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.
- Does the research presented in Allington and Gabriel's piece about the power of peer dialogue to improve students' reading comprehension surprise you?
- During the next few weeks, take note of how often your students talk with one another in a meaningful way about something they're reading. Examine your curriculum with an eye for how much student talk about texts is embedded. Is peer dialogue lacking in your classroom? How, realistically, might you increase it?
Is All Good Reading Narrative?
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."
- Does this idea of taking a journey with a distinctive narrator square with how you generally read informational writing? Ask your students whether it describes how they read.
- As a group, compile a short list of nonfiction texts that have the narrative elements Newkirk refers to that each of you might recommend to your students.
When Is a Book Not Just a Book?
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.
- Try some of the book series these librarians recommend, like Inanimate Alice or the 3:15 series. Report back to the group on how the experience differed from reading a traditional book. Did the extra features enhance the reading for you?
- Ask your students whether their favorite books or series include elements beyond static print. Are videos, fan fiction sites, or ways to interact with the author, central parts of the book experience for them? Do they miss having such features in school-based reading?
- Brainstorm with your students ideas for adopting some of these techniques to make reading and writing in school more compelling.