Education Week - January 20, 2016 - (Page 6)
could prove divisive
By Liana Heitin
About five years ago, the chief
executive officer of the Uncommon
Schools charter network offered
up a lofty charge during a routine
staff meeting: "Figure out" reading
Doug Lemov, a managing director
for the network of 44 urban schools,
was quickly gaining fame nationally
as an instructional guru, having recently published a popular, practical teaching guide called Teach Like
a Champion. So he and two colleagues-the charter network's chief
academic officer, Erica Woolway, and
its director of professional development, Colleen Driggs-set out to
determine what the best reading
teachers in their schools were doing.
As the project got going, the rubber also hit the road on a major education policy change. The Common
Core State Standards were officially
released, and nearly all states rapidly
adopted them. The standards, which
the three educators support wholeheartedly, became a frame for Reading Reconsidered, the book that would
come out of their half-decade of work.
Scheduled for a February release
by publisher Jossey-Bass, the book
is aimed mainly at middle and high
school English teachers and reading specialists, though the authors
emphasize there's something in
there for anyone teaching literacy.
The nearly 500-page manuscript
is divided into eight major reading
topics, including text selection, close
reading, nonfiction, and vocabulary.
"Our philosophy about guidance
to teachers is tools, not programs
or systems," said co-author Lemov.
"It's really hard to change everything you do. ... We're happy if
[teachers] take 10 ideas and throw
away the rest."
Potential for Controversy
Many of the ideas in the book
seem to be inarguably good practice-for example, the notion that
students should read both silently
and aloud, as well as hear text read
to them. But there's a good chance
at least some parts of it, such as a
call for schools to resurrect literary
canons, will prove polarizing. Teach
Like a Champion also received criticism, with some educators claiming
it was too reductive about what
makes for good teaching. Nonetheless, the book became a long-running best-seller, with many districts
opting to purchase it in bulk.
The new book hinges on the
common-core standards, which are
a subject of controversy in and of
themselves. And some of the authors' recommendations, including
an appeal for students to spend time
reading archaic texts, may seem like
a threat to teachers' autonomy.
In writing the book, the team
took a similar approach to the one
Lemov had taken with Teach Like a
ing teachers across the Uncommon
Schools, observing their classrooms,
interviewing them, and piloting the
tactics they saw those teachers using.
While general classroom management techniques are often visible
and quantifiable, reading instruction, the authors note, is a beast of
its own. Teachers could conceivably
take a tip from Teach Like a Champion-for example, the technique of
"cold calling" on students who don't
have their hands raised-and "look
at the video and process it several
times and be ready to turnkey it in
the classroom," said Woolway. "But
teaching reading, it's just so much
The new book, Lemov said,
bridges the middle ground between
the general teaching tactics in Teach
Like a Champion and the contentspecific teaching knowledge that
English teachers get, for instance,
by having read thousands of novels
on their own.
Choosing the Right Texts
This book looks at domain-specific teaching knowledge-that is,
answering questions like, "How do
I make nonfiction accessible to my
students?" and "What kinds of questions should I ask during a closereading lesson?"
The techniques are informed by
the work of well-known researchers,
including educational psychologist
Daniel T. Willingham, University
of Pittsburgh education professor
emerita Isabel L. Beck, and E.D.
Hirsch Jr., the founder of the Core
Knowledge Foundation and the author of several books on cultural literacy, the authors say.
The tactics emerged from conversations with high-performing teachers about how they prepare for class
time-what they include in their
lesson plans and how they choose
reading materials. "So much of reading is what you do before you enter
the classroom," said Lemov.
A key insight for the authors was
that text selection matters. "It's kind
of become understood that reading is
a set of questions you ask about text,
and teachers have come to believe it
doesn't matter what you read," said
Lemov. But the authors argue that
students need to be exposed to a
broad array of complex reading material-classic texts, texts with nonlinear time sequences, texts with an
unreliable narrator, etc.-to build
knowledge and reading skills critical for the higher education setting.
"If you've never read a document
written before 1800 and expect to
walk into [a college] environment
and survive, that's a questionable
endeavor," said Lemov.
And while the authors acknowledge that the idea of having a literary canon, or set of agreed upon
"best" books to read, is out of fashion,
they say individual schools should
consider it. Some Uncommon Schools
campuses are now coordinating all of
the books their students read.
A schoolwide canon has several
benefits, the authors say, such as allowing for shared discourse. "When a
student makes a reference to a simi-
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 20, 2016 | www.edweek.org
John O'Boyle for Education Week
Book Highlights Practical Guidance for Teaching Reading
larity between a scene her class has
just read and a scene in another book,
the power of that moment is magnified a hundredfold if everyone has also
read that other book," the book states.
Having a canon also helps with
lesson planning. "We as teachers can
have deep fundamental conversations not only about Animal Farm,
but about how you introduce the
third chapter and unlock the mystery
at the end of the chapter," said Lemov.
Creating Cultural Literacy
And reading shared texts can help
students build cultural capital, the
authors argue. "Members of the
middle and upper-middle classes
often take for granted knowledge
that marks them as educated and
sophisticated. They can hear a reference to Hamlet or Dickens or Zora
Neale Hurston ... and join the conversation," they write. "A culture of
reading that doesn't consider this
cultural importance has a disparate
impact on those who are less likely
to acquire cultural knowledge by
other means. It is their best chance
to be included in the secret conversations of opportunity."
But the idea of dictating the
books students read is anathema to
"Mandating a text for an entire
grade level or school undermines
teachers' autonomy, and may not be
reflective of the needs, interests, or
abilities of the children they serve
from year to year," Donalyn Miller, a
veteran language arts teacher and
the author of The Book Whisperer,
a well-received pedagogical book
that advocates using free-choice to
inspire young readers, said in an
interview. "Thought leaders in progressive English education would
universally question this."
Amy Rasmussen, an Advanced
Placement English language teacher
in the Lewisville, Texas, school district, said the goals Lemov and his
co-authors say can be accomplished
via a literary canon--having stu-
dents read a broad array of materials,
share discourse, and build cultural
capital-can also be achieved with
short texts. She would rather students read poems, articles, and excerpts together as a class, but choose
their own novels. "We kill the love of
reading when we spend six or more
weeks on a novel that half the class is
not interested in," she said. "They're
going to fake their way through it,
so we've lost valuable time trying to
help them become readers."
Lemov and his co-authors do support reading for enjoyment, but they
also clearly see a more academic end
goal for reading instruction: being
prepared for the demands of college.
In fact, the word college is sprinkled generously throughout the book.
The authors describe close reading,
a central tenet of the common-core
standards, as "the tool that allows
students to read text that is over
their heads-one of the fundamental
experiences of attending (or preparing for) college." Students need practice with informational texts, they
write, because "what many students
must read in college is nonfiction-
often complex and dense nonfiction."
Lemov believes in using challenging texts and pushing readers
beyond their comfort zones, in part
because he knows it's necessary
preparation for the college experience. "One of the most common
things you'll hear in any classroom
is, if you open a book and there are
more than five words you don't
know on a page, that book is too
hard for you and put it back down,"
he said. "I think we pretty explicitly
set out to push back on that."
Coverage of the implementation of
college- and career-ready standards
is supported in part by a grant from
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Education Week retains sole editorial
control over the content of this coverage.
Visit the CURRICULUM MATTERS blog,
which tracks news and trends on this issue.
Colleen Driggs, Erica
Woolway, and Doug Lemov
take a break during a
conference last week. The
trio distill practical advice
and research on teaching
reading in a forthcoming
book, Reading Reconsidered.
If you've never
read a document
1800 and expect
to walk into
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Education Week - January 20, 2016