Wednesday, February 17, 2010

About Reader's Workshop: Real Reader's Don't Mark Up Books With Highlighters

I have a poem, completely coincidently, sitting open next to me. The poems is called 'Introduction to Poetry' by Billy Collins and the second last stanza reads:

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

  On Monday, I went to a professional development sessions which was supposed to have been about gifted and talented learners. One of the presenters was talking about differentiation in English. Except not. Leaving aside the fact that my Grade Five and Six readers would not have been challenged by Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda (they read books like Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice), she unveiled this lovely way of ensuring teachers were really teaching reading.

Highlighters.

We were asked to highlight all the verbs in a scene between Rowan and the Dragon and identify the changing point. It was supposed to make us suddenly aware that the author had used verbs for a purpose. We went at a pace much quicker then children might have gone at, and still I was almost immediately bored. Furthermore, I was completely turned off this book, and possibly anything else Emily Rodda has ever written.

I was suddenly regretting leaving my sticky note with Donalyn Miller's tweet at home - How does this prepare children for a lifetime of reading? I could have jumped on the table and yelled it out. (Ok, I probably wouldn't have, but I could have written it on the feedback sheet at the end). Except, there wouldn't have been an answer, because this exercise was put together to help children 'show' that they were reading better on our national testing.

I mentioned to the person sitting next to me, who had already put up with my fervant ode to Reader's Workshop and my recommendations that she buy certain books right now, that this might work, if split up into smaller chunks, as a mini lesson, but I feared people would make it their whole reading program. "No, they wouldn't do that." She assured me.

Wouldn't they? Wouldn't they jump on anything that was packaged as 'easy' and 'safe' and 'certain to raise NAPLAN scores?' In Australia you just need to put it in a book with Black Line Masters and it's sold.

Reader's Workshop isn't always easy. It isn't always safe. It doesn't have black line masters or class sets of novels, with reading guides. It doesn't come with highlighters.

Reader's Workshop doesn't tie text to a chair with rope to torture a confession out of it. In Reader's Workshop, students experience the shift of power between Rowan and the Dragon by being in Rowan's shoes, by holding their breath as the dragon turns towards him, by feeling his sympathy when he recognises the dragon is in pain. They take a journey with Rowan, not make a table of his verbs.


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9 comments:

Cathy said...

As teachers, I wonder how many pieces of literature we torture? I hope not many.

A Reader's Community said...

I remember having books tortured in high school - to a point where I physically shudder when I hear one book title. (My husband is the same, but his 'shudder book' is one of my favourites.

There seems to be a move to class novels from grade 4 around here. These novels are read out loud (don't skip ahead or get bogged down in wondering) and the vocabulary, motives and thoughts are teased, manipulated, written about and, sadly, tortured. And these might be the only books children are reading at school or at home. Scary.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Ugh -- I definitely agree with you! Highlighting is used as a test-taking skill, and we all know that real readers don't test themselves when they are done reading! In addition, elementary students don't know how to highlight anyway: They just color everything and turn the entire text yellow. A big help that is!

We're approaching the time of the big state testing in PA. Boxes and boxes of markers are coming out. I cringe.

A Reader's Community said...

Dianne - the worst part is that even if I wanted the students to highlight for the test, they're not allowed to mark the test reading booklet so we can use them again for test prep next year . . .

Yet another reason not to get them highlighter dependent

aredden said...

Your title caught my attention. I am a real reader, and I use a highlighter all the time. I had to read your thoughts, and I was prepared to debate. Then I read and realized there was no need for debate. I love the Donalyn Miller question, and use it to guide my own work with students. I wonder if the expert who was teaching you this highlighting technique has taken the time to figure out what it means to be a real reader.

A Reader's Community said...

I was waiting for someone to call me on that. :) There is a place for highlighters of course - I used to use them all the time when researching!

What saddened me most was that this expert used to be a teacher librarian and used to teach about loving books. Now she believes she was wrong and wants class sets and highlighters.

aredden said...

I use them even when I'm not researching, but I'm weird that way. :)

It is sad to see people go from one extreme to the other isn't it?

Readingcountess said...

I could not agree with you more! I remember all too well my oldest son's cry of foul play when he came home the first few weeks of sixth grade stunned that he had to debase his book in that manner. And he had to have a certain NUMBER highlighted to PROVE that he had read the chapters assigned. AND he had to have a certain number of elements highlighted...the insanity goes on. Well written, as always! I enjoyed your thoughts and always view them as a vindication of best practice!

luckeyfrog said...

Highlighters are like anything else- a tool that can be used and works for some people. But in a BOOK, and not just a short text for practice with a certain skill? That's ridiculous.

I did have one teacher that encouraged us using what were basically see-through mini-Post-Its. We made our notes and annotations on those and really interacted with the text. I found it distracting at first, but then REALLY got into it. I don't think it would be right for every text, but we were high schoolers just starting to delve into Shakespeare and I think it was critical to my understanding and enjoyment of the play.

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

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