April 3rd, 2016

reading ladders


As I review various portfolios and applications, I am struck by something I have not seen before but have long suspected: the professional reading of some educators seems to have shifted over the years. I know that for the 40-some years I have been in education that professional journals tend to stack up and then mock me as they sit on the desk. However, I always made it part of my #bookaday habit to examine the table of contents and read articles that addressed my needs as an educator. Sometimes that meant I read a journal issue cover to cover. Sometimes it meant I put the issue aside or read 1-2 pieces before filing it. I think back to VOICES FROM THE MIDDLE issue that Kylene Beers produced after September 11th. I still have 10 copies of that issue; I am happy to hand one to a new colleague or a new English teacher. My file cabinet has a drawer filled with articles that I still reference in my writing and in my teaching.

The reason I think I still turn to the professional journals stems with a doctoral seminar I took many years ago (and Kylene took that course with me as well). Dr. Abrahamsson issued the charge the first night we met: each of us would take on a professional journal, go back through the history of that journal, ad then bring to class those articles we believed deserved to be in a sort of BOTB (best of the best) collection. I have that collection still. I have used it countless times. Here are the thought leaders of the past including Carlsen, Donelson, Nilsen, Ley, Small, Gallo, Probst, Rosenblatt, et al. Articles dating back to the early part of the 20th century discussed reading aloud, independent reading, choice, authentic literature, and more. And I hang on to these so that we never forget that there is a history of good pedagogy.

For a while, Donalyn Miller and I were hosting a Twitter chat #bproots. Standing for best practice roots, we hoped to remind other educators about the voices from the past (and I hope to resurrect this chat soon). We need to know our pedagogy rests on the shoulder of giants, that there is a history we can discuss when someone asks us for the "proof" that what we do is effective. We need to know our history. But we also need to know what is happening in the profession beyond the popular press headlines. We need to read within our profession. Recent research suggests as early as the 1930s and as recently as 2013 that teachers are not reading much professionally. Why is this troubling to me?

1. Teachers who do not read professionally do not have the "ammunition" to argue against programs and programmed approaches for classrooms. The programs spew "research" to convince purchase. However, we can refute the research produced by the companies if we read professional journals.

2. Teachers who do not read professionally may feel isolated. I recall the first time I read IN THE MIDDLE. It was such an affirmation of what I was attempting to do in m own classrooms. Here it was, in a book, reading and writing workshop. Without books such as Penny Kittle's BOOK LOVE or Donalyn Miller's READING IN THE WILD or Kylene Beers' WHEN KIDS CAN'T READ WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO, or countless others, teachers might feel as if they are fighting the battle alone.

3. Teachers who do not read professionally may not understand some of the "research" is not truly "research." (excuse the air quotes). For example, NCTQ has published several research reports about poor quality in teacher education. Teachers who read professionally have also seen the pieces that are highly critical of the reports and how the research was conducted. Other issues that teachers need to continue to stay abreast of: charter schools, VAM, PARRC and other tests, CCSS, and so much more.

So, when I see that many educators are not reading professionally, I worry. I also am sad that they are to seeing some of the finest writing from our own profession. I scour my issue of THE ALAN REVIEW, the journal that is essential to those of us who work in YA Literature. I read BOOKLIST and other review journals. I read KNOWLEDGE QUEST which talks about libraries and librarians. And I read professional texts as well.

As teachers we need to read professionally. I do not want to use the services of a doctor or a lawyer or a plumber or an electrician who does not stay up-to-date. I hope the person taking care of my car has read the latest updates about the mechanics of my vehicle.

Let's try this: post a recent article or book or an article you would have on hand you have read to Twitter or Facebook. Here is the link to mine: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar12/vol69/num06/Every-Child,-Every-Day.aspx.