What to Do With What They Read

February 24th, 2015

I shared a conversation with my university colleagues last week on the topic of students reading assigned material before class. Unfortunately, students NOT reading outside of class seems to be a persistent issue concern across levels and disciplines. Instructors notice (or students tell them) that they are not reading, or that they are not reading deeply. This is not likely a new topic, but I think it has new dimensions with the formats of content we’re assigning students. When we assign text selections, in combination with asking students to view flipped content or review other sources, like curated collections, other media, blogs, and so forth, we’re depending on students quite a bit to prepare for successful experiences in our classrooms. This is student accountability, to be sure. This is also an instructor responsibility, in that, as instructors, we must work to integrate readings purposefully into class, and facilitate opportunities for students to think critically as they interact with texts. In other words, our in-class activities must give students a reason to read and prepare.

I think this planful engagement in class is where an interesting similarity across settings unfolds. As teachers of K-12 students, undergraduates, or graduate students, we select readings (or use readings that are part of a mandated curriculum) for many of the same goals. We want the learners to build and deepen literacies, to generate new questions, and engage thoughtfully with information that offers ranging points of view, content background, and stories.

I read about reading a lot, mostly because I’m teaching new school librarians about embedding reading instruction in their school library programs. Recently, this idea of making sure MY students have meaningful engagement with texts is giving me another angle to pursue. Perhaps not surprisingly, the topics converge. Take a look at these two selections about supporting reading comprehension.

(1) Four factors contribute to the success of a discussion. The first two are related to planning. Teachers should select texts that are compelling enough to spark a discussion. Teachers should also create a discussion guide consisting of “higher-order” questions that prompt students to think more deeply about the text and articulate key aspects of the story. The second two are related to sustaining and expanding the discussion. If higher-order questions are challenging for students, teachers can use follow-up questions to point them in the right direction. Teachers can also split the class into smaller groups and ask students to discuss the text among themselves, checking in on them periodically to ensure that they are on the right track. This approach can build students’ ability to think more critically and independently about what they read.

(2) The typical . . . student dreads hearing, “Let’s review the chapters you read for homework.” What generally ensues is a question and answer drill in which students are peppered with questions designed to make clear who has and hasn’t done the reading. In reality, these exchanges do little to encourage deep thought or understanding of the assigned reading. They produce awkward silences during which students squirm in their seats, hoping to become invisible. Other times students decline to answer for fear of giving the wrong answer. Almost all the time a negative tone permeates the classroom during this review. I decided to restructure the way that I approached reviews of reading assignments, and found that by doing things differently, I could change both the tone and outcomes of the review activity. I’d like to share some of the ideas and techniques that I have found useful . . .

The techniques from the second excerpt are these: having students work in collaborative groups to build top ten lists of findings from readings; assigning students to identify and read secondary sources related to texts and share in class; having students journal about what they read; and dividing text selections among jigsaw or similar student groups for shared reporting and discussing.

Can you guess which setting is K-12, and which is the college classroom?

Ok– the word “teacher” probably gives away that selection #1 is from a guide to elementary reading comprehension (K-3, to be exact), and the second selection is written about teaching undergraduates. But consider the parallels! Both of these instructional guides aim to deepen reading comprehension through active, purposeful in-class dialog and interaction with the text, and the techniques aren’t that dissimilar. Both aim to make in-class experiences deeper and more productive. So what conclusion might we draw from this similarity?

Good teaching is good teaching, could be one conclusion. Another could be that rigor in reading is being examined in fresh ways. Possibly, a takeaway is that we might turn to colleagues across arenas to share observations and strategies about engaging our students with what they read. I think that’s especially true for people with work with pre-service teachers (through college programs, practica, etc.) and new teachers (through induction or mentoring)– there’s cross-pollination to explore in how the teachers engage with texts, and how they expect or guide their own students to do so.

What do you think about these similarities? What are  your observations about reading outside of class, in any level of instruction? Do  you have favorite resources for guiding how you lead engagement with texts in the library or classroom? Please share in the comments.

Source #1: IES Practice Guide, What Works Clearinghouse. Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade, http://www.readingrockets.org/sites/default/files/readingcomp_pg_092810.pdf

Source #2: Sarah K. Clark, Making the Review of Assigned Reading Meaningful, http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/making-the-review-of-assigned-reading-meaningful/

Image: Reading a book, by Karoly Czifra on Flickr. Used with a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 License.

–Rebecca Morris

Advocate with Ready-to-Adapt Letter!

February 12th, 2015

SLM Blog Readers~

I’m sharing this information on behalf of Debra Kachel, co-chairperson of the Pennsylvania School Library Association Legislation Committee, AASL Distinguished Service Award recipient, and a frequent contributor to School Library Monthly.

Debra asks that school librarians and advocates contact their legislators on the topic of the reauthorization of ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). She has shared the letter below, which was written to Pennsylvania library advocates, and invites you to use, adapt, and share this letter with colleagues and supporters in your state.  (Note: this is the letter for ASKING people to write, not the letter for sending to your legislators). The boldface type is the state-specific part. Here are resources to help you identify your legislators and committee memberships:

Find your representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

House Education and Workforce Committee: http://edworkforce.house.gov/

Find your senator: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Senate Help Committee: http://www.help.senate.gov/

Thank you!

Rebecca Morris


Hello School Library Supporters,

The reauthorization of ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) currently known as No Child Left Behind is finally being address in Congress. Language is being drafted by both the Senate HELP Committee and the House Education & Workforce Committee in Washington, DC. Although the major points of contention are over student testing and teacher evaluation, this is the time to try to impact our Congressmen to add provisions for school libraries.

Therefore, the next two months will be an opportune time for library and education advocates to contact lawmakers and advocate the American Library Association/American Association of School Librarians position:

1. Maintain dedicated federal funding for school libraries;

2. Staff school libraries with state-licensed school librarians,

3. Provide professional development funds to be used for recruiting and training school librarians

Please contact Senator Bob Casey (http://www.casey.senate.gov/contact) who serves on the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor & Pensions) Committee. Ask him to ensure that the three bullet points above are included in the ESEA Reauthorization which is now being drafted.

Also, the House Education & Workforce Committee is working on a version of a reauthorization. If your US House Representative serves on this committee, please contact him/her asking them to add the three bullet points above to the ESEA Reauthorization which is now being drafted. The PA Representatives are:

Glenn Thompson, Pennsylvania

Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania


Finally, Debra offers this update on related legislation:


Senators Reed and Cochran introduce school library bill
Last week, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) joined Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) in introducing the SKILLS Act (S.312). Key improvements to the program include expanding professional development to include digital literacy, reading and writing instruction across all grade levels; focusing on coordination and shared planning time between teachers and librarians; and ensuring that books and materials are appropriate students with special learning needs, including English learners.

Continue reading on District Dispatch.






Cause You’ve Got Personality– and a Writing Center

February 10th, 2015

Timothy Horan continues his School Library Monthly series on facilitating a school library writing center in the February 2015 issue of SLM. (Read about starting the writing center here, from the September/October 2014 issue.)

Previous articles have examined why the library is the perfect place for a writing center (May/June 2014), the topic of getting started (in the link above from Issue 1 of Volume 31), training tutors (November 2014), and advanced techniques for student tutors (December 2014/January 2015).

In this month’s article, Horan suggests strategies for scheduling appointment times and tutors, which, following the organization and training, feels akin to opening a play after days and nights of preparation and rehearsal. As Horan writes, “done properly, your writing center will function smoothly, and it won’t gobble up too much of your time and energy, and it will be a great deal of fun” (5).

Among the suggestions in the article are a basic binder-based system for scheduling, communicating with tutors, and most interesting to me– being mindful of the role that your interactions with the students, that “personality” piece, plays in the success of the writing center. Being committed, involved, attentive, and encouraging are keys to keeping student volunteers coming in and growing interest and trust in the function of the writing center.

Read the full article in the February issue, and read more about student-staffed writing centers in these resources:

How to Start a Great Writing Center, David Cutler for Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/start-a-great-writing-center-david-cutler

Collection of National Writing Project articles about writing centers: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/3584

High School Writing Centers and Writing Tutors, The Northern Virginia Writing Project (Prezi and resource links): http://nvwp.org/youngwriters/writing-centers-and-tutors/

Image: writing by dotmatchbox on Flickr. Used with a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 License.

–Rebecca Morris