Before working in adult education, I was a middle school language arts teacher. Although the students who entered my classroom each September read fluently aloud, their levels of comprehension, confidence, and engagement were worlds apart. At the middle school level, students were expected to read fiction independently, answer questions independently and be ready to discuss the plot and theme with the class. Students weren’t expected to internalize or “connect” to the text. They weren’t even expected to like what they read. They were to read books that someone, somewhere, had deemed a mandatory read, a classic. It didn’t take the twenty-something me long to realize that students needed more than I had been trained to give them.
My reading instruction evolved in response to what my students needed and as a result of collaborating with other language arts teachers. I read aloud and talked as I read. I’d ask questions of myself and of my students. They asked me questions. They read with partners. They read independently. They responded in writing to what they read, not just about plot and theme, but about their connections to what they read. With time, I saw an improvement in my students’ comprehension, confidence and engagement. Until . . . a parent in an upper grade complained to the principal that it was taking too much time for students to finish novels. The language arts department was directed to not have students read in class. Instead, they were to read several chapters at home, answer questions at home, take comprehension quizzes in class to make sure they had read, and to participate in class discussions about what they read. I was no longer allowed to teach my students how to read.
Ironically, in other subject-area classrooms, students were expected to read and to answer questions in class, not at home. The reason? The textbooks were too heavy for students to take home in their backpacks. They were not taught how to read their textbooks or guided in their reading; they were just expected to know how to read nonfiction. Typically, students would not read the text at all; instead, they would hunt and peck to find the answers to the chapter questions. Even if the answers were wrong and they had no idea what they had read, they still got credit for completing the assignment. They would write in the correct answers, memorize those answers, ace their multiple-choice tests, and get A’s on their report cards.
Because of my background, when I encounter adults who struggle with reading or who think reading is a waste of time, I wonder about their reading instruction. Were they made to read books they didn’t understand or connect with? Was the hunt and peck method encouraged, so they could get the assignment done? Did their teachers care? Did their teachers not know how to help them? Were their teachers denied the chance to respond to their needs? Were decisions made about their education that had nothing to do with their education?
Can they, as adults, learn to be better readers?
Gerry, Your story really struck a chord with me. Sadly, it seems that your experience is widespread. Too many students have never been taught how to grapple with complex text to actually understand it. As a result, the struggle to glean meaning from text is simply too difficult for many. The process you had used to explain your strategies to students and then support them under your guidance seems closely aligned to the Reading Apprenticeship approach.
Are you optimistic about applying this approach with adult learners?
Moderator, Assessment CoP
Yes, I am optimistic about the Reading Apprenticeship approach. Because I don't work directly with adult learners, my objective in learning about this approach is to pass on the knowledge to the teachers and tutors in my agency. I am finding the reading responses and discussions extremely helpful.
An idea that spoke to my experience as teacher in the section about the personal dimension:
“Learning to independently read unfamiliar types of texts and complex texts is hard work. Unless students begin to see reading as related to their personal interests and goals and as something they can improve, they are unlikely to expend the necessary effort” (30).
Last year in my Adult ESOL classroom we had reading assignments from a textbook, some (but limited) free reading time, and various other handouts. Over the semester we also had learning clubs which focused on topics that the students chose (technology, buying a home, starting my own business, early childhood education, nutrition, going to college). These learning clubs grew into passion projects. The idea of introducing our students to passion projects came from our a colleague and instructional coach and was inspired by Angele Maiers book The Passion-Driven Classroom and the idea of 20% time that some companies have to allow for work on independent, creative projects. The passion projects culminated into presentations at the end of the semester.
When I compare student interest level in the readings in the textbook and those texts that I chose to the reading they did for their passion projects, it is clear that they read more and were more interested in reading the material for the topics that they chose. The materials they read were more challenging but they were more likely to persevere when they related to the content personally.
The simple words “unless students begin to see reading …as something they can improve….(31) are crucial. If students think that they’ll never improve, if they have a fixed mindset about their reading ability, then nothing will help. We have to find ways to counter those negative thoughts and help them understand that they can improve with practices such as outlined in the Reading Apprenticeship framework.
Leann, I think you have zeroed in on an essential point. Having a fixed mindset is believing that success is due to talent rather than effort. When we have a growth mindset, we believe that effort matters and that we have control over an outcome. We've discussed Carol Dweck's work on this in some of our LINCS Communities. I see the Learning Apprenticeship process as deeply ingrained in helping students to see that their effort will play off.
Those who are interested in learning more about these ideas can find related material and an interview with Dweck at this website http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/.
Moderator, Assessment CoP
I really appreciated the mindset article; thanks for including it. What struck me is the comment that we do have a choice in how we interpret the voice in our hear, our interior commentator, when we don't feel like we have the talent or that we have failed. Just knowing that we have the choice somehow seems to avert us away from the negative. I like that. I hope I can pass that on to my students this semester.
I had just viewed Carol Dweck's recent TED talk on the power of YET - or not yet - (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_X0mgOOSpLU&feature=youtu.be) before reading Ch. 2 of Reading Apprenticeship. I was struck by the relationship between these ideas - and then excited to see that others were also making these connections. There is a lot about the Personal Dimension that relates to developing a growth mindset.
Thanks for sharing! I will be using this in class at some point.
I have heard of Reading Apprenticeship for several years. Up until reading Chapters 1 and 2 of this book, I considered it just a catchy, educational title. However, once I started reading, I kept pondering the combination of reading + apprenticeship (I love words). Then I got caught by their deeper historical and modern definitions. Reading is definitely a very skilled occupation; it's a complex process that ideally involves conversation between text and self. The word apprenticeship means "the position of an apprentice, someone learning a trade or skilled occupation from another." Typically, the "another" is a more competent or proficient person. Within the framework of Reading Apprenticeship, this would obviously be the reading teacher; however, it also includes learning from other reading students. So, reading + apprenticeship actually "reading, talking, and learning to comprehend text from more and less proficient others." It's a wonderful and so very appropriate title! I am excited to learn more from the remaining text and talk.
Wow Marn! You brought up an excellent point about understanding the term "Reading Apprenticeship". I am so glad for your explanation because I missed it and your description is right on target. I guess I was not fully "Reading for understanding".
Meryl Becker-Prezocki, SME College and Career Standards
Today I felt as if a student wanted to be spoon-fed as she was doing her reading comprehension work; she was not wanting to take the energy to think. Normally, I might have modeled the thinking involved, but as I started to do that, I stopped and looked over at another student who was not engaged in the same activity. I asked him how he would approach this specific reading passage. And then the potluck began. The dialogue was extremely valuable, and the "learning" that occurred was at a higher level.
Too often students have not been invited to the table. Yes, the quote, “learning to independently read unfamiliar types of texts and complex texts is hard work" is very accurate. Yet learning to engage others in the conversation is a challenge also - an adventure for all of us. Stay tuned!
Norene, Thanks so much for sharing this anecdote from your classroom. These two students felt comfortable engaging in an in depth conversation, so you have clearly made it safe for that to happen. We will be eagerly waiting to hear more about how you are applying RA!