The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort: Issue 30

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Week 30: Stop Readicide!

In anticipation of the arrival of the long awaited collaboration between the beloved Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, 180 Days, I decided to go back to the Gallagher book that started it all for me, Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What We Can Do About It (2009). Without knowing it, I was indoctrinated by this book and Gallagher’s ideology as a new teacher in the first high school I taught English in because my whole department had attempted to stop readicide before readicide was an official thing. The expectation at this school was 15 minutes of silent reading time to begin every class period. We shared a hallway, grades 9 - 12, and this practice was so much a part of our school culture that many of us even left our classroom doors open because there was silence for the first 15 minutes of class, every single day. There were a lot of things that needed work in that department, but our commitment to literacy instruction was not one of them. I miss it. A lot.

Gallagher’s book Readicide is not an instructional guide with all the solutions to the problems of balance we all have; he doesn’t tell us how to make all of our students into proficient, lifelong readers. What Gallagher does do is remind us of what matters when it comes to reading instruction: we must give students ample opportunities to choose what they read and time to read for more than assessment or they’ll rarely ever read unless they must, thus becoming aliterate. Gallagher defines readicide early on as “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools” (1). Friends, we’ve seen what that does, the effect that has on our democratic society — when we don’t help instill a love of reading and an urgency to learn, our students become disengaged, disenfranchised adults who are less and less trusting and participatory in the world around them. We cannot afford to ignore this anymore; our current political and social climate is evidence enough of that eight years after Readicide was first published.

So, this Book Fort is not an instructional guide, but food for thought. Consider choosing Readicide for your department book study if you haven’t already, especially if you have an abundance of new or inexperienced English teachers. I hope this short sampling of ideas is enough to make you think about the power you have as individual educators to make a significant change in reading instruction in your schools.

Gallagher, Kelly. Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What We Can Do About It. Stenhouse: Portland, ME. 2009.

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Turn Kids on to Reading

"Because the powers outside the classroom walls are so strong in tearing down young readers, what goes on inside the classroom is of paramount importance. Today, more than ever, valuable classroom time presents the best opportunity -- often the only opportunity -- to turn kids on to reading."

I have long said that investing time for reading pays long-term dividends for both students and teachers, schools and communities at large. The problem seems to be that administrators are under pressure to show results quickly and independent reading does not always produce those in quantitatively measurable ways. We got away from what we know is best, but we must get back to it; students need time to read, time to have conversations with and about books, and they most likely won't get it anywhere but school.

Consider this: set aside ten minutes of class time regularly, even if that "cuts in" to time for other things. It IS worth it, I promise. My own teaching experience has shown it and I see it weekly in the teachers I have worked with to implement it. You could have a lifelong impact on your students by giving them this opportunity; about what other instructional activities or assessments can you say that?

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Multiple-Choice Test Prep Is Not Enough

"Instead of pounding factoid into our students' heads, [Robert] Sternberg suggests that we should be emphasizing those skills that would make our students 'expert citizens': creativity, common sense, wisdom, ethics, dedication, honesty, teamwork, hard work, knowing how to win and lose, a sense of fair play, and lifelong learning.'"

A major push for "deeper learning" has emerged in the last couple of years in the educational world and it is due in part to the sad lack of these "soft" skills evident in college students and in the professional world. We have been graduating automatons who can adequately (at best) bubble in the correct answers on multiple-choice tests, but sometimes cannot read critically, write clearly or persuasively, or communicate effectively with humans face-to-face. It is important to help our students navigate these tests because they are a part of life. That being said, independent reading and the authentic writing and discussion that comes from it can be the catalyst for deeper learning if you let it. In fact, based on my experience co-teaching and researching with my colleague and friend, Christopher Bronke, a focus on these skills and authentic learning experiences will yield higher multiple choice test results than explicit test-prep anyway. When we teach students to think and read deeply, and to write and communicate well, they are better at everything, even filling in the correct bubbles.

Consider this: let the topics, themes, and issues that emerge from self-selected independent reading texts guide research projects, writing, and discussions in your classroom. You will be building vast amounts of background knowledge about relevant and engaging subjects without choosing any of it yourself and will be facilitating the growth of your students into more empathetic, open-minded citizens.

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Hard Talks to Make Big Changes

"If we have any chances of addressing readicide, we must involve the key players, (teachers, students, administrators, literacy coaches, superintendents, board members, legislators, newspaper reporters) in hard talk. We have to be honest, perhaps painful, look at what is happening to young readers in our schools."

Sometimes hard talks that can be very emotionally charged are necessary to make big changes in schools and departments. One of those hard talks is imperative if we want to grow independent readers and lifelong learners. Gallagher shares a list of questions to consider, some of which I have added below (p. 135 has a checklist as well).

  1. What do we mean when we say our school "values" reading?
  2. Is our quest for higher test scores harming our students' long term reading prospects?
  3. Why is it that the higher the grade level, the higher the chances that students are turned off to reading?
  4. Are our students being trained to think deeply? Is width drowning depth? Which world is more important for us, as teachers, to heed -- the political world or the authentic world?
  5. Are we out of balance?
  6. Is our treatment of struggling readers helping to lift them out of the remedial track or are the same students mired in remedial classes year after year? Is our treatment working?
  7. Are we losing more and more readers every year? Is the percentage of students who love reading dwindling? What might be occurring inside the school that may be contributing to this phenomenon?
  8. Are our students doing enough academic reading? If not, why not? What can we do to change the downward trend?
  9. Are our students doing enough recreational reading? If not, why not? What can we do to change the downward trend?
  10. Do we understand that since NCLB began, reading scores have remained flat and that the achievement gap has remained wide?

Consider this: gather colleagues, students, administrators, and stakeholders like Library Media Specialists and parent representatives to discuss some of these hard questions. Determine where you are in your department, school, or community and begin thinking through what you can do to grow avid readers. Start with a policy on guaranteed, non-negotiable academic and recreational reading time in English classrooms and move out from there.

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Website of the Week

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Donors Choose

Inspired to build a classroom library and give kids more reading choice? Donors Choose is one way to do that. Check out this super simple way to design and post projects for your classroom that need funding support. Teachers can ask for supplies, field trips, guest speakers, furniture, technology, or whatever they can think of that will enhance the academic experience of their students. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation often matches donations, as do other nonprofits that support various parts of education like Humanities or STEM. Also, if you’re looking to support through donations, fund a teacher’s project! What a wonderful way for your money to positively affect students for years to come. Follow them on Twitter @DonorsChoose

Ed Tech Tool of the Week

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Looking for primary sources to supplement your curriculum? Want to avoid digging through the 1 million search results or a database to find them? NewseumED is your tool. This news museum out of Washington, D.C. is a treasure trove of primary sources, newspapers, artifacts, and lesson plans that help teachers cover civics and bring history alive. What better time than now to draw attention to our First Amendment rights? This is also an excellent place to send students working on research projects; you know they love to Google everything and come up with nothing of substance. Follow them on Twitter @NewseumED

What Colleagues Are Reading

Missed Previous Issues?

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Kristie Hofelich Ennis, NBCT

In an effort to systematically study relevant research and stay connected to the teachers I greatly respect and with whom I have worked for years to successfully implement independent reading, this newsletter came about. It will offer research and practical ideas for quick implementation and may prompt further discussion or study with your colleagues. I hope you'll find it useful and thought-provoking; I also hope you will stay in touch if you implement any of the ideas with your students. They are, after all, why I do what I do!