Showing posts with label high school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label high school. Show all posts

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Should We Read to High School Students?

Should high school English teachers read aloud to their students or play audio recordings to them?

Over the past several years, this practice has insinuated itself, Justin Bieber-like, into our consciousness. It seems to be showing up everywhere and it can be very annoying.

Reading aloud to older students definitely has a place, and yet it depends upon the purpose. I know many teachers use it like a crutch, reading to kids rather than requiring them to do their own reading. It is easier that way, of course, but it doesn’t accomplish some major instructional purposes.

Thus, if the purpose is to ensure that students know Poe’s story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” as a cultural touchstone (“ooh, that’s the one where the guy gets bricked up in the wall”), then reading it to the kids should accomplish that. Or, you could just show an old Vincent Price movie.

The problem, however, is that English teachers need to teach students to read that kind of text themselves, and make sense of it. The hope is that if students build the ability to read and interpret such texts that they will be able to do so later in college and in the workplace (though it would be a pretty strange workplace that wants you to interpret dramatic irony in an account of a homicide).

The problem is that students won’t build that ability from being read to. They need to engage the texts themselves.

But, just because I think the practice is misused by teachers, that doesn’t mean it should be banned. What are some good purposes for oral reading in secondary English?

Here are a few:
1.    Teacher reading (or the use of audio recordings) can provide a model of what a text should sound like. Thus, if my students were still building oral fluency, I might have them listen to a portion of the text, and then try to make it sound the same way themselves. Such modeling can play a useful role in fluency practice, even with older students.
2.    There are times when the point is simply to convey information. Oral sharing of a text can be a practical way to accomplish that.
3.    We are responsible for building students’ oral language as well as written. It can be very useful to listen to the sound of the language for a particular text. Eudora Welty wrote about how important reading aloud was for her in learning to write and in appreciating the texts of others. Occasionally demonstrating this power to kids can be a great idea (though she engaged in it herself—and your kids should, too).
4.    Sometimes we have to balance efficiency with our instructional purposes. Teachers sometimes use their oral reading to speed things along, to focus attention or motivation, and to make a lesson fit the schedule. For example, a teacher may have the students reading and discussing a text for the first 40 minutes of class, but is not getting as far as she hoped. Consequently, she reads the next section of the text to everyone to complete the chapter before the bell rings. Or, in another case, the teacher reads the first 2-3 pages of a story to the students to set the stage, and then turns the rest of the reading over to them.

     Nothing wrong with those practices if they don’t displace too much student reading. Unfortunately, in my experience, such reading tends to be used because the kids are finding the text to be difficult or don’t want to read it.

     Last week, I was teaching a high school English class myself. I had the students read an essay, and was questioning them—and not getting very far, I must admit. At some point, I asked one young man a question about what the author said, and he gave a dopey answer. It was evident he hadn’t actually done the reading. He either didn’t read it or he read it badly. It was tempting to just stop there and read the essay to them to move things along, but instead I said, “You guys didn’t get it. Read it again.” It was amazing how the tenor of the class changed at that point, and in retrospect I’m sure glad I didn’t read it to them.

      Oral sharing and video and audio presentations have their place in the high school English curriculum. But it is a small place, so teachers need to be honest with themselves as to why they are using it. I think one way to protect against the weak uses of it would be to simply set an arbitrary percentage of English class that will be devoted to student reading (perhaps 40% or 50%--the teacher might decide that if there are 250 minutes of class time per week, then students should spend 100 minutes per week reading—not discussing, not listening to others read, not writing, not waiting, just reading stories, poems, essays, literary nonfiction, etc.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Do You Want Your Husband to Remember Your Birthday or Anniversary?

            Let’s be honest. Any woman (or man, for that matter) wants their significant other to be involved enough that they remember both of these dates. Remember my birthday, but forget the day that we linked ourselves together for eternity, and you’re in obvious trouble. Recall the date we connected, but not my special day (all by myself) and I wonder if you think of me only in connection to you. Problem!

            Your spouse wants to know that he/she is important to you and not having a premature Alzheimer’s attack when it comes to both of these dates is a real plus.

            Easy question. Easy answer. Okay, try this one…

            Is oral or silent reading more important in middle school?

            We live in a time when silent reading ability will probably buy you more than oral reading skills. There definitely are radio and television announcers who have to read scripts well, but most of us don’t have those duties.

            However, that doesn’t mean oral reading is without value—especially for kids who are 11-, 12-, or 13-years-old.

            Oral reading has some small value as an outcome on its own, but in school-age kids it has its greatest value as a teaching tool. While it is true that oral reading fluency matters much more when you are 7 than when you are 11, it still matters a lot. 

           Oral reading proficiency explains more than 80% of the variation in the reading comprehension of second-graders. What that means is that if you could make all 7-year-olds equal in oral reading fluency (recognizing equal numbers of words, reading with similar speed, pausing equally appropriately), then you would do away with 80% of the differences in comprehension.

            Phony choice: If I had to choose—and I do not—I would spend more time on fluency instruction in second grade than on vocabulary instruction—because the learning payoff is bigger.

            The amount of reading comprehension variance explainable by oral fluency falls to about 25% by the time the average student is in eighth grade. To me that justifies fluency instruction, though I recognize the payoff is smaller. (What self-respecting secondary teacher wouldn’t gladly do away with 25% of the reading variation in their students?)

            Phony choice (again): If I had to choose—and I still do not have to make such a choice in real classrooms—I would spend more time on vocabulary instruction in 7th grade than on fluency—because the learning payoff should be bigger.

            What happens is that as children progress up the grades, more and more of them read at ceiling levels of fluency. Few third-graders can read 175 words correct per minute with proper pausing and prosody. But those numbers increase each year, meaning that more and more students have sufficient levels of fluency to allow them to accomplish the highest levels of comprehension. But, once those ceiling levels of fluency are reached, then to accomplish the highest levels of comprehension will require other kinds of gains (such as in vocabulary).

            I would definitely include oral reading practice in my secondary classes—at least for any students not reading at about 150-175 words correct per minute (and, yes, it has to sound like English—none of this “read as fast as you can” baloney). 

            That doesn’t mean that my students would do a lot of round robin turn taking. No, I’d follow the research: we’d engage in paired reading and echo reading with repetition and feedback. Our purpose would be to practice the reading of demanding texts (texts which the students can’t already read well), until we could read them at high levels of proficiency.

            But just because I would provide students with that kind of practice, does not mean that I don’t understand the value of silent reading. I would also devote substantial class time to engaging students in the silent reading of texts that have rich content and language. I would engage students in discussions and debates about the content of those texts, and I would require that students write about the ideas in such texts (e.g., summarizing them, analyzing them, and synthesizing information from that and other texts).

            Our responsibility is to make students effective readers. There are many things that go into that outcome: students need to develop rich vocabularies, they need to know how to parse sentences so that they can be interpreted well, they need to know how to operate on texts that they don’t understand just from reading, and they need to know how to reason and think about the kinds of information that they will meet in text.

            Thus, when it comes to oral and silent reading, I’m unwilling to pick one over the other. It is a foolish choice that confuses outcomes and inputs. There is no question that our goal is to develop readers who can read a text with a depth of understanding. But practice, both oral and silent, contributes to the accomplishment of that goal so only a very foolish teacher would require one and not the other.

            By the way, how many dozens of roses must you send if you do forget your anniversary? No, reason… I’m just asking.