Shifting Phases's Reviews > Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?: Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12

Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? by Cris Tovani
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U 50x66
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May 10, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: reading-comprehension, buy-these

Exactly what I was looking for: concrete techniques for comprehension designed mainly for non-fiction, in a short book. This is reading comprehension instruction for the non-English teacher, geared primarily toward readers who can decode their texts but have trouble using it for any particular purpose. Although Tovani is writing for Gr 6-12, I don't think any of these techniques would be out of place in a first-year college classroom.

Tovani identifies these common breakdown points for dependent readers (p. 5):
- Noticing your thinking
- Holding your thinking
- Reusing your thinking for a purpose

She offers a small number of strategies for each one, reasoning that a few well-practiced strategies are better than a wide variety of strategies that you've only done once. If you've read other books on reading comprehension, they will look familiar:

- Make connections between new and known info
- Ask questions that clarify ambiguity
- Draw inferences
- Determine importance
- Use sensory info

Her definition of comprehension instruction interests me: instead of calling it "teaching reading," she says "I think of it as teaching students how to remember and reuse the information we ask them to read." (p. 7) She emphasizes that the goal is not to learn reading strategies, as some prepackaged curricula seem to imply; the goal is to "make connections or ask questions or visualize... [in order] to help them become more thoughtful about their reading."

I've read a half-dozen books about reading comprehension and this is the only one I bought. Every page was directly relevant to me, with a strong focus on "So what??". In other words, Tovani shows how to help students make connections that help them understand -- not just connections for their own sake. And she walks her talk: the focus on purpose is evident not only in proposed exercises but in her own writing. Other books on reading comprehension often include long expositions of why I should care about reading comprehension (I already know that, or I wouldn't be reading this!) or extended descriptions of classrooms (I've got my own, thanks). Not a word is included in this book that doesn't make a clear contribution to my purpose: helping my students use their reading to solve problems.


Notes
=====

How to find my reading patterns: stop at the end of every paragraph and tell me what you're thinking (p. 26) (try it with a text that is difficult for me)

To find accessible text that is not "low level or dumbed down," look for news or other text that is: (p. 39)
- well written
- interesting
- pleasant to the eye
- timely
- well-written
- short

Instructional Purpose worksheet for teachers (p. 55)

Finding a purpose before beginning to read (p. 61)

Modelling:
- Use student responses as examples in a lesson. Students love seeing their writing on the board. (p. 70)


Designing a comprehension constructor (p. 76)
- designed to scaffold a strategy or strategies
- think about how would I read this?
- what would i need as a reader?
- which strategies will help most?

Why discuss reading in small groups? (p. 90)
Maybe this is a useful application of groups, especially if the discussion had a clear purpose. Might be more applicable to fiction.
- take notes about contributions that help the group function, help with the purpose
- debrief these conversations by showing some of the notes, naming those who modelled helpful techniques (acts as motivator if students want to see their contributions in the notes)

Process for creating assessments (p. 103)
- what will these techniques look like as they become more sophisticated?
- What are the applications of these techniques in the field?

Tovani's philosphy of assessment: Assessing in context, strategy by strategy (p. 103)

What to assess (p. 105)
Listed by technique

Some assessments that can't be evaluated (p. 114)
- but might be worth doing anyway.

Did I Miss Anything? (p. 120)
(poem by Wayman, 1997)
"Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning..."

Use of the word "technician" (p. 121)
"But then I was relieved that she thought it was a 'far better thing' to have a thinking teacher in the classroom than a technician distributing worksheets."
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