Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Readicide Book Review

In addition to Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning and Teach Like a Champion, the third book on my summer reading list was Readicide by Kelly Gallagher.  Gallagher teaches high school English in Anaheim, California, has written a few professional development books and stars in a professional development DVD I viewed last year.

Gallagher (2009) defines readicide as "the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools" (p 2).  Gallagher's premise argues that readicide is currently running rampant and offers methods for stopping it.

Ever since I started my college courses in education, I've been concerned that I am too easily convinced by pedagogy books.  Many of my classmates would find flaws with the books we were assigned while I saw them predominately as a invaluable resources.  I've been worried I haven't been critically reading anything that has to do with teaching.  Readicide quelled those concerns.

Readicide is a good book.  It has good ideas that I will touch on later in this post.  But it also has a number of either/or and slippery slope logical fallacies.  Gallagher's chapters address four causes of readicide:
  1. No Child Left Behind
  2. Not providing students with good books and time to read them in school
  3. Over-teaching or under-teaching novels
  4. Using too many reading tools (sticky notes, double entry diaries)
In his first chapter, Gallagher suggests that because of NCLB, teachers must choose to either teach meaningful curriculum, or teach to the test.  In a bulleted list of the cycle started by NCLB, Gallagher (2009) states:
  • Because the 'worth' of teachers and administrators is largely perceived by how well students do on these shallow exams, educators narrow the curriculum in an all-out attempt to raise reading scores. 
  • Workbooks replace novels.  Reading becomes another worksheet activity.  Students are taught that the reason they should become readers is to pass a test. 
  • Reluctant readers drown in test preparation, ensuring any chance they may have had of developing a lifelong reading habit is lost. (p 17).
To be fair, my school's test scores are alright.  I don't teach is a major suburb district, but in a rural area from which many workers commute to the city; still, over 80% of my students are White.  Gallagher teaches in the Unified Los Angeles School District and the majority of his students are Black and Latino.  Placed in context, these bullet points are used to also point out that minority schools are often the ones preforming poorly on state tests, are poorly funded to begin with, and are threatened with budget cuts if they don't improve their scores1.

But Gallagher seems to suggest that these are the necessary results of NCLB when my school has not dropped novels from the curriculum.  In fact, for our classes aimed at under-performing readers, we've drastically increased the number of books they have access to and the amount of freedom they have in choosing their books.  My colleagues and I don't teach to the test; we teach to standards that the test assesses, and we do it with good books, not with worksheets.

After his first chapter, however, I found areas of agreement, or statements that make more sense to me.  His second chapter suggests improvements to the books schools offer students and the amount of time they have to read them in school.  Sustained silent reading (SSR) deserves a spot in the daily schedule.  So many students don't have access to books or the time to read them at home.  Gallagher's third chapter rightly warns against over or under teaching books.  Many novels can be taught to the point of complete boredom when the teacher searches for thematic meaning on each page.  Likewise, teachers can't just hand students a book and expect them to figure it out themselves.

Gallagher's fourth chapter was the most interesting to me.  He proposes the concept of a "reading flow," citing Csikszentmihalyi (1990): "the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it" (p 4 as cited in Gallagher, 2009 p 61).  Gallagher argues that asking students to make sticky notes or do a double entry diary while reading interrupts the reading flow.

I'm not sure where to stand on this.  On one hand, I chose to use sticky notes while reading this book - in part to help me when writing this post and in part to help me think deeper about what I was reading.  The amount of rereading and searching for quotations was greatly reduced because of it.  On the other hand, I had a number of students last semester who were so engrossed in their books - in the reading flow - that no amount of cajoling2 from me could get them to do a reading response journal, earning them a D in the class.  But I know they actually read, understood, and enjoyed the book.  One student told me it was the first book he'd read since fifth grade.  Isn't that more important than the number of sticky notes one writes over the course of 20 pages?  But if it's an intervention reading class, isn't part of it learning and demonstrating the skills of thinking (writing) aloud (on a sticky note)?

Gallagher (2009) instead asks students to do a close reading of one page of text from their books, annotating it (p 101-2).  They read the assigned text and the next day have a copy of the page waiting for them.  I think I may drop the number of sticky notes I require, telling students "in this book I want you to have a sticky note with one good question, one good  prediction, and one good inference, the qualities of which they'll know from a rubric.  If they're meeting in a book club, they'll need to fill out a separate role sheet.  Then I'll give them a page to annotate so I can get a sense of their skills over a whole book (where you're not necessarily going to make a prediction every single page) and a snapshot (you can interact with one page of text with more than one or two talkbacks).

Overall, though I think he was a little melodramatic in regards to NCLB and I don't feel that my colleagues and I drastically overteach or underteach our material, I'm glad I read Readicide.  It challenged enough of my current ideas to send me in new directions, and that's what summer reading is for.

Works Cited

Gallagher, Kelly.  2009.  Readicide: How schools are killing reading and what you can do about it.  Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

1. Which is probably, in my opinion, the worst part of NCLB: let's take underfunded schools that are struggling to begin with and threaten to take away more money.  That's not counterintuitive, is it?  If only sarcasm translated more easily in writing . . . Go back

2. It took me at least five minutes to figure out how to spell that word right.  Dictionary required.  18 points, though.  Go back

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chappuis, Chapter 3: Effective Feedback

In Chapter 2, Chappuis writes on how to help students get a clear picture of what they should be learning and how that learning should be demonstrated.  In Chapter 3, Chappuis offers five characteristics of effective feedback to keep students on the right path .

1. Effective feedback directs attention to the intended learning

There are two types of feedback for Chappuis: success and intervention.  These are straightforward.  Success feedback points out what a student has done well while intervention feedback tells them what needs to be corrected or improved.

There are common comments that do not accomplish the goal of effective feedback however.  Writing "incomplete" or "re-do" or really any grade does not encourage a student to succeed or give them a clear direction to go in.  As Chappuis (2009) states, "Providing feedback can be a labor-intensive proposition.  If we put all that time in we want to make sure that (1) we're doing it right, and (2) students will use it."  How many more students would have corrected an assignment if I had given them one-on-one feedback instead of writing "incomplete" at the top of their paper?  Even "see me," I would argue, has such a negative connotation, it is ineffective.  How many of your students actually do see you afterwards?

Often it is easy to praise students.  "You're so smart!"  However, Chappuis notes, this puts the feedback towards the learner rather than towards the work, and what does that make the student who receives the intervention feedback?  A study found that "look how hard you tried" is a much more effective comment because students see effort as something within their control, while "look how smart you are" is seen as a personal attribute and unchangeable (Blackwell, Trzensniewski, and Dweck, 2007, as cited in Chappuis, 2009).

Giving grades as part of feedback can be damaging as well.  Louann Reed taught at CSU that there are three terms used for assessment that shouldn't be interchangeable.  There's "assessment," the broad term; "feeback," which is written or verbal suggestions given to a student to help them improve their work or let them know their on the right track; then there are "grades," which contain a value judgement of the work.  The reason many students probably go to the last page of their essays for the grade and ignore the comments is because they see the feedback as unhelpful - why take the extra effort to make revisions when the grade's already been given.  Even if we say "you can make edits and turn this in for a better grade," how often does that actually happen?  Better to give the feedback, have them make changes, then assign a grade.

2. Feedback occurs during learning

Chappuis points out that we teachers often tell students "it's okay to make mistakes," because that's often how we learn.  By making a mistake, we know what not to do.  But sometimes our grading policies encourage the opposite viewpoint.  When quizzes and participation points are given leading up to the big test, how fair is it to grade them both.  It's double jeopardy.

Louann's continuum also should go in order.  Feedback should always come before grading.  Feedback should happen during learning.

3. Feedback addresses partial understanding

Feedback should be given when it can help a student move forward.  To give a student who needs further instruction feedback would be more frustrating to both student and teacher than helpful.  Only when there is partial understanding is feedback helpful.

4. Effective feedback does not do the thinking for the student

The best example I have for this is correcting conventions in an essay.  If one has taught sentence fragments, comma splices, and the use of semi-colons, rather than correcting each fragment in completed essays, mark the line where the error occurs and have the student correct it.  Students have a task and incentive to use the teacher's comments/feedback to move their learning forward.

5. Effective feedback limits corrective to what students can act on

Differentiate feedback to what an individual student can handle at one point in time.

Methods to offer feedback

Chappuis (2000) suggests using picture and symbol clues (p. 75) like stars and stairs to make comments on student work.  Students could also offer their own stars and stairs - what they think they do well and what they need to improve - before the teacher adds their comments.  Two-color highlighting (p. 82) is another way for students to self assess.  They highlight the sections of the rubric they believe they meet before the teacher, using a different color highlights their own assessment.  By using two primary colors, this could easily identify for the student where they and the teacher are in agreement.