks at having her seventh and eighth grade students do letter essays every three weeks on books that they have finished reading. And she shows one she has modeled for her students. Right away, I think how I don’t think I ever modeled my own responses for my students-I gave them formats and examples of other students but never actually did my own about my reading. Food for thought right there.
There is so much to say about this book I am in danger of going beyond my usually fairly short blogs. I love what she says about boys. “Give boys stories and main characters that grip them, and they will read books with passion.” “When boys and girls choose their own books, when teachers make it our business to put the right story into every reader’s hand, and when we create quiet, comfortable spaces in kids’ lives for them to enjoy books on a regular and predictable bias, then every student can enter the reading zone, and no one ever thinks in terms of testosterone or neuron density.” This totally mirrors my experience.
I must note that Atwell is a big proponent of an extensive classroom library. And I know this can be a sore point for some who would say we have great school libraries and wonder where is their money for class libraries. In Vancouver, we are fortunate to have great teacher librarians and good central collections. I think though that accessibility is key. Students need to be able to have enough books at the right level. What happens when school libraries are only open three days a week for instance? I know some schools have collection of home reading books that can be circulated. Also buying whole class novels can be great but not always the best way to invest money. I digress.
The last chapter on High School is really interesting. She describes an experience I have had when vociferous readers seem to have stopped reading in high school. At a rather academic school I once was in a few years ago, a school goal was that every student would read three books independently in the course of the year. That was shocking to me as my best readers were reading a book a week in sixth grade.
In this chapter she makes a plea to high school English teachers She describes a student who read over 200 titles in grade seventh and eighth grade and had no time to enjoy books due to demands of the English curriculum in high school. Atwell has some great suggestions for high school teachers.
I think I will put this book to use this year. There are things I know I want to do differently due to what I have learned in the last few years. This is the kind of book I will probably need to go back to as I feel my way again in a real class with real students on a daily basis.