Friday, February 27, 2015

Reluctant Reader Remedies

Charles Swindoll began a blog post on contradictory truths with the following:
Tom Landry, the late head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was once quoted as saying something like this:
"I have a job to do that is not very complicated, but it is often difficult: to get a group of men to do what they don't want to do so they can achieve the one thing they have wanted all their lives."
Coach Landry, in that seemingly contradictory statement, described what discipline is all about . . . doing what we don't want to do so we can accomplish what we've always wanted. ("Contradictory Truths, Part One." Insight for Living, July 31, 2009)
My mind immediately went to my reluctant readers and my role as coach/classroom teacher in helping them become what Donalyn Miller terms wild readers.
For a variety of reasons, attaining the discipline of reading can be painful for our most reluctant readers. They may tell us they don’t really care about reading, but if we could wave a magic wand and make them accurate, fluent, expressive, comprehending readers, not one of them would turn us down. But there isn’t such a wand, and we know that they will never become wild readers if they don’t read. So how can we get them to do what they don’t want to do in order to help them become what they must?

I love what Pat Scales says in Winning Back Your Reluctant Readers, “The answer is simple: Know the students, know the books, and seek creative ways to connect the two.”
Pat is absolutely right. According to the Kids and Family Reading Report, the most likely reason our reluctant readers avoid reading is that they have trouble finding books they want to read.
Whether we work with 5-year-olds or 15-year-olds, we can help our reluctant readers by,
  • making sure we have high-interest books at their reading level;
  • providing as much choice as possible;
  • buying, begging for, and borrowing books that match their personal interests;
  • reading as many books as we can that match our students’ reading levels;
  • staying up on the newest books, current trends, and must-have titles;
  • giving weekly book talks to pique interest and promote titles; and
  • reading the first chapter of a book we know they’ll love, and then handing it over.
Those of you who teach middle school and high school may want to read this excellent article by Monique Delatte and Deborah Anderson, "Ten Ways to Build a Reluctant Reader Library."
Our hardest job, and highest calling, may very well be that of matchmaker, helping our most reluctant readers fall in love . . . with books.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Relaxed Readiness

In the PBS series Pioneers of Television: Acting Funny, Tina Fey talks about her measured, highly prepared approach to comedy. I was especially intrigued when she talked about relaxed readiness. She went on to say her work requires a great deal of preparation. She prepares, prepares, and prepares some more. This allows her to be in a state of relaxed readiness so that if something spontaneous does happen, she is there and capable of seizing the moment.

The idea of relaxed readiness has been simmering in my mind ever since. I believe it’s as relevant in the classroom as it is in the entertainment industry, and I came face-to-face with it when I observed Matt Glover model one-on-one writing conferences in a kindergarten classroom. Matt is a brilliant mentor for anyone fortunate enough to observe him. He hunkered down, greeting each five-year-old student with sincere interest and delight. Each conference followed a predictable structure.
  1. Investigation—He observed and interviewed, coming to an understanding of what each child was trying to do as a writer.
  2. Decision—He made a decision about what to teach and how to teach it. When faced with a wide variety of ways he could go (which is especially common with our youngest writers), he thought about what one thing he could teach that would make the biggest difference, not only in the current piece of writing but in the pieces that would follow it.
  3. Teaching—He clearly articulated what he wanted to teach each child. Then he either demonstrated or showed an example in a mentor text using a published book, his own writing, or the writing of a classmate.
  4. Connecting­—He recapped what the child had done as a writer and how they needed to carry the skill on in their future work.
The decision and teaching portions of the structure are where Matt’s relaxed readiness really shone through. He has a vast depth of knowledge and understanding of stages of development, the grade-level expectations, and beneficial mentor texts. It is this professional expertise that allows him to relax, be present, and respond with laserlike readiness to teachable moments.

I want to be like that. Do you? If so, we must take responsibility for our own professional development, immersing ourselves in excellent professional resources and aligning ourselves with people who can make it happen, whether a teaching partner, conference speaker, or Twitter mentor. Then we too can experience the sweet and rewarding satisfaction of relaxed readiness.