Mona Voelkel

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PD Book Review: Who’s Doing the Work?

Who's Doing the Work

The latest book by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris is a clarion call to all reading teachers and administrators to rethink reading instruction.  Over the last few years, there has been an emphasis on leveling readers and books in the classroom and a growing reliance on basal reading series as the cornerstone of reading instruction in a growing number of classrooms.

“I’m an N,”  is a comment that I heard  more than one student make (referring to the fact that their reading level was judged to be at the beginning of third grade) as I pushed into classrooms for the first time this year and used a newly mandated reading program, after many years using a literature-based approach to reading intervention.

This carefully crafted book starts with an overview of the reading process and highlights the need for a smooth interaction between print and meaning strategies in reading.  It underscores the fact that our end goal is to create readers that successfully integrate print and meaning strategies independently.  The book elegantly demonstrates how the essential and equally valued teaching structures of read aloud, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading need to be considered as a whole, with information gleaned from students informing all of the overall framework of instruction.  It also asserts and supports the essential need for read aloud in the classroom, for more thoughtful (and less) teacher talk and greater focus on understanding the reading process.

So much truth, here, in this book, and so much beauty in the ideas presented that underscore that our students can do more then we’ve been asking them to do and perhaps our unbridled concern at covering content has come at the expense of our teaching.  After reading the book, I am more mindful of what I am saying to students and how much I am saying.  One of the prompts that I would regularly use with students after they made a miscue would be, “Does that sound right?”  After reading the book, I will now simply say, “Read that again.”  The difference is that the latter prompt puts the responsibility on the student to reread and to identify and correct the miscue.

If you are looking for a summer read that will make you rethink your reading framework, ponder your use of levels in the classroom or refine the amount and type of teacher talk during reading instruction, you need to put this book in your summer pile.

Favorite Quote:  “In next generation guided reading, it is critically important to allow students to puzzle through their struggles and make decisions about how to solve problems without prompting, or confirmation, from the teacher-neither of which will be available when they read independently.”  (Burkins & Yaris, p.90)

Here’s links to the book at Stenhouse: Who’s Doing the Work: How To Say Less So Readers Can Do More, a Facebook group that is discussing the book this summer, and a list of fantastic teaching prompts that was started on Facebook and that I added to and organized as I was reading.

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