Welcome to my blog and inaugural post! I am an English Language Arts teacher and have been teaching for about 13 years. Most of it has been at a K-9 school that used to be on the outskirts of a small city and is now a bustling construction zone with new neighbourhoods popping up. Our student population has also changed. Now, about half of our population is immigrant or first-generation Canadian, up from about a third. What hasn’t changed, though, is the challenge of teaching students with a variety of learning needs to be critical thinkers and readers.
For several years now, I’ve heard from other subject-area teachers that it is the reading students have to do that sinks their scores on exams and Provincial Achievement Tests. I’ve struggled to teach students to transfer critical reading and thinking strategies to other subjects, but I haven’t been very successful. I’ve gone to numerous professional development courses seeking solutions, but I haven’t found the magic formula.
Knowing that struggling and good learners do not always transfer learning strategies effectively, I kept wondering if we were going about it the right way. Why was it just English teachers who were charged with the task of teaching students to be critical readers? How much more powerful would it be for students if they learned how to construct meaning from their science textbooks in science class? Because of this, I’m convinced that all teachers need to teach reading skills, not just English teachers. Especially today when there is a plethora of information (good, bad, and ugly) available at the click of a computer key.
We are a PLC school with a small junior high staff and have been struggling to find ways to collaborate meaningfully to improve student learning. So when my principal asked me last spring to be the lead teacher for the junior high, I said yes. I was fairly confident he would support an idea I wanted try: all teachers collaborate around reading skills. Why?
1. It is the math, science, and social studies teachers who can best teach students to read their textbooks critically. These teachers know what the essential learning outcomes are and what the students will be assessed on. They are the experts in identifying what information is essential to know and how to gain meaning from it.
2. Taking students out of other classes like science and social studies to give them more reading instruction puts gaps in their learning. It can also deprive them of their natural curiosity to explore their world and their community.
3. As students progress through school and into post-secondary, reading becomes more complex and less fictional. Students will benefit from explicit instruction in reading and thinking strategies across all subjects.
4. Students need multiple opportunities to read all kinds of age-appropriate, complex reading material in order to become proficient readers. This cannot be achieved in the English class alone.
When I look at this, though, the overworked teacher in me (along with many of you, I’m sure) keeps showing up like unwanted spam in my mailbox reminding me that my plate is already full. However, I can’t help thinking that this might be one way to take a little bit off my plate as students build critical reading and thinking skills. This isn’t a magic formula, but it may be a more effective way to help students become better readers and thinkers.
What do you see as some challenges or benefits of a coordinated, all-teacher approach to teaching critical reading skills?
Join me next week! I’ll be posting about some of the initial steps we took to get this idea off the ground.