Thursday, January 15, 2015

Principles for Reading

I was skimming through a book on teaching reading in the primary grades, Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. In this book they provide principles that would be applicable for all ages. Here are some of the principles:

1. Students learn by reading continuous text.

This principle is usually highlighted in discussions between electronic reading vs. print. There is all kind of speculation about what disjointed reading does to our brain. I know that I enjoy reading a whole essay in one sitting and follow the logic of the argument to its conclusion. The authors state that it is essential that we "spend the bulk of time reading continuous text." For one thing, this develops our ability as readers. We can always become better readers.

2. Students need to read high-quality texts to build a reading process.

Mortimer Adler used to say that some of the books we read must be above our heads. We must exercise our thinking muscles because it is only through exercise does a muscle grow. How many people sell themselves short by reading low-quality texts. The authors stress that students must have "high-quality" experiences with text. They talk about "landmark books." These are books that stay with us long after we finish reading them.

3. Students need to read a variety of texts to build a reading process.

Different types of books exercise different parts of our brain. We should read fiction, non-fiction, plays, poetry history, philosophy and other types of literature. We are called on in life to read all kinds of texts well.

4. Students need to read a large quantity of texts to build a reading process.

This principle is complementary to reading high-quality texts principles. We become better readers by reading. The more we read the better we get. The more we read the more background we bring to the texts we read.

5. Students need to read different texts for different purposes. 
 We bring different purposes to our reading. Sometimes we read purely for pleasure. Other times we read to learn how to do something. Sometimes we read to learn about a particular topic or in preparation for writing a paper or teaching a class. It is a skill to be able to vary our reading based on our purpose.

6. Students need to hear many texts read aloud.

This is something we have practiced with our kids since they were born. It is a false idea that we should stop reading aloud to our kids once they are able to read themselves. We should continue to read aloud all our lives. It creates a community of learners. It saturates our lives with a world we can discuss. Hearing a text read aloud can also improve our experience of a text.

7. Students need different levels of support at different times.

For example, "to effectively process a more difficult text, your students will require the support of small-group instruction." Mortimer Adler was fond of saying that the Great Books should be studied with a group. How much greater it is to read a great text in conversation with others. They will see things you do not see and vice-versa.

8. The more students read for authentic purposes, the more likely they are to make a place for reading in their lives.

Reading needs to be integrated in one's real life. We do all kinds of reading in life. We can read based upon our own interests. We read because we want to know something. We read to continue our education. Reading is not something we just do for school. One of the saddest statements I ever hear from an acquaintance was that he would never read another book after he graduated from college. Education should not turn us off to reading and learning. Education can ruin us as learners.

9. Students need to see themselves as readers who have tastes and preferences.

We must allow students to choose their books based upon their interests. Samuel Johnson said he would let a student read any book that engages his attention. He said you have done a great deal when you brought him to have entertainment from a book. He will go to better books later. It is important that students get pleasure from reading books. Of course, there are even greater intellectual pleasures from reading high quality books.

These are some principles that can guide our reading. We can even use them to teach others.

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