Thursday, January 22, 2009

Welcome to Kelly Gallagher!

We are honored here at TheDreamTeacher to have a visit from accomplished author Kelly Gallagher! Kelly is renowned for books including Teaching Adolescent Writers and Building Adolescent Readers, both published by Stenhouse and both valuable information for any teacher's library.

For the past week, we've been focusing on Kelly's new book, Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, which will be released by Stenhouse on February 10th. (Order it HERE!) Kelly has stopped by to answer teacher's questions about the sneak preview that we presented here last week. Here are your questions and Kelly's answers during this exciting discussion:

1. My question has to do with the assessment of student progress in reading. If the current assessments are driving us to Readicide, as they seem to be, what do you think is a fair way to monitor teacher success in helping students gain the full range of reading skills, and most especially comprehension/higher order skills? As much as I disagree with the way we assess reading on a mass high-stakes scale now, I've also been in a lot of schools where teachers were not getting the job done, most often because they really didn't have the deep understanding of how to do it well. How do we spot those teachers and help them?

There are three questions that can be asked after the reading of any text: What does it say? What does it mean? What does it matter? These are the levels of assessment I want to assess after my students read. (More on this in my book, Deeper Reading). I also want them to consider what the text didn't say. I design all my reading assessments with these levels of thinking in mind. This means all my assessment requires written response. No bubbling. If I want to know my students are getting to deeper levels, they have to demonstrate this via writing.

2. I agree with Mr. Gallagher that giving kids time to read during school is important, but what do you do when there are a few kids who simply don't read during this time? For example, I have one student who says he hates reading. We looked through my classroom library together, and there was nothing that looked interesting to him. We've looked through the school's library with the same result. When we finally find a book he's willing to try, he looks around the room during most of our reading time. During independent reading time, I run guided reading groups, have student-teacher conferences, or give individual students reading assessments (DRAs), so I can't read with him every day. How do I make sure independent reading time is a valuable use of time for ALL kids?
Frankly, I do not know that you can. There may be that one kid out there who will not read. Whenever I get a kid like that, I want to know if it is a case of "will" or a case of "skill." Does he not want to read? Or is it that he cannot read? I sit down and assess the child's ability to read. I start really reluctant readers with comic books and magazines. I also start by sharing with them the real-world reasons why reading is a worthwhile undertaking. That said, I do not think it is possible (given our class sizes and other obstacles) to turn every kid on to reading. I try to touch as many of them as I can.

3. I recently discussed the unbelievable breadth of the English Language Arts curriculum with one of my colleagues. As ELA teachers, we both feel the pressure to teach students everything that involves reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing. Unfortunately, this sometimes comes at the cost of valuing quantity over quality - an unfortunate step towards Readicide. Your recommendation was to break the curriculum into 2 subjects ­- reading and writing. Although there would be clear overlaps between the two subjects, there would also be distinct objectives for each subject. This would, however, involve hiring additional staff and probably lengthening the instructional day. I firmly believe in an integrated curriculum, but sometimes, when the day is too short and the curriculum is too daunting, this approach seems the way to go. Mr. Gallagher, ­ I know you have focused on both reading and writing curriculums in your work. Have any of your experiences provided insight on the pros/cons of this issue? Are there other models available for creating a more purposeful and critical curriculum?

I would not favor any proposal that separates reading and writing into two subjects. Instead of one hour of reading and one hour of writing, why don't we give them two hours of language arts? What we need to be doing is lobbying for more time (e.g. double periods) for English classes. I talk in Readicide about Marzano's work where he found that the largest impediment to teaching the standards are the standards themselves. Oddly, I take comfort in that. We cannot fit 22 years of curriculum into K-12. What we can do is slow down and make sure that our limited time with our students is maximized. This means we read and write every single day.

5. I have a couple of different questions regarding the ideas presented in Readicide. First of all, I respect the notion that teachers need to find their voices, and begin discussing the problems caused by high-stakes testing, but I cringe at the idea of doing so outside of my teamroom or Friday's "happy hour". My principal made it clear his first year that teachers without his "sense of urgency" could be replaced. I love my school and my community; I don't plan on leaving. Thus, do you have any suggestions for how to begin some "hard talk" in an appropriate, professional manner? I don't want to come across as a complainer or not a team-player when everyone else has accepted multiple-choice testing as the present reality of education.

I don't think there is a generic answer to this question. Much depends on the dynamics of the site---the principal, the make-up of the faculty, the culture of the school. A couple of suggestions: start a professional book club on your campus. Even if you only start with a few teachers, find like-minded teachers and read together. Read what the research says about reading. Share articles. When discussing with other faculty members, always center your discussion around the following question: What is best for kids? I don't think it is about a "sense of urgency." No one has a stronger sense of urgency than I do. It is about meeting in a professional manner and applying our sense of urgency in a way that best helps kids.

Secondly, my colleagues and I have struggled with how to ensure and assess nightly reading at home. We have tried weekly reading logs on which students respond to the reading with questions, summaries, illustrations, connections, etc. as well as simple reading calendars, requiring students to note titles, pages and genres. No matter what we try, these logs always end up being submitted late, incomplete, insufficiently completed or neglected entirely, with struggling readers apathetically accepting zero after zero. It seems the only students who turn them in consistently are the ones I know are reading anyway! Do you have any tips for ensuring reading outside of school? Thank you so much for many of the suggestions in your book! My teammate and I are going to start assigning weekly articles as a way to increase our students' background knowledge.

I share in my early books the logs I have kept with my students. I don't keep them any more. I have simplified things greatly. To get an A, B, or C in my class, you not only have to earn the specific grade, you also have to read 1 book a month on your own (This book-a-month does not include the novels and works of non-fiction that we are reading together). If you are a reluctant reader, read easier books. If you are an excellent reader, read books at your level. Students fill out One-pagers each month for accountability purposes. I should also add that I have to stop repeatedly and remind my students why they should make the effort to read (See my firstbook, Reading Reasons).

Thanks goes out to our visiting author, Kelly Gallagher, as well to as our teachers who submitted questions. We appreciate Mr. Gallagher including us on his BlogTour and wish him well as he continues his travels!


Mrs. V said...

I really enjoyed this Q&A. I had never heard of Kelly Gallagher before this blog tour, but I really enjoy his voice. I look forward to reading his books.

yuteralove said...
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