Saturday, February 21, 2009

Imaginative rehearsal or the second half of books.

I've been thinking more and more about the literacy part of my "literacy, technology, learning" mantra. This may be because I'm nearing the end of my reading specialist coursework.

From page 44 of Kelly Gallagher's Readicide: = "struggling readers who do not read voraciously will never catch up." I've been thinking about the simplicity of this line since I first read it. There is abundant research available on the gaps among and between the various groups of children who enter kindergarten.

So how do we get children to read at all, let alone read "voraciously?" One thing that is clear, we must make time for this reading during the school day, we can't just say "go home and read." What must we give up during the school day to allow substantial reading? Gallagher has some suggestions that I want to start implementing tomorrow. He talks about the Article of the Week program he instituted when he realized that none of his students could identify the vice president of the US. Straightforward, doable, and ready for class tomorrow. I really can't recommend this book enough.

So, back to the title of this post, "Imaginative Rehearsal." In Influencer, Patterson et. al. discuss the fact that the most powerful method of behavior change is through experience. While direct experience is best, vicarious experience can be nearly as motivational. I know that film can have enormous impact on viewers, but I would argue that it is in books that good readers can best immerse themselves and truly become someone else for a while. Gallagher calls this an "imaginative rehearsal." I hadn't heard the term before, but it is perfect for capturing the ways in which reading a good book can help the reader become a better person. Repeatedly imagining oneself in the role of hero can lead to courage when life brings a challenge that calls for it.

How then, do we choose the books we ask students to read? If they are too slight, yet engaging, we may get the voraciousness we seek but at what cost? Clique books come to mind. What impact does light reading have on students' chances for imaginative rehearsal? When I read Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell, I was fully engaged in imaginative rehearsal. The book is an achingly beautiful story set in WWII Italy and centered around the fact that the Italians largely did their best to protect the Jews in their population from the Nazis. The book demands the reader think "could I, would I" over and over. Studies such as the Milgrim experiment from the 60's show how inhumanely humans can behave. Reading literature that asks us to be better than we are must be a part of education if we are to rise above our baser instincts.

There's an interesting debate going on in several threads on the English Companion ning on this very topic. Is it only the canonical classics that can best inspire deep thinking?

I'm not actually finished with either book yet, but I'm so engrossed I had to share. . .

Monday, February 2, 2009

Half Book Reviews

As in reviews of books I haven't finished yet, but have me thinking so much I need to write about them.

I'm reading a book that I didn't want to read. It landed on my desk (while I was away, sneaky) sporting a post-it with my name in big letters. An email arrived shortly thereafter, informing me that I needed to have read the book before an all-day meeting coming up in just a few days. All this combined to make me feel resistant to opening the cover and I usually am thrilled when I get a new book. The book is titled The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner.

Now that I'm halfway through (I'm such a reader I can't NOT read an assigned book) I am fascinated and thoroughly engrossed. I do feel the title is completely unfortunate. It implies that the book is going to bemoan the difference in test scores among American students and their counterparts in China and India, a la 2 Million Minutes.

Instead, Wagner efficiently describes some of the biggest flaws in education today and then goes on to actually detail a plan for fixing them. More interestingly, Wagner focuses on schools that most Americans would describe as working. Successful as in suburban public schools and expensive private schools with well-educated and well-paid parent populations. Schools that send almost all their graduates to college.

In one section, Wagner criticizes the formulas for writing that students are taught, then use to get 4's and 5's on AP tests, by pointing out that once students get beyond high school they will not be asked to write for 25 minutes on a topic they've never seen. I recently Diigo'd a page on the UNC writing center website that tells students to unlearn the 5 paragraph essay. I would take it a step further and contrast formula writing with, well, anything actually published that people read voluntarily. I'll never forget one of my professors telling me "don't assign anything you won't want to read in 72 versions."

At the moment, I'm deep into Wagner's thoughts on teacher education and improvement of instruction. Many teachers will be uncomfortable with what Wagner says, but he's right when he says that "many teachers and principals still think of themselves as independent subcontractors." He has some interesting ideas about improving instruction that involve videotapes of lessons and constructive, analytic discussion. Sounds intense, frightening, and productive.

The other book that I'm halfway through is Readercide by Kelly Gallagher. Gallagher argues that schools and teachers have destroyed students enjoyment of reading by simultaneously over and under teaching reading, then testing students within an inch of their lives.

I'm not the only one blogging about this important book right now. Bill Ferriter has the entire book available for download and hosted an interview and voicethread conversation with Gallagher. So, instead of going on, I'll just say that reading Readicide is making me really sad and angry for children who deserve better.

On a final note, I found a website that evaluates the reading level of a blog! Not sure what formula they are using, but I was glad to know that my blog was written at a high school level.

blog readability test

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