Teacher-to-Teacher: Balancing Act By Janice Ewing
In a recent grad class, we were attempting to synthesize knowledge from a variety of texts, including The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, along with two texts about the core standards and strategies to support and implement them. The use of multiple sources of information, with different viewpoints, is of course a component of the core standards, and is a practice that most of us commonly use to make decisions. So why were we struggling with reconciling the points we were taking from the various texts?
For example, we read and discussed several strategies for guiding students to monitor their comprehension. There were the usual suspects – post-it notes, bookmarks with strategic reminders, verbal check-ins, text-coding, and other types of annotation. A few of the elementary grade teachers, some of whom teach special education classes, responded that these were the types of check-ins that their students needed, and that they were always on the look-out for additions to their teacher toolboxes.
However, other teachers in the group had markedly different reactions. They argued that a plethora of strategies, however well-intended, would interrupt the flow of their students reading and decrease motivation. One of the secondary teachers claimed that, based on her experience, her students would balk at anything that seemed like ‘extra work.’ Another added that her students would resist putting effort into a practice that was not ‘for a grade.’
Was this an elementary versus secondary issue? On the surface, it appeared that way, but my hunch was that that explanation was too simplistic. In order to unpack this further, we began by looking at the reasons why we use comprehension strategies ourselves, and why we teach them to our students. We agreed that, in our own experience as readers, we frequently find ourselves rereading, questioning what we just read, deciding what was most important, or making connections, depending on the content and purpose of our text. Of course, this is done either subconsciously or by choice, rather than in response to a requirement.
We often hear and use the word ‘scaffold,’ but now we took a closer look at what that term actually means. We agreed on a working definition of scaffolds as temporary supports, to be used as needed. We also found ourselves reaching consensus around the idea that reading comprehension strategies should be used purposefully, which led us to the word ‘intention.’ From that perspective, we considered how we could most effectively introduce comprehension strategies at all levels through modeling and guided practice, and then encourage our students to use them when and how they’re most helpful, rather than as an extra requirement that only accompanies school-related reading.
Then we wondered, “What about choice?” Miller, Gallagher, and numerous other respected educational writers, researchers, and practitioners have reinforced the importance of choice as a source of motivation and a foundational element for developing lifelong literacy. We decided that once students have truly acquired a repertoire of relevant strategies, they have the agency to make informed choices as to which to use and when.
The challenge of balancing the use of reading comprehension strategies with the fostering of the joy of reading is complex. In our classroom conversations, we examined the concepts of scaffolds, intention, and choice to help us synthesize and crystallize our thinking. What do you think?