Category Archives: Reading

Why authentic literacy matters when it comes to student achievement

In preparing for active research project between a couple of my graduate classes, I was fortunate enough to be directed to an article that appeared in a July 2008 copy of English Journal. In the article, “Research Matters: Authentic Literacy and Student Achievement (NCTE membership required for viewing),” Rick VanDeWeghe describes how important it is for English teachers to push students to achieve authentic literacy. Using the research of Mike Schmoker, he defines authentic literacy as “the ability to read, write, and think effectively.” This is accomplished when “students engage in deep reading based on provocative questions posed before reading and then have opportunity to ‘argue and support an interpretation from one or more texts’ in writing.” I would also add that it’s possible for students to have that opportunity to argue and support interpretations through class discussion, as well. Continue reading


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Filed under Class Discussion, Discussion, Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Literacy, Literacy community, Reading, Student achievement, Student success, Student Teaching, Students, Writing

The need to read difficult texts

Over the summer, I had this post about the struggles of teaching a difficult text. You can read a little more about my questions and thoughts in that blog post, but I want to draw attention to something that a friend of mine and current teacher made in one of the comments for that post. I bring this up because, while teaching seniors this year, I’ve run into students who won’t do the readings for class discussion because they find the text too difficult. Now, that post back in July was actually more about teaching “dangerous” texts as opposed to “difficult” texts. But what Sean said in the comments stuck out to me as I was thinking through some issues with student motivation when it comes to reading:

On another note, was “teaching this book” how this was worded as you discussed in class? That is how I remember the verbiage in my Pitt Ed classes as well. But, since I have been in the classroom my mindset has focused more on the text as a vehicle to teach skills. The difference may seem subtle linguistically, but has serious pedagogical implications for one’s approach to planning and teaching.

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Filed under Education, English, Motivation, Personal, Reading, Student Teaching, Students, Teaching

Overcoming Beowulf

Quite an interesting week at my placement as we started Beowulf on Monday. There’s no question that Beowulf is a difficult text – for seniors and myself. I find myself having to do quick Google searches for definitions of words, even if I’m reading a modern translation. So, it’s not uncommon for student to lack the motivation to read such a text that is so foreign to them. But the goal, here, is to get them to read these texts because they will encounter them as they move into college and later into their field of work. It’s about teaching the themes and having them gain knowledge on Beowulf and the Old English culture just as much as it’s about teaching them the skills to read, comprehend and interpret difficult texts.

As a teacher, though, that’s a hard concept to get across. So often – and I’m guilty of it as well – any time a student comes across a text that they can’t understand on the first read or even just by “judging” the text to difficult, they’ll just put it aside and claim it’s meaningless and pointless to attempt to read something like Beowulf. What my mentor teacher and I, then, have been working on is encouraging student to read it once and not to cast it aside because it seems impossible to understand. We want them to come into class the next day with questions about the text and their interpretation of certain parts of the reading. Then, as a class, we’ll work through it together. This week we focused heavily on close readings, partner conversation, small group discussion and whole group discussion to come to an understanding of the text from a comprehension standpoint as well as an investigative standpoint (the “why” is something included and “what” does it mean discussion). I’d have my students look at passage of Beowulf, read it to themselves and think about what it’s saying. Then, they might talk to a partner or other students at the their table before I’d bring it back to a whole class discussion where we could combine ideas and figure things out together.

Needless to say, we were able to get a majority of the students to do the reading and jump in on discussion. For my periods, especially, I was amazed at the amount of participation from all students in the classroom. They seemed genuinely interested to reach conclusions and find out what happened next. It makes for some good days.

Tomorrow evening, I hope to make a quick follow-up post with some activities and ideas that my mentor shared with me that do two things: checks that students are actually reading; and marks a place that can kickstart discussion.


Filed under Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Motivation, Personal, Reading, Student Teaching, Students, Teaching

Motivating students to do their homework, to read

Today, I had this tweet about my students not doing their homework and reading. A little background: it’s a college in the high school classroom. So, basically, students are expected to do the college amount of reading (say, on average, about 7 pages, single-spaced on printer paper) 3-4 nights per week. Then, the class is supposed to hop into good, informative discussion that promotes high-level thinking for the students. You know, like those good literature classes you had in college.

And right now, the students are in the classics. They just finished Homer’s Odyssey and are now working on the Iliad.

That discussion, then, where students are complicating their thoughts and clashing and sharing ideas with other students doesn’t happen often. If they don’t read, then there is nothing to push them to think about the text. And if they’re not thinking about that text because they didn’t read, then they’re not going to be able to complicate their classmates’ ideas. It’s a sad cause-and-effect that I’m sure tortures many teachers who run into this problem.

But what is the solution? Continue reading

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Filed under Class assignment, Classroom management, Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Literacy community, Motivation, Personal, Reading, Students

Teaching difficult texts

Just a short post that got me thinking about this. In our Inquiry Education class, we read Wintergirls, a novel about a young girl, Lia, who has anorexia. It takes place in the days, weeks and months after her “best friend,” Cassie, who had bulimia, died. It’s an intense book with a lot of touchy and sometimes controversial events. In a nutshell, it’s the book you want kids to open up and read but you don’t want to teach it because of the subject matter.

After discussing it in class, we concluded with a question: would you teach it? It was a heated debate, albeit everybody was calm and nothing got out of control. But some people were adamantly against teaching it, considering it risky and a possible threat to trigger thoughts and actions. Others would teach it, but under the condition that guidance counselors were available and maybe helped with how to talk about the matter. Many of the people who believed in teaching it did so because they didn’t want to be an English teacher that held books back from students. Should English teachers say “no” to students about what they can and can’t read?

Regardless, everyone agreed that this would be a difficult book to teach – if you were going to do so. And that brought up another point: should we not teach a book because it’s difficult?

Unfortunately, I have more questions than answers. I don’t even know where I stand exactly on the issue, but I lean more toward teaching it with the help of guidance counselors. I just don’t want to hold something back from my students. If I’m an English teacher and asking my students to open up, be creative and challenge ideas, can’t they ask the same of me?


Filed under Books, Class assignment, Classroom management, Education, English, Ethics, Lesson, Lesson planning, Reading, Teaching