Tuesday, February 9, 2010

About Reader's Workshop: How do I know if they're really reading?

Apparently the worth of reading books (actual real books) in the classroom is being questioned again. I suppose in our accountability climate (and the movement has definately spread from the US to Australia) it's hard to get a series of numbers that can make pretty graphs from students all reading different books.

Nancie Atwell has written a wonderful case for literature, in which she says that the reading of literature is responsible for students who are able to find their dreams, needs and struggles in the pages of well written books.
But most importantly, from my perspective as the teacher responsible for their literacy, my students become strong readers. They build fluency, stamina, vocabulary, confidence, critical abilities, habits, tastes, and comprehension. No instructional shortcut, packaged curriculum, new technology, regimen of tests, or other variety of magical thinking can achieve this end.
 This is what I've found in my own classroom in the very short time I've done Reader's Workshop.

But in the comments someone immediately comes back with:
Teachers don't know if and when students really read.
There's other points in the comments that make me wince (don't get me started on the 'reading of novels is bad for boys' argument - I'm the daughter of a male reader, the wife of a male reader and have a class full of excited male readers.) but this one really stands out. I know that my students read.

I don't use traditional testing methods to check this. I don't ask them to give book talks at the end of each book (though if they're excited they can 'sell' it to the class) or ask them to write book reports. I don't stick them on a computer to answer comprehension questions. Those methods, to me, completely suck the fun out of reading - and further more, they're at the end of the book! You're missing all that assessment while they're actually reading the book!

I do two main things to assess readers. Neither of them fit on pretty graphs, though I suppose you could manipulate them to if you wanted to. But both of them tell me more about the readers than anything I've done before.
  1. I ask the students to write me a book letter every 2 weeks about one book they've read, digging in to it to illustrate certain points. I give them an example to work from, a task sheet to keep them on track and a short checklist to see where they've got it.
  2. I confer with the students as many times a week as I can.
When you sit down next to a child and talk to them, you know that they're reading. You know from the way a student's eyes light up when he tells you about George's travels across the universe, or when another child tells you that she likes the way Sammy is stubborn and makes Dicey's life difficult, or when someone else complains that there was kissing in Catching Fire (but can't wait to read the rest regardless).

So for the rest of the week I'll look at 'knowing that the kids read' in this blog :)

(If you want to know more about conferring I highly recommend Patrick A Allan's Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop)

Read more about Reader's Workshop here


Unknown said...

Amen. I couldn't agree more with Atwell's position on reading, and I think the authentic activities like "selling" books to other readers and writing letters are much better than some 10 question computer-generated multiple choice quiz at the end.

I'm sorry to hear that the accountability trend is moving to your continent. It's a nightmare in the states. One of the challenges that I face as a teacher that uses the Reader's Workshop model is making sure that I have enough "gradable" artifacts to record in my grade book. I have volumes of notes and records from conferences and informal assessments, but our district expects us to have a huge paper trail of graded material. I feel like that interferes with the "real work" that needs to be happening in the workshop. How do you handle grading student work? Maybe that could be a future blog post. ;-)

Thanks again for sharing. I do so enjoy reading your blog.

A Reader's Community said...

The accountability debate really ramped up a notch this year with the publication of a website called MySchool (yep, our government did well on the creativity part) publishing and comparing schools results in our national grade 3,5,7 and 9 tests. Many many many problems with this, including the way they did it. (And encouraged parents to harrass teachers over it)

I'll definately post on the paper trail :)

A Reader's Community

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Queensland, Australia
A Reader's Community is a place to find ideas, information, resources and recommendations about Reader's Workshop.

This Blog has five main types of posts.

About Reader's Workshop - information about Reader's Workshop in my classroom and how it works

Reader's Workshop Tools - resources you can access and use to help you with reader's workshop

Book talks - Book recommendations of two or three books centred around a particular theme

Book letters - in-depth reviews of one particular book

Reader's Workshop Links - Short links lists to help you find more information
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