So two of my colleagues whom I most admire went to a PD Workshop earlier this week on “Teaching High School Kids to Read”. When I asked them how it was, their eyes went glisten-y and they started with, “Oh, Cammie….”, I knew I had to pull up a chair…..
I will readily admit as a high school English teacher, that my thoughts on kids’ lack of reading skills in high school has typically been something like this: “Well, I can’t teach them in their last year (or 2nd last year) of school what they haven’t learned (how to read) in the previous 10. Hopefully, I’ll teach them a few strategies to get them through the reading comprehension test worth 25% of their entire Grade 12 English mark, but what more can I do? Now, teaching them to improve their writing….. that I can tackle.”
…I pull up a chair, and as one of my colleagues starts to give me the skinny on the 5 strategies they learned to help improve students’ reading, my mind instantly begins to whir. I kind of do that! I could do that! Oh, that would work in _______ poem, or _____short story.” This brief conversation ended with: “Well, we have 2 copies of an earlier book the presenter wrote. Why don’t you take one and check it out.” Me: “Just keep it, I won’t have time to do it justice.” My colleague: “Just take it anyway. You never know.” (When Kids Can’t Read, What Teacher Can Do, Kylene Beers, 2003).
2 days later the other colleague pops into my room at the end of the day. Here are my notes from the session….. And off we go, re-inventing the teaching of literature.
It’s now 9:00 on a Friday night. 3 days into the semester. The PD Presentation they attended was on Monday. Between chauffeuring my children to their various activities this evening, I have read 100 pages of this book. I haven’t done any of my marking; I haven’t done any work on my Master’s capstone project, or the course project due next week. But, I have a dozen sticky notes of planned changes to how I approach the literature in my classes, especially for the non-academic crew whose words and comments are echoed in the author’s anecdotes about teaching struggling readers. In fact, the real reason I turned the computer on 15 minutes ago was to adapt a “Probable Passage” guideline/worksheet for some of the stories I will be teaching next week. Funny thing….earlier this week when I was previewing my typical course of action for these two pieces of literature, I knew my students didn’t love the lessons, or really connect to the stories beyond getting the gist of the plot and some heated debate about a “killing” issue that arises from the context. Turns out, I think these will be the perfect pair of stories to try this new ‘pre-reading’ strategy with.
Colleagues: Block 4, mid-week. You should pop in for a visit to see how this unfolds…