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March 2012 | Volume 69 | Number 6
Reading: The Core Skill
Authors in this issue express strong ideas about what skills teachers most need to emphasize in teaching reading and what texts students most need to read. The first two articles ("Every Child, Every Day" by Richard L. Allington and Rachael E. Gabriel, p. 10, and "Taming the Wild Text" by Pam Allyn, p.16) have much to say about fine-tuning the kinds of texts we encourage students to read. Getting the right books—or websites, comics, news articles, and so on—to readers is especially important for kids who are on the verge of giving up on reading.
Although their articles disagree on some points, Allington and Gabriel and Allyn agree on at least one thing: the need for students to talk with one another regularly about their reading. Allington and Gabriel assert that "time for students to talk about their reading and writing … provides measurable benefits in comprehension, motivation, and even language competence" and Allyn writes, "dialogue is a window into another person's reading experience and an effective way to get people excited about reading." Yet struggling readers are often given less time than stronger readers to dialogue with other students about texts.
Some articles touch on questions related to the common core state standards' emphasis on reading complex texts. Consider Thomas Newkirk's provocative argument ("How We Really Comprehend Nonfiction," p. 28) about the centrality of narrative to any writing:
The conventional wisdom is that we employ radically different reading skills when we read (or write) texts that are variously called informational, analytic, or argumentative—indeed that moving toward these texts (and away from narrative) should be a feature of high school and college reading. The clear message in the common core literacy standards is that narrative reading is to be reduced in the upper grades and that college-ready students need to master the more demanding tasks of reading texts that are not narrative. (p. 29)
Newkirk says that reading the best analytic or informational writing feels to him like reading a story, complete with conflicting positions and a narrative voice exploring those conflicts. He proposes that "narrative is the deep structure of all good writing. We struggle with writers who dispense with narrative form and simply present information because we are given no frame for comprehension."
Do you agree that narrative is the structure of all good writing? Do you find your student readers have trouble engaging with writing that doesn't have a narrator or any semblance of a story or conflict?
Read Newkirk's recommendations for teaching students about narrative structure (pp. 29–31). How might following his suggestions—such as encouraging students to read introductions slowly so they can explore the narrators' voice and attitude—make students stronger readers? Stronger writers?
Reflect on the statement, "Reading … is not a treasure hunt for the main idea; it is a journey we take with the writer."
There is good news about teens and books, according to librarians Joyce Kasman Valenza and Wendy Stephens, authors of "Reading Remixed" on p. 75. They contend that young people now embrace books enthusiastically, but that the concept of what a book is and how people approach it has changed. Valenza and Stephens describe "multiplatform" books, which incorporate videos, audio files, supplemental content on various web sites, and ways to interact with the characters and scenarios as the story unfolds.
Copyright © 2012 by ASCD
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