Education: Teaching teachers how to teach reading

I’m definitely seeing students in my freshman writing class and intro lit classes struggling with complex texts. I have more freedom to address the problem in my lit classes, where the focus is on reading. In the freshman writing class, where the goal is to produce a 10-page research paper by the end of term, students who do have the writing ability are struggling with academic texts (preferring instead to read personal essays, general-interest magazines, or news stories). Next year, Seton Hill starts a new model in which students can choose to write a research paper through a sequence of assignments stretched out over two terms, or in an accelerated version compressed into a single term.

Previously, we offered one semester of “Basic Composition,” which focused on personal essays. Students who completed or tested out of Basic then took a single semester of “Seminar in Thinking and Writing,” which builds towards the research paper. The model worked well for a while, but we began noticing that students who did well writing the personal essays often struggled to make the transition to research-based writing. I found that the first assignment in STW was often a bust, because students listened to all the lectures and completed all the prewriting homework designed to get them to write an analytical paper that engages with a college-level texts, but when push came to shove many simply turned in another personal essay. Students often did better with a second practice paper, but I began noticing that more students seemed to be giving up at that point, so they never learned to appreciate the drafting and revision process, preferring instead to try to produce a polished text in one adrenaline-and-deadlines-fueled sitting.

Here’s a CNN story about one attempt to improve the reading skills of young kids.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 10.58.22 AMIn addition to these independent work stations, teachers lead small groups of students in guided reading instruction. In kindergarten, a teacher and students discuss a book about feathers and what clues they have to know that the book is not about birds. In third grade, students reading “Behind Rebel Lines,” a book about a Civil War spy, discuss the motivations of the people they are reading about. This focused approach, which includes leading and encouraging students to think in more complex ways about the books they are reading, is based on bringing together all the existing research on teaching vocabulary, comprehension and guided reading, and coming up with a program that works, said Naomi Cooperman, senior director of new content and evaluation for Teaching Matters. —

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