Posts Tagged 'reading'

Meandering Meditations About Readers

One of my favorite parts of being a researcher is talking to people.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been “hanging out” (in a researchy way) in a middle school library media center since March.  This week I had the pleasure of interviewing students at the school. Contrary to current popular notions of reading, this school has a lot of boys who read enthusiastically. Four of them were kind enough to speak to me.

These students are incredibly dedicated users of school library resources. They read voraciously, at time multiple books per week. Their teachers allow them to go to the school library as often as they like. The collection in the school library, as they told me, is well-stocked to meet their needs.

As school winds down, these students have been on my mind. Like many (perhaps even most) school libraries, the facility is not open during the summer months. I admire school librarians who keep their libraries open intermittently for checkouts during the summer. But, I also see the position of the school librarians who does not open their spaces, especially if there is no funding to support this investment of time.

But that’s not what sticks with me.

As I spoke to them this week, all of these young readers were so clear on the incredible benefits they derive from a school library staffed by their certified school librarian. I was nearly moved to tears to hear them speak of their school librarian with such esteem and affection. When I asked them what they would be reading this summer, these boys, for the most part, thought they would be able to find enough reading materials between home and trips to the public library. I could sense some anxiety though, or a feeling of loss at not having access to their school library.

I am not sure why I keep coming back to this feeling. It is not my purpose to be critical of the school librarian, or the families, or anything in the situation, really.

Instead, I keep thinking of the thousands and thousands of children across this country who are losing their librarians to less qualified staff. I keep thinking of collections unreplenished. I keep thinking of all that is being stripped away from libraries, indeed from young people, right now. To be honest, it is hard not to be heartbroken (and angry!)

I think of the young readers I spoke to this week. I see in them, and hear from them, the wealth that a robust school library program brings.  For them, it is a couple of months until the lights flip back on and the bright face of their school librarian welcomes them.

They are the lucky ones.

In a couple of months, in many libraries across this country, the scene will not be nearly so sunny. I think about all the shade that is being cast in school libraries around this country. When will all the rest see the light?


The Future of Reading: Thinking Ahead to the SLJ Summit

It’s already time for another conference – the School Library Journal Leadership Summit will take place over the next couple of days. I was surprised and thrilled to be invited to this event. As a doctoral student in Language and Literacy Education, the conference theme “The Future of Reading” is of great interest to me on a number of levels.  Here are some of the questions and items that are on my mind right now, as I look through the exciting program, preparing for the conference and all the conversations we will have.

What does it mean to read online?

One of my main questions is, what does it mean to read online?  Although books are still important, it is clear that more and more of the reading we do is online – often filled with hyperlinks, dynamic content, and images. How do we read these emerging, often complex, genres?  I was thrilled to see that Don Leu, one of the leaders of the New Literacies Research Team, will be talking with us during the summit.  I heard another member of the New Literacies Research Team, Julie Coiro, speak last year about her research into online reading. I remember her talking about the way the dynamic and linked content can lead readers to be more active in interacting with the texts.  I also remember thinking (Coiro may have said this, actually) that this reading was almost a new form of co-authorship.  It’s nothing new to realize that our own experiences and traits as readers transact with texts, but online genres seem to invite active reading in new ways. And so, the question becomes, how to we properly read online texts?  Does that question even make sense?  Are we thinking about the different strategies readers need to evaluate and comprehend online texts? Of course, librarians have been thinking and teaching about evaluating all kinds of sources for years.  But I can’t help wondering if the preponderance of online reading that many students do leads to new questions and strategies we are only beginning to consider.

For example, Bud the Teacher blogged an excerpt from a post called the Rhetoric of the Hyperlink which offers some pretty amazing discussions of what hyperlinks are and how they function.  There is also a bit about the Kindle in the piece. As we become more and more accustomed to seeing different online texts, (while at the same time they become more and more complex), there is a lot to think about in terms of the way we read and write.

With changes in reading, what happens to writing?

The talk of co-authoring through linked reading and learning about hyperlinks reminds me that we cannot separate reading from writing. So, I am excited to see reading as the central topic for the summit, but to me the future of reading ties directly to writing.  I’ll admit that, in the past, I thought that reading was the primary skill and writing followed.  But after some study and spending a lot of time writing myself and with students, I see that the process works both ways.  Reading and writing are closely aligned and inform one another. I was reminded of a study I read called Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Carnegie Corporation. This report is linked here, in addition to others from the Carnegie Corporation. The SLJ Summit will also feature Andrés Henriquez, who works on the Carnegie Council for Advancing Adolescent Literacy.  I hope he will be sharing some of the insights from these reports and others in his talk.

What concerns about intellectual freedom emerge with new ways of reading?

With all the exciting aspects about the future of reading, I also have concerns.  I am sure there will be lots of talk at the summit about gadgets and apps that are intended for reading of different kinds.  I’ve been watching the discussions about many of the different e-readers with some interest. The discussions about ownership of digital materials and DRM are fascinating.  I also watched a talk by Ted Striphas brought some issues to light that I had not considered before.  (He has since released some written versions of this work, including E-Books: No friends of free expression.) Most interesting to me were the way data are collected from Kindles and the legal status of that data. I love the idea of social reading – to me that is such an incredible benefit of reading with technology. The chance to make reading more transparently and globally social is exciting. But, at the same time, Striphas’s arguments bring up some important concerns about privacy for readers, which I think we as librarians should consider. I haven’t thought through his arguments fully, but I hope we keep these concerns in mind as we continue to develop e-reading collections. How do our ongoing commitments to intellectual freedom wind through these new devices, genres, and reading practices?

What about the book?

In closing, I’ve got to admit that my own thoughts on reading have changed a lot over the past few years.  I’ll admit, I have been one of those people who cherish the physical product of a book – one of the “I-love-to-cuddle-up-with-a-book,”  “Books-have-such-a-great-smell,”  “The-tactile-experience-can’t-be-replaced” people.  (In some ways I still am). I’ll admit that I didn’t see the wrenching away of the ideas in the book from it’s physical form coming as quickly as it has. Well, maybe it hasn’t completely separated, but, as I flipped through the new issue of Real Simple yesterday, I came to a page that signaled to me that something big has changed.  Real Simple does regular features on “New Uses for Old Things” and they devoted a full page spread to how to repurpose books.  These involved cutting out words to make new sentences for an activity at the holiday kids table, ripping out pages and forming them into cones to look like festive trees, transforming the pages into bows for presents, and hollowing out pages to make an unexpected gift box.

(Image from Real Simple, November 2010)

One the one hand, I thought about all the kids who do not have books in their homes (not to mention strained library collection budgets) and thought – Don’t cut up your books for holiday decor – Donate the books to a library or charity! Please! But I also think that this page in Real Simple, a somewhat mainstream family magazine, says a lot about the role of books in our lives.  It is not that we don’t love or need books anymore, but their physical container isn’t as important as it once was. Books are not necessarily the cherished objects they used to be.  The content and the container are really beginning to fracture.  Now, we can read comics on our iPads, books on our smartphones, the list goes on…(I’m not sure what will happen to the picture book, but if you believe the New York Times people aren’t reading them as much anymore anyway, so perhaps it doesn’t matter). (And, for the record, I have issues with the NYT story, but I am not sure the reporting is wrong).

So, it should be an exciting few days to talk more about these issues and keep pushing toward the future of reading and the role librarians and libraries will play. I can’t wait to hear what others are thinking about. There are many other excellent speakers that I’ll be blogging and tweeting about this week. The conference hashtag is #sljsummit10.  I hope you’ll join in these exciting discussions.

(Now I am wondering how many of you actually made it to the end of this post, and how many are off following hyperlinks…)

A Selection of Blogs for Reading, Literature, and Writing Teachers

During my first classes of the semester with my preservice teachers, I was upfront: they would not leave my class knowing everything there was to know about literacy education. After their astonishment wore off, I explained that, in my mind, a big part of being a teacher is being an ongoing and insatiable learner. So, I told my students that one of my goals for this semester was to help them develop ways to continue their learning that would last far beyond the semester’s end.

With that in mind, this week I took the plunge and started talking about RSS. All semester I’ve been sharing and using resources that came to me through blogs and twitter, but this week students started developing new spaces and pathways for connecting on their own.

About an hour into my classes, I showed the RSS in Plain English video from Common Craft, then talked through some blogs to start with. Many students were surprised that, as google account holders, they had not known about google reader before. There was some excitement as well as some skepticism, which is to be expected.

The big question for me was, which blogs should I choose?  I follow many literacy-related blogs, but wanted them to start with just a handful. I asked my twitter network for their suggestions a couple of weeks ago, and many in my PLN responded with great ideas. I was also asked to share my lists once they were complete. So, my starter blogs for Language Arts, Kindergarten through 8th grade, are listed below.

Note: This list doesn’t even begin to cover all the great blogs out there.  I chose some blogs that seemed to best reflect the principles of literacy education we’ve discussed this semester. I also included some technology-focused blogs, and blogs by classroom teachers. In class, I talked about how important it is to read blogs that are provocative and even opposed to your own perspective, just to keep you thinking. I need to keep working on this last point.

Writing Workshop by David Stoner

Two Writing Teachers

The Book Whisperer

The English Teacher’s Companion

In For Good

Free Technology for Teachers


Larry Ferlazzo

Grammar Girl

Teri Lesesne – ProfessorNana

The tempered radical

The Reading Zone

A Geekymomma’s Blog

Welcome to NCS-Tech

30 poets 30 days at Gottabook

Raising readers and writers



Miss Rumphius Effect

A year of Reading

We will talk in the next couple of weeks about what learning this way is like, and how it might (or might not) be useful. I’ll share their thoughts soon after.

In the mean time, do you have any other favorites that I missed?

Multigenre Research Projects: Sources and Notetaking

This is the third in a series of posts on multigenre research projects.  The introductory post is here.

After my students chose their topics, it was time to get started with research. One of my priorities was to provide the students with guidance for thinking broadly about resources for research and learning. One of the key principles of multigenre work is that we can convey knowledge in many different forms, from poetry and narratives to diary entries and brochures. Conversely, as I see it, we can also learn from a number of different texts when we read and interact with them.

Here’s a related example: in my Children’s Literature class (which many of my current students took with me last semester), one of the final projects is creating a text set. Basically, students have to pick a topic from the curriculum, and gather texts that address that topic from as many genres and perspectives as possible. (They also consider reading levels, cultural diversity, etc.)  The example I always give is mundane: trees. When we first think about studying trees, we might think of encyclopedias, informational texts, and perhaps websites as key texts for research. If we stretch, we might also include a less common source like a field guide. But, going beyond these traditional informational sources, there are many other ways to learn about trees. We learn different things from a poem about a tree, or a pourquoi tale about a tree, or an image of a tree, than we learn from a traditional informational resource.  We need all of these genres (and more) to get a fuller knowledge of the tree.

By the same token, I encouraged my students to look outside traditional “academic research” resources for their learning. I sent each of them a list of suggested resources, including titles from children’s literature (fiction, YA, and so on), newspaper articles, and so on. One literature resource that was both new to me and valuable for this project was the Schneider Family Book Awards, but there were many other useful resources for finding literature as well.

I also suggested they each look at youtube and blogs for additional sources in their research. Ever since I read an article about youtube as a reference tool, I’ve wanted to explore this further. I also had a hunch that, in many cases, blogs and other resources would provide additional voices not heard in traditional scholarly sources. For instance, from reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s excellent book Wintergirls, which has a central character who struggles with anorexia, I knew that there were communities on the internet where anorexics connected in order to encourage each other to eat less and get thinner. (Yes, you read that right).  So, several people studying anorexia for this project read Wintergirls. They also sought out these online communities and did research by learning from the texts produced by anorexics and posted online. Of course, not every topic had such a robust set of online texts to learn from, but I think most students found several videos, vlogs, and blogs that were useful for getting the perspective of insiders or family members. Each student’s resources were customized based on their topic. The cookie cutter “5 print resources including an encyclopedia” requirement was out the window.

We talked a bit in class about taking notes. I showed the students diigo, delicious, talked about evaluation of information, and so on. But, this was a whirlwind. My librarian self felt like I didn’t treat any of these adequately. I easily could have taken a week’s worth of mini-lessons to go through much of it. But, it would have to do for the moment. In the future, I need to think about podcasts or screencasts for reference. Even though I encourage my students to email me at any time, I think I can support them more effectively in this area.

The students spent at least a week just doing background reading, gathering resources, and thinking about their topics.  Finally, in the next post, I’ll talk a bit more about what multigenre research is, as well as explain why I held off until week 3 to tell the students about it.

We are a few posts away from examples of student projects! Thanks for following along.

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