Where needed, the authors provide references to the studies behind their methods, but the book isn’t meant to be theoretical. It’s meant to be an action plan. The majority of practices discussed in the book are from the classrooms of effective teachers (many from Doug Lemov’s Uncommon Schools), teachers who have led ordinary students to achieve extraordinary results. The examples provided come from countless familiar texts (Grapes of Wrath, Number the Stars, The Great Gatsby, The Outsiders, Lily's Crossing, Lord of the Flies, Chains, etc.) which are taught in thousands of classrooms across the country. For seasoned teachers, many of this book’s ideas will reinforce and validate what you’re already doing in the classroom. As I read, I often found myself saying, “I’ve always done that, and I knew that it worked, but I never knew why until now.”
In other instances, I experienced small epiphanies.
Many teachers, for example, wonder why students do so well in reading comprehension when assessed informally or formatively but then perform poorly when assessed summatively or on “cold” material such as that found on standardized tests. The authors explain that a common cycle in classrooms is reading, discussion, and then writing. This typically yields good results, with all students seeming to be “on the same page.”
However, this particular cycle often yields a false positive; rather than expressing their understanding of the reading, students instead express their understanding of the discussion of that reading. The classroom discussion spackled over any misconceptions or glaring gaps in knowledge, and every student as a result now seems to possess a full comprehension of the text (including those students who may have neglected to even read the text, but paid diligent attention to the ensuing discussion!). That cycle's limitations never occurred to me, and I’ll admit I’ve been lulled by these false positives over the years, thinking that my students knew more than they truly did.
Regarding this practice, the book states, “You want engaged, enthused, deep-thinking readers driving discussion, but you also want to be sure that all students are able to generate solid meaning themselves.” The authors then show how to improve this cycle, as well as how to implement other reading-writing-discussion cycles which better encourage and assess comprehension of, and interaction with, the chosen text. In regard to TDQ (text dependent questions), the authors further explain:
Please realize that this book is NOT a quick read! That is meant not as a criticism but as a compliment. Nearly every single page of my copy has margins jammed with notes. Nearly every single chapter has caused me, a teacher 25+ years, to tweak what I’m doing in my classroom. I've revisited the chapter on Close Reading, for example, more times than I can count. While I’ve plowed through dozens of other books on literacy with only the slightest impact on my teaching, I’ll humbly admit that this book has helped me fine tune my practice in nearly every aspect. Using the myriad models and exemplars provided in the text as well as the DVD and web site, I’ve improved discussion, assessments, lesson structure and pacing, often with the slightest change.
That’s what I think is most notable about this book: rather than demand that teachers change everything they’re doing, the authors provide ways for educators to reflect on their practices, ask the right questions about what they're trying to achieve, and implement those targeted changes that aggregate impressive results over time.
To whet your appetite, here are a few thoughts from Reading Reconsidered:
On the job of the reading teacher:
On "whole books" as source texts:
On the limits of leveling books:
On the importance of reading for pleasure:
On the importance of challenging texts:
On text dependent questions:
On close reading:
A key aspect of Close Reading, ultimately, is identifying and attending to a line of inquiry. It's what you do when you write a paper about a text. So it is often helpful to know before you start what idea you want students to read a text for. This does not have to mean there is a “right answer” so much as a consistent area of focus — a line of inquiry you will follow. Often this means modeling how to “argue a line,” tracing a theme, a motive, a conflict, or an image through the complexity of a text. Other times, it could mean asking students to identify the “line” they find the most interesting. That's great too — especially if they've seen you model how to do it right. (p. 99)
For example, it is important to use Close Reading skills in response to both challenge (“Wow, that is really hard; I'm going to go back through and tear it apart until I get what she means”) and opportunity (“Wow, that imagery is so striking; I'm going to go back through and make sense of why it seems so important”). (p. 102)
On secondary texts:
On writing for reading:
On the perils of confusing discussion with text comprehension:
|From Reading Reconsidered, pp. 164, 165|
On student autonomy:
On revision in writing (using Read-Write-Discuss-Revise):
On explicit and implicit vocabulary instruction:
One of the best ways to ask students to use and apply new vocabulary words is to ground your questions in the text. Consider asking students to describe situations or novels that you are reading. (For example, “Which one of our vocabulary words describes how Jesse must be feeling right now? Why?”) (p. 283)
Teach Like a Champion, consider this a worthy companion. Reading Reconsidered describes how many techniques (such as Front the Writing, p. 165) from TLAC are put into play in the reading/writing classroom.
Reading Reconsidered is a huge book of over 400 pages, but don't let that daunt you. When we buy a recipe book we don't think, "I can never make all of this food at once!" Instead, we try one dish at a time, gaining confidence in an ever-expanding repertoire of dishes and the requisite skills needed to create them.
If your PLN is seeking a change-provoking title for a book club, this text will provide you with at least a year’s worth of study and discussion. It's especially effective in this regard due to the numerous specific teaching strategies, the DVD exemplars of these strategies in action, and the extensive print resources provided in text chapters as well as the appendix.
Highly recommended for teachers-to be, as well as practicing professionals at any level.