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Turning the Page on Reading
Read like a detective. Write like an investigative reporter.” That’s how David Coleman, one of the
lead authors of the common core state
standards, described in a nutshell the
approach to the teaching of reading and
writing ushered in by the standards.
The new emphasis, especially in the upper grades, is
on teaching students to read
complex nonfiction texts
(read like a detective) and to
master informative writing
(write like a reporter).
“These are not bad goals,
but how do we get there?”
EL author Doug Fisher
commented, noting that
currently only 34 percent
of U.S. 8th graders read at
or above the proficient level. He added
a worry: “If all we do is teach students
to deconstruct text, will we remove all
desire to read books?”
The teaching of reading—once
primarily dedicated to helping
beginners and nonreaders learn how
to decode—is shifting to embrace the
vital capacities to analyze and com-
prehend. This emphasis on higher-level
skills responds to a need to prepare all
students to compete in a world where
knowledge is expanding and infor-
mation is available in multiple formats
everywhere and anytime. Twenty-first
century learners must not only know
how to scan and skim billions of bytes
but they also must know how to nego-
tiate complex, difficult text. And—a
goal not to be left out, we hope—they
need to learn to understand and appre-
ciate demanding and rich literature.
This issue of Educational Leadership
addresses the huge challenge of
adopting wise practice in the face of a
new mandate. Here’s the advice from
how to teach reading and writing with
attention to the real-world reasons for
each genre. Timothy Shanahan, Douglas
Fisher, and Nancy Frey (p. 58) look at
the factors that affect students’ ability to
comprehend complex text: from vocabulary and sentence structure to background knowledge. Authors also talk
about how to make both the time spent
reading textbooks more compelling
(pp. 52, 64) and the time using digital
resources more meaningful (pp. 70, 75).
Choose excellent works to read . . .
Thomas Newkirk (p. 28) writes about
the real reason for reading nonfiction.
“Everything written is as good as it
is dramatic,” he quotes Robert Frost.
“Reading is not a treasure hunt for the
main ideas. It is a journey we take with
a writer.” Giving our students technical
manuals to read is not the way to add
rigor to classroom reading. Nonfiction,
yes, but excellent nonfiction is what we
must teach in the classroom.
. . . and reread. Carol Jago (p. 40)
has her own take on choosing what
to teach: “Look for aesthetic splendor,
cognitive power, and wisdom,” she
quotes Harold Bloom. Jago assigns her
students two books to read at once—
one a classic to study in class and one
a popular book with a similar theme to
read on their own. She knows students
need literary works of quality, complexity, and range, and she knows they
need to enjoy reading.
The pages we are turning on the
teaching of reading are flipping by
rather quickly. Following these authors’
recommendations is an opportunity to
get reading right in more classrooms.