I recently attended the NYS Reading Association’s annual conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. It was such a wonderful experience. Spirits were high, colleagues were connecting across the state and we were learning together from leading researchers and professionals in our field. Since then, I have been thinking about all that I learned and have been busily trying ideas in my own professional development, in my graduate classes and in my work with teachers. Here are the big ideas I took away from the conference, along with some important links. I hope to share these ideas with others who could not attend the conference so we can all learn together.
Read, Read, Read and Read Some More!
Put quite simply, the only way to become a better reader is to read, read and read some more. We know this is true and have much research to support this, but it seems to be difficult to implement as we battle required curriculum, skills-driven programs and high-stakes assessments. Dr. Allington shows us it gets even worse when we consider the instruction that struggling and lower-income children receive: less reading, but more worksheets and tasks to complete.
We need to dramatically increase the amount of reading that we do in classrooms. How can we expect students to have the stamina for a high-stakes assessment for 90 minutes when the most they continuously read in the classroom is a short Read Works passage? Students need to develop stamina for reading and the only way to do so is to read. Plain and simple. We need long stretches of time to read, think and talk in the classroom. How? Get rid of worksheets, test-prep and needless busy work. Want an idea to try tomorrow? Instead of the typical skills-based morning work, have students read. They could read a book of their choice or you could have an ‘article of the day’ posted for the class. You might find Newsela helpful. They provide free, interesting non-fiction articles and current events pieces and you can even alter the Lexile level. The INK Non-Fiction Minute is another great site. Try them both!
Students Need Books They CAN and WANT to Read
The amount of reading we do is important, but we need to ensure that students are reading books that are appropriate for them. This does NOT mean labeling a child with a letter of the alphabet or restricting their book choices. It means that we need to know each students’ strengths and needs as readers so we can help them find books they can and want to read. Allington stated that students independently need to read books with at least 98% accuracy if we are going to increase reading achievement. Yet, some teachers require instructional level texts or do not allow for easier reading in the classroom. We cannot help students to challenge their skills as readers unless they actually identify as a reader. Providing them with successful experiences with books that are easy to read builds confidence and motivation.
A Proven Key to Student Achievement: Teacher Development and Support
Teachers matter. There are many variables that impact student achievement, but one of the most important elements is the expertise of the classroom teacher. We need to focus less on programs and more on teacher expertise. Our students deserve knowledgeable teachers who truly understand the reading process and the trajectory of development, along with effective instructional techniques to meet the needs of diverse students.
Dr. Allington shared his website with us. It is a compilation of short, targeted readings to develop teacher expertise. You might create a professional goal to read one new article each week or each month or bring one to your colleagues at your next faculty or team meeting.
Teachers as Readers and Writers
The most powerful part of the conference for me was Lucy Calkin’s keynote speech. A true educator, Lucy did not talk at us through presentation slides. Instead, she actually lead us through powerful reading mini-lessons designed to get us reading closely and making connections to our work as educators. As we analyzed a powerful poem and a piece of interesting non-fiction, she challenged us to read closely as readers…not as teachers. She did not tell us how to read closely, she actually engaged us in the process and truly pushed our thinking forward. This was a powerful moment for me and helped me see how I have to shift my practices as a teacher educator. Right now, I teach my students the process of close reading, we view examples of reading instruction and analyze our actions, but I do not engage them as readers as Lucy did at the conference. If I want my future teachers to truly see the level of reading and analysis that our students need to do, then I must engage them first as readers and thinkers.
In a time-pressed day, many teachers do not have the time to read and write for pleasure or to read as readers and not teachers. This must change if we are going to truly create a culture of learning, reading and writing in our classrooms and schools. Rather than only read professional articles and meet with colleagues to discuss curriculum, we need to walk the walk and act as readers. This might mean reading a fiction book together with grade-level colleagues, closely reading poetry in a faculty meeting or simply finding the time to read for pleasure again, just as we are hoping for our students. Students need to read, read, read and so do teachers. As Lucy Calkins said, if we are going to accelerate students to high levels of reading development, then we need to own this process ourselves.
Are you interested in learning more? Follow this link to the NYSRA conference page where many presenters have linked to the session presentations. Did you attend the conference and want to add more? Link to them in the comments section!