Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Do We Teach Readers to Read For A Purpose?


I am reading a number of books right now.  The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey is a book I am reading for pleasure. The story is set in Alaska in the early 1900s. In my mind, I can picture the struggles of the childless couple who are homesteading in the Alaskan Wilderness. As I read, I notice details the author has included to help me form mental pictures of the characters and their motivations. I look for the "bread crumb" plot trail that is being left through the story that keeps me guessing about what might be coming next.    Reading for pleasure is the first level of reading. It is an invitation from the author to listen in on his thoughts, interact with his ideas and come to our own conclusions.   Most of the reading our students will be expected to do needs to go beyond reading for pleasure.  As teachers, we need to provide our students with multiple purposes for reading. This will help  our students to see that sometimes it is ok to read for a simple purpose, for example to identify basic ideas or find specific information. Reading for information teaches students to become better skim readers, hunting for key words and dates. Skim readers may not even begin at the beginning!   We also need to show them that sometimes they need to become more "reflective" readers so that they will not miss out on that opportunity to really process the ideas being shared by the author or make connections between concepts to form big ideas.

I am also reading  Rubbish, The Archaeology of Garbage by William Rathie and Cullen Murphy. This is a non-fiction book detailing the research conducted by the University of Arizona's Garbage Project.  It is giving me new insights into my own spending practices and making me much more aware of what I am throwing away and why.  The book is full of data tables and data analysis. This type of information serves as a series of  "reading speedbumps", forcing the reader to stop and reread, question and process the information being presented before moving on in the text.  By offering our students material that introduces them to new points of view or scientific research, we give them a chance to compare the author's world view to their own and make decisions about how to stretch and change their thinking based on this new information.  By exposing students to content that is unfamiliar to them, we allow them to process the new information and make connections to their own knowledge. In order to be a truly productive reader, students must learn how to make a commitment to the author, understanding their own purpose in reading and the author's purpose for writing.

By middle school, students should be reading 50% literature and 50% non-fiction. By high school this ratio jumps to 30% fiction and 70% non-fiction.   Teaching Close Reading strategies will help our students understand their own purpose for reading and begin to consider the author's purpose for writing.

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