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Teaching Reading: A Semester of Inquiry

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Antero's awesome class

Teaching Reading and the Decisive Moment

“Since [writing] is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished. I’m sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out?

Seymour Glass

This is a resource of a specific moment.

 Over the past semester my undergraduate class at Colorado State University, “Teaching Reading” embarked on a mutual inquiry into the ways reading is defined, enacted, and challenged within classroom spaces. It was a journey that largely began theoretically before moving toward practice-based exercises. Ours was a question revolving around how the practice of reading is changing in the dizzying world of today’s classroom.

For me, our classroom space was a transformative and potentially revolutionary one. It was a space where we could look at what reading means in today’s shifting classrooms and think about what teaching with “most of your stars out” actually looks like. This resource captures the major constellations of topics we assayed over a semester.

Not all of my students felt comfortable with the notion that they could contribute meaningfully to nation-wide discussions on reading and writing in a digital age.

We’re still students, they’d say.

We’re not experts, they’d say.

Who’s going to listen to us? they’d say.

And this is when I continued to wonder about expertise and knowledge of reading at this moment (May, 2013) and in this place (Fort Collins, Colorado). Because my sneaking suspicion (and one I see echoed across many Digital Is pages) is that literacies are changing. They’re changing a lot. Renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson has written and spoken at length about the “decisive moment”–the snap judgment a photographer makes in capturing a fleeting truth before it disappears into the ethers of unrecorded history. In an interview, Cartier-Bresson explained, “Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative … Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever."

I’m not a big fan of the professional development notion of “best practices.” They disregard the cultural, historical, and interpersonal contexts in which we teach. Instead of best practices, my students here offer interpretations, questions, and lingering concerns about the state of teaching reading in this moment and this place. We hope you will continue this dialogue with us. 

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<p>This article, while entertaining, taught me a lot about myself as a part of the literary world. To think of myself even 5 years ago, in my senior year of high school is to think of myself as a different literary being. I thought that literacy was a device to get information from one source to another, and that it only had to do with reading and writing, which is why I took up the figurative pen in the first place. I love speaking about new worlds, and new ways to look at our world through my writing, and all the while I was thinking that I was contributing more to the literary world than anyone else. Now that I have read this article, I am humbled to know that I am not one of the only ones making their mark upon the history and evolution of Literacy, and furthermore, that everyone doing anything is contributing to the world's understanding of itself. I hope, being an aspiring literacy and language teacher that I will be able to unveil the hidden meaning behind what exactly is going on literarily in my classroom. I also hope to include new and exciting ways of looking at old literature, and to integrate new literature into my classroom that will help to bridge the gap between what literacy was, and what it is becoming as i see it unfold before my eyes. I have to thank you for the time that you spent on this article and the new light it sheds on my view of literacy, not as a form of reading and writing, but a form of emission and absorbtion.</p>
<p>I know I made "mindblowingly" up, but Antero makes up words all the time, so why not.</p> <p>This whole idea of defining literacy is hurting my brain. I thought I knew, or at least some idea of, a definition of literacy before this semester. After the first two weeks of class I realize how vague my notion of "what literacy meant" actually is, and more, that I'm not quite sure we could ever put a legitimate and all encompassing definition down on paper.</p> <p>My capstone course this semster is about workplace literacies. The articles we've been reading make legitimate arguments for the "illiterate" (as defined by those in power) possessing more of a functional literacy in their work environment (like a boiler room for example), than their "literate" superiors.</p> <p>How often do we assume that we are "more literate" than another? Is a Doctor more literate than a mechanic, or are there some definite stereotypes involved when we consider the two forms of employment? I guess what I'm getting at here is the notion of embedded ignorance. We think we're well on our way to understanding and being able to define literacy at this point in our education, but I have realized that I don't know quite as much as I assumed.</p> <p>I have no problem admitting I don't know it all.. and likely never will.. but I'm old enough to know I often learn the most in moments of humility. Thanks to those who built this site.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jeremy</p>
<p>First off, let me say that I absolutely loved "The Book Whisperer".</p> <p>Up until approximately the ninth grade, I was what Donalyn Miller called an "underground reader": parent-teacher conferences were filled with praise for my ability to read beyond my grade level, followed by critism for reading outside books under my desk instead of listening to the teacher. I simply could not get enough books! And then high school happened.&nbsp;</p> <p>In high school I was told which books to read and how quickly to read them and why to read them, etc. etc. But, with the rare exception of one or two books, I never actually&nbsp;<em>wanted&nbsp;</em>to read those books. The books my teachers assigned were dry and boring and were the exact opposite of the books that I liked to read. I wasn't interested in African tribes dealing with priests; I wanted dragons and daring adventures! Eventually, reading became a chore, and it was one that I chose not to do.</p> <p>I thoroughly agree with Miller that there needs to be an element of choice within class readings to keep the students engaged. There needs to be a desire when reading, otherwise there's only so much growth that can be accomplished. My concern is that there's currently not a lot of room for choice within a high scool classroom (as that's what I'm aiming to teach). To my understanding, high schools have their pre-established units per grade level and every teacher teaches the same book, just maybe in different ways.&nbsp;</p> <p>Already, I've begun to consider teaching two books within each unit. Each book will have the same basic idea (i.e. satire, historical background, Victorian era) but have slight differences to make each one unique. Each individual in the class can choose which of the two books they want to read. It's not perfect, but hopefully it can make a difference.</p> <p>I would like to assign outside reading to my future students as well, simply requiring them to read a few books independently outside of the classroom with no restrictions on content. But how do I make sure that they're actually doing it? I wouldn't want to assign extensive book reports, or even short summaries, because I want it to be fun! I don't want it to be just another assignment, but I do want to make sure that they're not simply saying that they read the book when they never picked it up to begin with.</p>