I saw Kelly Gallagher speak at the National Writing Project Spring Conference in D.C. in March 2011 and purchased a signed copy of Readicide. I read it from cover to cover immediately and have recently read it again more slowly, marking it with the post-its as you see. I checked Google before beginning this blog to see how widespread the book was- 31,700 hits today. So… I don’t want to beat a dead horse and you may all be rolling your eyes but I do notice that Readicide has become a favorite of tech and teaching book clubs this year so perhaps I’m not too late and maybe some of you haven’t heard of this book. You need to.
I want to write about this book because I’m excited about it. Just as the National Writing Project has helped me to learn great techniques for teaching writing, Readicide does the same thing for reading. It’s amazing when you’re reading a great teaching book that deals with problems you’ve tangled with over and over and the author makes the solutions seem so simple. It’s one of those books. It will impact your classroom, K-College, cross-curricular.
Gallagher begins with research about the importance of reading. Hasn’t this been proven, you might wonder? Of course it has, but in the last decade the importance of test scores has pushed reading for fun and reading full-length novels out of many classrooms. He comes up with a novel idea of balance, balancing fun and academic reading, balancing the teacher’s involvement and student effort, balancing a need for accountability with allowing the student to get in the flow of the book.
He promotes an idea of half reading for fun and half reading for depth and critical thinking. He allows students to choose their own books to read for fun but expects one a month. He even solves the problem of accountability with a one-sheet on the last day of the month in class. I had already incorporated reading a book of choice into my English 2 classes and a short writing project done in class on the day the book was due but I only asked students to read a book every 8 weeks on average.
Gallagher shows why novels are important and how to teach them without killing the joy of reading. He frames the novel and then takes students on a “tour” of the first half, showing them what to look at and what’s important, even giving them the essay question. I had done a lot of this but then I didn’t allow the students to finish the book on their own. I backed off but not enough. He also shows how to assign a lot of reading so students can get the feel of the book without being constantly bombarded with “literature questions” instead focusing closely on one portion of a chapter. It is simple but genius.
I tried out one new idea from the book before school got out and it went swimmingly. Before reading a novel, make a list of some of the topics and themes experienced in the novel then find current news about those (Google!). Print the articles and put students in groups of article subject. They have to read the articles, decide what the main idea is, create a poster with 10 words or less on it and then communicate to the class what the article was about. All members must be ready to speak because they don’t know who will be chosen. I followed the directions and found current articles about mercy killing, the death penalty, women’s rights, and racism. I gave each group one-two articles about their topic and loved hearing the groups discussing the articles and what they meant. They were arguing about which words were most important to put on the poster. They could also add symbols which forced them to think about how to communicate metaphorically. A little tougher was hearing the presentations. The energy of the small group discussion didn’t carry over for most classes into the big-group but I think with more practice it would. Although it was enlightening to see how hard this type of reading was for my students, it was disheartening to realize how much I could have done with them had we done this all year. This is the most difficult reading we did all year because the articles were written for news-reading adults. It was a success in that the students were interested and everyone stretched their reading muscles. They also learned a little something about the world.
Last but not least, his lesson “Article of the Week” focuses on the exact skills that my students were lacking in. I’m excited to incorporate this next year. He hands out a piece of “real world writing” such as a news story, blog, editorial or a speech to his classes on Monday and asks them to show evidence of a close read. The purpose is to broaden students’ knowledge of the world.
What do you think?
Are schools killing reading with worksheets and post-it notes and journals? (Take a gander at L.A. unit of study (p.62) on To Kill a Mockingbird- I’ve read that book over 20 times and it makes me want to scream.)
Do we value test-takers over developing lifelong readers? Are the feds mandating breadth over in-depth instruction? Are most schools ignoring the importance of developing recreational reading? Gallagher answers these questions in his book and you won’t like the answers but make a change in your classroom and start a grass-roots battle to bring the pure joy of reading back to our kids.
Kim Blevins is a teacher-consultant with the Greater Kansas City Writing Project.
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