Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I finally read all of Mike Schmoker's article, Radically Redefining Literacy Instruction: An Immense Opportunity, from the March 2007 Kappan. It came up when I searched Balanced Literacy, and the word radical jumped out at me, rebel that I am.

I have shared this article with my writing project colleagues, who in turn are sharing it with this year's Summer Institute participants, one of whom is the superintendent of a small upstate district. I hope he will pursue its recommendations with a vengeance. I want to scatter copies of it throughout my school; not that it would bear fruit. One of the reasons that I have left my eighth grade classroom is the powerlessness I have felt: I seem to have no way of influencing literacy instruction, not as a mentor for student teachers, not as a member of a "Professional Learning Community," not even as a department coordinator for my middle school ELA team. And this article is GOOD STUFF.

The improvements it suggests are not high-tech or expensive in any way. I will be able to follow his recommendations as easily when I am teach writing to freshman at the local community college as I could when I was teaching reading and writing to eighth graders. All we have to have is some paper and pens, some reading material, some provocative questions, and our desks facing each other in a U-shape, or a circle.

Get ready for a revolutionary approach to teaching: his recommendation for improving students' literacy and thinking skills is that we should have them read, discuss, write, discuss some more, all while they are in our classrooms. The teacher's job: to get the reading material together, propose provocative guiding questions before they read, facilitate discussion after they read, ask them to write about what they read and discussed, talk to individual students about places in their writing or thinking where they were weak. No homework need be assigned or graded. No essays need be graded with extensive red marks or useless comments.

Direct instruction in reading and rhetorical strategies cannot disappear, but would make much more sense in the context of the authentic purpose for which we develop such skills, rather than to fill up a workbook, a Scantron, or a planbook.

I think I'll go read some material that I might use in September, and think of some provocative questions to go with whatever I find.

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