+ Bait the Reading Hook…

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ASCD’s publication Educational Leadership offered an article by Jennifer McCarty Plucker,  a reading coordinator and literacy specialist at Eastview High School in Apple Valley Minnesota.

She writes that research  indicates high-achieving students read more than low achievers. 

In Plucker’s suburban high school, she and her colleagues decided to narrow the discrepancy by “providing a double dose of literacy instruction” in an academic literary class required in addition to their 9th grade English class.

In the 2008-9 and 2009-10 school years, Eastview High School had four class periods of the course.  Each was taught by one of three highly trained and licensed reading teachers.

Classes were kept small (no more than 10 students per teacher).  Students were selected on the basis of standardized reading tests, informal reading assessments, and recommendations from the middle school reading specialist.  These were students typically whose scores on standardized tests were in the 10th-30th percentiles.

A minimum of 25 minutes of the 50-minute daily class were “held  sacred” for silent reading-for-enjoyment.

Once students have started reading for fun, the class brainstorms and sets goals for stealing minutes outside the school day for reading.

Developing the Materials

Eastview High School did not purchase a commercial reading program.  Instead, they created their own. 

They looked at their resources, considered students’ needs, and read widely in recent research on adolescent literacy.  Then they used their funds to build a classroom library with high-interest young adult novels, create an appealing and comfortable environment for teens — and also provide professional development for teachers.

Developing and maintaining a classroom library of high-interest young adult novels can be a challenge.  However, daily access to engaging books is imperative for the success of growing readers.  Yes, we lose books.  No, our classroom isn’t organized like our media center.  We tend to organize books by theme or likely audience, so we might have a table of sports books or of teen romances instead of books organized by authors whose names may be unfamiliar to struggling readers.

They work continually to find books that give students the right level of challenge.  A book can’t be so easy that students won’t grow, and it can’t be so difficult that the students won’t understand it.

Instructors help students figure out what books are just right for them.  By February of the school year, most students can  independently choose books that will accelerate their literary growth.


Plucker writes that instead of teaching “strategies for strategies’ sake,” they take a reflective approach.

Teachers begin by helping students share their thinking as they read. Once they learn what “comes naturally” for each reader, they focus on honing skills in other areas.

When a student, for example, is reading difficult text with lots of description, he is encouraged to make a “mental movie” as he reads. 

If a student is reading an article about current events, she is advised to ask questions.  Rather than get discouraged, she gets help using metacognitive strategies to clear up confusion as it happens.

Ultimately, we want our students thinking as they read, recognizing that reading is a complex process.  One student shared his newfound thinking skills when he came into my room last winter, saying “Dr. McCarty, I can’t listen to my iPod when I read anymore.  My metacognition voice is too loud!”

The instructors try to give students opportunities for choice and collaboration, as research suggests.  When more difficult texts require scaffolding, choices are more limited, but still there are choices. 

For example, if they are teaching students to annotate a text — to write their thoughts in the margin — they might offer them three current events articles, so they can choose the one that appeals to them most.

Then a student is asked to choose a purpose for reading: does he want (for example) to understand the author’s reasoning, or develop an argument against the author, or look for holes in the author’s logic?

At Eastview, they don’t make the classroom an electronics-free zone; rather they work with students to develop goals for taking control of distractions.

They also determine which literacy skills students use outside school, and then link these skills to academic tasks.  They have used online discussion forums, videos, digital posters, podcasts, texting and classroom social networking sites in order to engage students and allow them to use skills they already have for academic purposes.

Fluency Development

Just like elementary students, adolescents need to hear highly fluent readers.  These students won’t listen to read-alouds they consider “lame,” and so Plucker and her colleagues try for shared reading experiences that students think are really great.

Plucker says that her students enjoyed Skeleton Creek, by Patrick Carmen (Scholastic, 2009) — a novel written as a journal by a high school student named Ryan.   Ryan’s friend Sarah sends him videos via email, and these videos are available online at http://www.scholastic.com.

Plucker writes

Last winter, I knew we needed to incorporate small-group reading instruction.  But how was I going to make guided reading cool?  When in doubt, try an acronym.  We implemented CREW (Collaborative Reading Enhanced Work) Time.  Simply calling it CREW Time made it cool.

We adjusted our crews depending on what strategy or minilesson we felt the small group needed.  One minilesson we used with our crews was explicitly teaching students to take their reader response journal entries from lower-level thinking (making connections) to higher level thinking (making judgements).

Students need to practice reading aloud, but they resist vehemently.  So they were asked to create unrehearsed reading podcasts of a children’s story of their choice.  Nobody said no to reading into a microphone!

After a week of fun fluency activities disguised as games, students  then re-recorded the stories and compared the podcasts.  They were able to compare the difference and reflect on what they heard.

Then they experimented with readers’ theater.  Students made a field trip to a neighboring elementary school and performed stories for first grader.

Plucker and her colleagues feel that after three years, they have found an effective way to lure students into reading.  And the students evaluate the experience with words like fun, comfortable, a place to feel smart, my favorite class.

sole source: article in Educational Leadership, ASCD’s monthly publication, October 2010.  Author Jennifer McCarty Plucker can be reached at Jennifer.Plucke@gmail.com.

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


One response to “+ Bait the Reading Hook…

  1. Pingback: Day six – Literacy Leaders « This is what I think!