Breaking the Cycle Part II

Sep 2, 2010 by

In my previous blog post I shared my personal literacy history.  I titled it “Breaking the Cycle” for a couple of reasons.  First, I realized that I needed to break the cycle of teaching reading the way it had been taught for many years.  I also realized that in order to help my students rise out of poverty, it would be critical that I give them a strong foundation in reading. This exercise was very therapeutic for me. I realized that my personal experiences as a reader have shaped who I am as a teacher.  Over the years I have tried more and more to design my literacy instruction in ways that set my students up to develop into lifelong readers who do what real readers do.  This is as it should be.  If we are asking our students to do things that do not match what real world readers do, it is probably time for us to do some self-reflection.

I am currently reading the newly published Units of Study for Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins. Her words and the current research she cites all support this.  As you begin this new school year, I encourage you to think about your own literacy history.  Let me quote some of Lucy’s words to get you started:

Think for just a minute about the times in your life when reading was the pits, and then think about times when reading was the best thing in the world.  What were the conditions that made reading so bad; what made it so good?  I’m pretty sure that you are saying that reading worked for you when you could choose books that mattered to you, when you had lots of time to actually eyes-on-print read, and when you could finish one chapter, and instead of answering twenty questions, read the next chapter.  If you’ve had the exquisite pleasure of sharing reading—in a book club, a Bible study group, a woman’s group, a writing group, or in a friendship that includes books—then the social fabric of reading will be part of what made reading work for you.  And I’m pretty sure that when reading was the pits for you, someone else told you what to read, what to think about, and what to do when you finished reading.  You probably felt as if your every move was monitored and judged, making reading a performance for someone else.”

As you reflect, think about both positive and negative experiences.  Was there a special person who turned you on to reading?  Are there any books that were turning points for you as a reader?  Conversely, what turned you off about reading?  Before I wrote my mini-memoir, I started with a timeline that looks like this:

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I encourage you to jot your ideas down in some fashion.  You can take that a step further by sharing your literacy history with your students and asking them to do the same.  You could also have your entire staff do this exercise at a staff meeting and then discuss.  Be sure to be reflective and ask, “Do our teaching practices match our beliefs about the teaching of reading?  Are we creating an atmosphere that promotes a love of reading?”

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