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The Why and What of Extensive Reading

The Why of Extensive Academic Reading

I wanted students to become the scientifically literate citizens envisioned in the National Science Education Standards: students who read science, enjoy reading science, and even experience the passion I feel for the natural world. However, with 65 percent of incoming freshmen at my school reading below the sixth grade level, it was clear that our science curriculum, especially the textbook, did not include motivating or accessible reading for most students. To bring reading back into our science classrooms, my colleague Ann Akey and I designed yearlong literacy routines and quarterly reading projects that we use successfully with our ninth-grade students, including English language learners.

—Janet Creech, high school science teacher

Janet Creech and Ann Akey had a disciplinary rationale for introducing extensive reading into their grade 9 science course: to offer students a future in which they could read about, understand, and even enjoy science and the natural world. According to Janet, the literacy routines that now anchor students’ science learning—keeping metacognitive logs of their science textbook reading, regularly researching self-selected science news reports, and completing quarterly literacy projects and presentations that incorporate reading science—based books of choice—seem to make an important difference in changing students’ engagement with science. With extensive reading as the context for all of students’ science learning, Janet and Ann feel they are able to serve their disciplinary goals and promote students’ literacy more generally. (Their course is described in more detail later in this chapter.)

Extensive reading, when practiced strategically and consistently, serves the goals of subject area learning and makes the following contributions to students’ growth as readers:

  • Academic language and subject area knowledge, as well as familiarity with text structures, genres, vocabulary, and concepts in particular subject areas, are all promoted through extensive reading.
  • Fluency, stamina, and the habit of reading are powerfully boosted through ongoing and extensive opportunities to read.
  • Choice of reading material, which extensive reading makes possible, contributes greatly to motivation and engagement.
  • Work to comprehend academic texts with the collaboration of peers and with teacher support for modeling and metacognitive conversation helps students build text-based problem-solving skills and dispositions for engaged subject area learning. Sharing reading through book talks, presentations, text-based group discussions, and other public experiences builds excitement and interest among a community of readers.
  • Increased reading experiences help students gain insight about themselves as readers and about their preferences in reading materials.

By definition, extensive reading takes time. Yet the time students actually spend reading and working to comprehend texts makes the single most important contribution to their reading achievement and proficiency. Sadly, as teachers know, the amount of time students spend engaged in reading inside and outside of school has decreased in recent decades. Reduced reading opportunities means that students’ reading competence and confidence both suffer. Without experience in making sense of academic materials, students will lack familiarity and stamina when faced with complex texts. Understandably, they will have little motivation for working their way through difficult material. Without access to the knowledge and academic language conveyed in texts, their ability to comprehend a greater range of texts will be limited. This in turn often leads teachers to lower their expectations for students’ reading, thereby continuing the cycle.

Without ongoing and supported reading experiences, students stop growing as readers and even lose ground. To interrupt this downward spiral, teachers will need new and more powerful ways to bring reading back into the curriculum and the classroom.

Jane Wolford, whose community college students enroll in her history classes with little preparation for the kind of extensive reading that historians enjoy, decided to help them bear down, take on multiple disciplinary texts, and perhaps even have some fun. One of Jane’s biggest challenges was students’ reaction to primary sources. By taking the time in class to have students read closely and think like historians, Jane helped them build the motivation and skills to tackle and understand challenging text. She describes in Classroom Close-Up 5.1 what she and her students discovered.

The What of Extensive Academic Reading

In this representation of extensive reading, the teacher and the student have different but interacting roles. Teachers extend the time in class for reading—and rereading—academic texts to serve subject area learning goals. By extending the reading levels of texts, teachers provide differentiated readings as well as a ladder of increasing challenge. Teachers also extend access to academic texts by using ancillary topic–related materials to add interest and varied entry points. Teachers extend students’ choice of what to read through thematically linked texts or independent reading projects. Creating support for extensive reading, in terms of the classroom social and personal dimensions and a focus on meta–cognitive conversation, allows teachers to extend what they expect of students, to extend students’ accountability for reading.

When students have more time for subject area reading, they are expected to extend the volume of reading they accomplish. With the teacher providing increased access to different levels and types of texts, students extend the range of what they read. As students read more and more kinds of texts, they extend their reading stamina. As students extend their stamina for reading longer and more challenging texts, in combination with extended opportunities to make choices about their subject area reading, they become more competent readers and, presumably, more engaged subject area readers.

By extending the opportunities and support for student reading, teachers see a transformation in the roles they and their students assume. High school English teacher Lisa Krebs expresses relief that now reading is a class activity and not only something students are supposed to do for homework. As a result, her goals have changed from managing and entertaining students to supporting them in their own reading, thinking, and problem solving:

I think back to when I was early teaching, and I mean, I was doing everything. They were sitting there, sometimes with nothing on their desks the whole period. And I’m sort of telling them about the story, and showing them visual aids, and doing this, and running around, and passing out [things], and, you know, it was crazy. And they’re probably thinking, “Doo da doo, I don’t have to do anything.”

When classrooms are places where teachers do things for students or to students, teachers are doing all of the intellectual work. When classrooms become places where teachers do things with students, the intellectual culture of the classroom shifts, and students have a purpose for investing in learning.

The Student Learning Goals for Building Personal Engagement (see the Assessment Appendix) make clear to students a number of ways they can think about extending their reading effort and evolving a more powerful reader identity.

Reading for Understanding, pp.136-139

DMU Timestamp: October 19, 2017 02:40

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