This entire blog is devoted to a class I am taking called Language and Literacy Education 3530. Every week, we watch a podcast or read an article and then blog on our thoughts about it. I know I stated this briefly in my first blog post, but I wanted to make it more clear as to the reason for this blog and what I aim to achieve with it.
This week, we were assigned to watch a podcast on iTunes from the Helpfield School District UBD & DI Staff Development. We watched number 17, called Content Literacy Strategies 101. You can find the link to the blog here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/content-literacy-strategies/id446166098?i=95152716&mt=2 This podcast was a meeting of teachers in the Helpfield School District who were talking about reading and their content areas. It started out by talking about reading apprenticeship, which it defined as “the instructional framework embedded in subject-area content that engages students in more reading and thinking.” This correlates to everything we have been talking about in this class so far. How can we get students to think deeper about our content areas through reading? How do we make this happen? How do we get students to make sense of the information we are feeding them as teachers through different tools we use?
This podcast talked a lot in the beginning about ways we can get students to gain deeper insight into the way they personally read and think. If they can further understand how they personally process information, then we as teachers can help them develop strategies to enhance their learning as they read and think. During this meeting, the teachers watched a short video by Kelly Gallagher. What he said was very interesting. He talked a lot about how somewhere along the line, teachers ended up doing all the work. Teachers prepare lessons and then assign work for students to do, and if students don’t “get it” they come back to the teachers expecting the answers to be given to them through an easier explanation. So really, if the student’s don’t understand something they read, they don’t do any work themselves trying to figure out what it means. He talked about how over time students have developed this learned helplessness. They don’t look up words they don’t understand or use other resources to make sense of the material; they simply come back to the teacher and say “I don’t understand this, will you please tell me what it is saying?” I cannot say this from personal experience since I have not had my personal classroom yet, but from an outsiders perspective, I would say that I agree with this. I know when I was a student, I was sometimes very lazy and did not want to put in extra time and effort if I did not understand something. I would go straight to the teacher expecting them to tell me the answer, and when they would tell me to go look it up myself or try to figure it out on my own, I would get very frustrated and give up. I remember I had a teacher in third and fourth grade, the same teacher both years. His name was Mr. Carlson. Whenever I would read something and didn’t know what a word meant, I would ask him and he would tell me. Then, when I went home and did my homework and would ask my mom what a word meant, she would tell me to go look in up in the dictionary. I remember one time I told her, “Well Mom, Mr. Carlson would have told me what it means!” And I will never forget that she told me, “Well, I’m sorry but Mr. Carlson cannot go to college with you.” And she was right. Now, whenever I don’t completely understand something, yes I can definitely go to my teachers and ask for further explanation, but a lot of learning is done on my own. I thought what Kelly Gallagher said was very interesting and insightful.
One teacher, after hearing Mr. Gallaghers video, said they he thinks that teachers are the helpless ones because they are not allowed to flunk students; there is a “quota” of how many students they can flunk. And he said that the students are aware of this know that if they all of a sudden start getting bad grades, a lot of the time it is going to be the teacher’s “fault.” He commented that teachers can try to teach so many different ways and with so many different materials, but if the students don’t do it, it comes back still as the teacher’s fault. I can see where this teacher is coming from; it is hard as a teacher to not get reprimanded if you have a lot of students failing. Parents can complain and some administrators may view it as that teacher being a “bad teacher” because students are getting bad grades. Well, what if the student just isn’t putting in the work they need to to fully understand the material, and because of that, the student is failing? I understand this because, again, I did some of this in middle and high school. When I didn’t understand something or got a bad grade, a lot of the time I blamed the teacher because I was a good students and shouldn’t have gotten a bad grade. A lot of the time I did that, I should have taken responsibility and realized that I could have tried harder on my own to process information.
The podcast talked a lot about strategies that teachers can show students to use in order to make sense of what they read. I wish I had known these strategies in middle school because if I had, maybe I would have used them more and not blamed the teacher when I received a bad grade. There was another short video shown during this podcast where a teacher was telling students what to do as they read something. She told them they need to highlight what they think is important, look up words they do not know what they mean, write down questions or confusions they have, use context clues to discover meaning, write down if they agree of disagree, write down predictions or settings or conflicts. I think all of these strategies are great advice and I wish I had been more encouraged to use them when I was younger. One thing that was mentioned was that we are all “bad readers,” it just depends on the text we are given. If we are given something that we don’t immediately understand, we are just going to give up and get frustrated and try and find another article or source that explains the material in an easier way. As a future teacher, I want to keep the morale up about reading. I want my students to have a good attitude about it so that they will not get frustrated when they come upon something they need to read and they don’t immediately understand. Reading is part of all content areas, and it is important that students know strategies to make sense of what they are reading so that when they do come upon a difficult text, they can decipher what it means using those strategies.
As a teacher, no matter what content area you teach, reading will be involved in one way or another. I think that this podcast gives some great strategy ideas that teachers can pass along to their students so that students can understand what they read. Last week in class we talked about one strategy called a double entry journal. A double entry journal is where students have a piece of paper divided into two columns. On the left side, they write a quote or phrase from the text they are reading. On the right, they can write questions, interpretations, confusions, or anything they want regarding that piece of the text. I really liked this strategy, but as we talked about in class, I think it is something that cannot be over used, other wise it will get old to students and lose its effectiveness. You can use this as a way for students to think about what they just read and reflect on it. It can be useful in an content area. Math, social studies, science, or language arts.
All of these strategies that I talked about in this post are all ways to help both teachers and students make sense of what we read. Content literacy is important in all subjects. Being able to make sense of what you read is something that is a skill that will follow you for life. I still think content literacy is the idea that students can comprehend and make sense of what they read. However, I now think that content literacy is something that can be improved and changed using certain strategies. Of course there will be students that are better readers than others, but I think that if students are given the right tools and strategies and know how to apply them, their content literacy can be greatly improved and students can develop a deeper understanding for the information if they understand what they are reading.
I have noticed that in these past blog entries, I have mostly been talking about reading. Content literacy, however, also applies to speaking, writing, and communicating. The way that reading, speaking, writing, and communicating all work together and connect is what makes up content literacy as a whole. If you can read something and understand it, and then can write or communicate about it, then this is exercising your understanding of something. Students in all subject areas have to read, write, and communicate about that subject area. In order for them to develop a deeper understanding, they much make sense of what they not only read, but also what they hear and write. I think this is very important. This is how my definition of content literacy has changed since last week; I have become more aware that it not only revolves around reading. It ALSO includes writing, speaking, and communicating!