Saturday, July 9, 2011

Overall I really enjoyed the book "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?".  Before reading the book I was not sure if I would be able to relate enough to the book to find it interesting.  I definitely found interest and am starting to realize that all teachers are teachers of literacy, however, some in different ways than others.  I think this class will hopefully help me to teach reading to my students rather than just my content.  I think by using may of Tovani's conceps, strategies, and tools in my classroom, my students will not learn how to read but learn how to learn, thus gaining knowledge of the content I will be teaching.

Assessments and Directing Instruction

    The 8th chapter consisted of Tovani's ideas about what drives instruction and how to develop and focus assessments.  Tovani like myself is a firm believer in all forms of assessments (not just formal written).  Tovani also explains that it is important to inform your students that when they are not receiving formal written tests does not mean that they are not being assessed nor that you do not value assessments.
     Tovani then explains the many strategies and tools that work best for her in assessing her students by the end of a course.
 The first is setting goals, this involves goal setting as individuals and class wholes.  Tovani tracks the progress of each using charts.  At the end of a term she meets with the student and grades them on their efforts to achieve their goal.
 The second is Conversation Calendars, which was my favorite tool she shares in this chapter.  The conversation Calendars provide a way for the teacher to touch base with each individual student everyday.  The Calendar has two boxes for everyday, one for the teacher and one for the student.  The student is to use their box to say anything or ask anything they like and also to grade themselves on participation for that day.  The teacher in turn responds to what the student has written and also assigns them a grade.  This tool helps the teacher to get to know the students and their interests while creating a mutual bond.  I would really like to use this tool in the future.
 The third is reading logs.  For Tovani as an English teacher reading logs not only help for her to assess and monitor her students thinking but also to get to know her students.  While the conversation calendars involve more personal aspects of the students lives, reading logs can help teachers to learn what type of reader and learner a student is.
 The fourth measurement involves making a file folder for each individual student that includes demonstrations of the work they have done well.  This can act as an assessment by acting as a monitor of progress.
 The fifth measurement tool is called mini conferences.  Tovani feels that by having mini conferences she can track the students work while clearing up any difficulty he or she may be having.  This also helps the teacher to avoid assumptions about the learner and his or her progress/work.
   I enjoyed reading abut Tovanis different ideas of assessments, and directing instruction.  I think I will use many of these ideas in my classroom such as the conversation calendar, mini conferences and more.  I do feel though that many of these concepts will make it more difficult to not teach to the tests.  Where does the line draw?

Group Work

Cris Tovani's book "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?" thus far has given numerous amounts of strategies, concepts and tools for teachers to share with their students as readers.  The second half of this book begins to implement these strategies, tools and concepts.  Chapter 7 is about group work (discussion).  Tovani gives a list of reasons for why she thinks group work is beneficial in the classroom though she tried to steer away from it for so long before mastering the art of it:
stimulates higher levels of thinking
develops social skills
encourages articulation of thinking
honors all learners
holds kids accountable
helps students remember
allows students to make connections
allows others to see different perspectives
promotes deeper understanding
Looking at this list I soon realized that not all of these are always likely outcomes from group work or group discussion.  Tovani herself admits when she first began teaching she disliked group work very much as it often did not go as planned and often involved her running in circles around the classroom.  I think by giving your students the tools they need along with good classroom management techniques group discussion will produce many of the outcomes listed above.  In this chapter Tovani shares many stories of small and large group discussion taking place in her classroom.  It is clear that she has implemented effective classroom management.  It is also clear that her students know how to hold their thinking and they also practice good thinking and reading traits such as questioning, note taking etc.
Tovani also addresses the common issues that occur during group work and gives solutions.  Tovani suggests for those students that talk too much or not enough, that they be given a specific job in the group.  She also states that we should sometimes honor a students wish to listen rather than talk before jumping to conclusion that hey are not participating.  Another common issue addressed is that of the students who have not completed the reading before the discussion takes place, Tovani suggests these students be given quiet time to finish.  I agree with these suggestions however if the reading was to be done during homework I feel the student should not be allotted more time to complete the reading.
My favorite part of this chapter was reading about a tool Tovani uses to monitor and improve her students work during group discussion.  Its an observation form used specifically for small group discussion.  The form is divided into three columns.  The middle column labeled "readers quotes" is for direct quotes from the group, the left column is labeled with a (+) and the right with a (-) to signify positive and negative things the group is doing.  Tovani not only uses this form to monitor the groups but also to share with her students to illustrate good discussion techniques, so that her students can improve.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Literal Reading and Literal Thinking

In "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?" Tovani explains that many students who are not illustrating good reading and thinking skills it is because they are thinking and reading literally rather than analyzing, interpreting and relating to the content.  Tovani shares that she often use to say to her students things like "what images do you see?", "what do you smell?", she soon realized many students would take these questions into consideration while reading however they literally were looking for images and smells in the text.  Tovani realized her students did not realize they could use their prior knowledge and experiences to imagine and connect with what they were reading.  Tovani introduces a tool she likes to give her students called "Comprehension Constructors". Comprehension constructors are designed to help readers get through the comprehension process by helping them name and visualize their thinking.  Comprehension constructors are not all the same as they focus on matching the content, reader, and learning goals.  Below is a very general example of a comprehension constructor.  You can specify questions or even give examples of what you are looking for if you feel the content is difficult or that your students will struggle comprehending the content.  Some examples in the book even include having a brief diagram the highlights the main points of the text to help answer the questions in the comprehension constructor.

    I think this tool for readers is a great one.  I do feel that all of Tovani's strategies and tools are very similar.  They all seem to encourage the reader to develop and produce their thinking while reading.  As a future health teacher I think comprehension constructs will be extremely helpful when giving my students content in which they lack prior knowledge, to ensure that I can correct any misconceptions the students may have. 

Teaching Readers How to Hold Their Thinking

    Now that Tovani has introduced the idea of "holding thinking" while reading she then introduces how to teach students to become aware of the concept and how to use it.  Tovani shares some activities she likes to use in her classroom.  A first day activity for her reading class involves having the class as a whole look at a picture in which they are not given any information on.  The class is then directed to discuss what they think of the picture.  In the experience Tovani shared in her book her students debated and discussed wether the picture is real or modified.  As the class wraps up their discussion Tovani points out that they are thinking about the picture she then encourages them the next day to do the same thing but with a short article.  Tovani asks the students to write questions, and thoughts on the margins of the article and turn it in.  The next day she then shares with the class what she found to be good examples of thinking while reading.
   This is a list of guidelines Tovani gives her students to help them mark their texts:
- Write the thinking next to the words on the page that cause you to have the thought
- If there isn't room on the text to write, draw a line showing the teacher where the thinking is written
- Don't copy the text: respond to it
- Merely underlining text is not enough.  Thinking about the text must accompany the underlining.
- There is no one way to respond to text.  Here are some possible options: Ask a question, make a connection to something familiar, give an opinion, draw a conclusion, make a statement.
Tovani states that by giving her student specific do's and don'ts she is more likely to her students illustrate thinking that correlates to reading well.
    I think when students can see their peers illustrating what that the teacher is expecting it helps to encourage students and can help them to see that what they are being asked to do is not out of reach.  I also believe that when students lead a thoughtful discussion while the teacher guides rather than does all of the talking, students will relate more to what is being said and also will be more likely to engage, listen and analyze.  I think often when a teacher is giving students information rather than leading them to the information students are more likely to struggle analyzing and relating the information.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Why Am I Reading This?"

The last chapter I read was titled "Why Am I Reading This?" Cris Tovani started off the chapter  like many of her chapters, with a story of  a prior encounter that occurred in the work place.  Tovani recalls a student named Lisa who was a senior honors english student taking Tovani's college prep course. Lisa came to Tovani one day with concerns that the prep course involved such difficult texts that it was causing her reading to get worse instead of improving.  Tovani couldn't understand how a readers skills could get "worse, so she began to discuss the issue with Lisa to find that she was equating reading quickly with reading well.  Tovani then goes on to make the point that if a reader is reading to finish as if the text is a race and not reading with a significant purpose, the reader is not reading well.
Tovani explains that it is not only important for readers to have a purpose for their text however it is also important for the teachers to have instructional purpose for the texts they are assigning.  Tovani says that too often teachers become experts of their content which creates difficulty in narrowing down which pieces of the information are important enough for their students to know.  Tovani introduces a instructional purpose guide sheet she gives to teachers to help them decide what it is specifically that they want their students to get as a result from a particular text.  The Instructional Purpose Guide sheet involves these five questions:
1. Instructional Purpose (what is essential for the students to know?)
2. What two places may cause students difficulty?
3. What will you model that will help students negotiate the difficult parts?
4. What do they need to do with the information they are reading?
5. How will they hold their thinking while they read?
The fifth question is my favorite because it can be approached several different ways.  To help the reader hold their thinking while reading you can give them strategies to use such as note taking, and writing questions in margins or before they begin to read you can give them specific questions, or ideas to keep in mind.  For example a math teacher could give the students a specific formula, or diagram that relates to a word problem they are about to attempt.  Another example could be for a an English teacher to ask his or her students to identify the what the main message or them of a text is.  The whole idea of helping students to hold their thinking is to help students comprehend what they are reading by giving the text a purpose.
Tovani admits that when she first began teaching she asked may things of her students in which she probably could not have done herself.  For example she points out that often teachers give their students a novel and after one read they expect them to recall several details and general ideas from the text without any prior direction of what they should be thinking about while their reading. Another example is that teachers often have such a broad curriculum with a short time frame that students do not have the time that is required to think about the texts they are given, however, while teachers themselves spend much more time learning the content and developing the curriculum.  Tovani claims that if students are not given a purpose when reading they often get lost in unimportant details, and that when students are overwhelmed with texts in a short time frame they read to get through it rather than even attempting to find meaning.  Tovani says we should not only decide what is important in the text and in the curriculum  before our students endure it, however we should either tell or guide them to the information is important in their text before they read.
Their is often a debate about this idea many teachers say this is teaching to the test or that this dumbs down the learner.  I do not agree, I believe if this is done in a way in which you are more so guiding your students (not handing them the information) then you are just limiting their view to help their reading process work as beneficially as possible.
Tovani goes on to explain what readers do when they aren't given a purpose.  She explains what she calls the "reciting voice" and the "conversation voice".  The reciting voice is usually on when a reader is reading a text that is difficult or unfamiliar, this voice usually recites only and does not question nor make much meaning of the text.  The conversation voice is what readers use when they are comprehending the text by asking questions, answering questions, making predictions etc (many of the thinking strategies talked about earlier in this book, refer to blog #2).  Tovani then explains if we as teachers can help our students to distinguish how to turn their different voices off and on in their head while reading, then we can help them to become more proficient readers.  To do this teachers can introduce the concept so that the students are aware of their voices, and also introduce purpose and questions that help the reader to form opinions about the text.  By giving the readers a purpose and questions to make sense of the text this helps to turn on their conversation voice thus making meaning of what they are reading. One way to form the questions so that they are most appropriate, is for the teacher to ask themselves "why do I read this particular text or a text of this nature?"
I think the idea of instructional purpose is a wonderful idea.  I think that it is necessity for teachers to give their students a purpose at all times, however there are many times in which it is crucial for the reader to develop meaning.  What I do believe is necessary at all times is for teachers to identify their purpose of the particular texts they are giving their students.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Accessible Texts

    In chapter 4 of "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?" Tovani focuses on the idea of making texts accessible.  Accessible texts are those that are interesting, written for understanding and at an appropriate level for the reader.  Some examples of accessible texts can be newspapers, magazines, internet pieces, vignettes, maps, letters, recipes and are rarely textbooks.  Tovani goes on to explain that not all students are going to be at the reading level they are "supposed" to be, and that a reading in which one student might see as difficult but manageable might be too difficult therefore abandoned by another.
    Tovani's first solution to this problem is most applicable in Literature classrooms, it is to find alternative  texts for students to read.  When a student is not at the level in which the text is requiring he or she to be at in order to decode it, an alternative novel or reading is assigned that illustrates similar themes and ideas as the original required piece.  To me this makes perfect sense!  Why waste a students time by having them read something that they can not make sense of on their own.  Most of the time when a student is lacking understanding in a text they "get by" by receiving information in the classroom either from peers or the teacher.  When this occurs its as if the learning process was skipped, which can have negative consequences on the individual's future experiences with reading along with the individual's cognitive development.  This process of being able to decode texts is crucial not just for the reading process but the learning process as a whole.  Without this process a learner will be deprived from developing their own knowledge.
    Another solution introduced by Tovani is what she calls Text Sets.  Text Sets are a variety of different forms of texts categorized by units of study, or themes relative to the content of the course. For example a text set for a U.S. History classroom could contain the following separate Text Sets: American Indians, Revolutionary War, Civil War, Slavery etc.  Each individual topic would make up one Text Set, within that set you would have several texts that vary in genre, length, and format relating to that particular topic.  I think this idea is wonderful and can be applied in any content.  As a future Health teacher I always wonder how I will sort the various perceptions on topics such as Diet, Nutrition, Addiction, Emotional Health and Well Being as new research is always changing the focus points of these topics thus changing the content.  I think Text Sets will be a great way for my students to explore the many different opinions on Health topics rather than me just sharing what information I believe is most important.