Readers Front & Center Book Club: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Deciding Smarter: Not Teaching–Yet

Barnhouse contrasts teachers and CEOs in this chapter.  While she contends CEOs must make swift decisions in the board room, she cautions that similar behavior in the teaching of reading could be shaky practice at best.  The issue here lies in the fact that the true work of reading is mostly invisible, so when we make snap decisions about how to help readers, we often tend to the work that is most visible.  Instead, we should “allow ourselves to consider what a reader’s actions and behaviors might mean–not just what is visible but what the visible points to” as we try to “get a glimpse of how the mind and the book are intersecting” (p.29).

If our hopes are for students to read with vision, agency, and a flexible mindset, how do we align our instruction with those goals?  Do we believe texts have fixed meaning?  Do we look for students to regurgitate our meaning of text or to collaboratively construct their own (p.31)?

problem-solving2Barnhouse  nudges us to teaching with vision by noticing how students know instead of what they know.  Simple follow-up questions during our conferring, such as “How do you know that?” or “Where did you get that information” or “What did you read that gave you that idea?”   If we value process and effort over product and ability, noticing how students accomplish something rather than simply focusing on the accomplishment itself communicates those values (p. 32-33). If we want students to be problem-solvers as they read, we cannot situate ourselves as the problem solvers in a text.  What may seem like an innocuous “Are you sure?” when a student makes errors has the power to narrow our vision only to what students don’t get.  Instead we might describe the text as a puzzle to solve and ask students,  “How can we figure that out?”  With this slight shift, the student works to solve a puzzle, not the teacher.  Finally, Barnhouse points to the power of errors.  If we value students as problem-solvers, they are going to make mistakes.  Barnhouse aligns her thinking with Clay when she suggests we should be strategy-oriented not task-oriented when it comes to errors.  We should look for opportunities to celebrate their problem-solving process instead of correcting each little error.


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How do you help your students build their identities as Thinkers and Learners both consciously and subconsciously (p.40-41)?


Readers Front & Center Book Club: Chapter 1

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2245563352_292011c519Chapter 1: Noticing Smarter: Researching What We Don’t Know

In this section, Barnhouse reminds us that our role in teaching reading is to teach the reader not the reading, the thinker  and not the thoughts.   We must, she contends, shift our attitudes when we approach reading conferences from thinking of ourselves as the teachers who are supposed to know to the teachers who are supposed to discover (p.13).  Starting conferences side by side with readers with questions we truly want to hear the answers to, ones we don’t already know the answers to, might be a place to start refreshing our thinking on conferring.


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-To what extent do you agree with Barnhouse’s claims that the barriers to our truly listening to students exist in our mental models of conferring as teaching as correcting, teaching the text, and teaching as evaluation (pp. 22-23)?  How do we remove whatever barriers exist between us and listening deeply to our students’ thinking?






Barnhouse’s Readers Front & Center Book Club

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readers-front-and-center-miller“Every teacher wants and expects his or her students to be reading increasingly complex texts, yet sometimes the gap between our expectations and our students’ abilities seems wide and deep.  It’s tempting to look at that gap and step in to fill it for them, but then we’d be doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’–the understanding, analysis, and interpretation that our students should be learning for themselves.”  With that small blurb on the back cover of Barnhouse’s Readers Front & Center: Helping All Students Engage with Complex Texts,  she had me hooked.

How do we get our students to dive into texts, to do the work of complex meaning-making, and to love reading?  How do we nurture our love of teaching reading by listening closely to the thinking our students do as they read?

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If you’re interested in learning with us, pick up a copy of Barnhouse’s book.  We are tackling through Chapter 3 by December 3, and we will post some thinking questions to spark discussion for the first part of the book here.  (You can even subscribe to this blog by entering your school email in the box on the left side of the blog post and receive our discussion questions each week to your mailbox.)

Today’s questions come from the introduction in Barnhouse’s text, which she aptly names “Learning to Listen.”

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  1. On pages 5-8 Barnhouse laments how the authors of the CCSS have given short shrift to the reader and task component of text complexity in how the standards have been rolled out.  She shares the story of a boy reading an excerpt from Tom Sawyer who has no idea how to listen to the text.  She claims the act of reading has been yanked out of context for the reader, similar to the excerpt being yanked out of the story: “There is no why, as in why should this student read this particular text; there is no how, as in how should this student read this particular text; and there is no so what, as in what’s the payoff for this student’s efforts”(p. 8).  In your time with students, how do you connect them to the why, how, and so what of reading?

2.  Barnhouse contends, “We cannot say that students are an important factor in determining text complexity and then create curricula that ignore students.  We cannot say that students need to read independently and proficiently and then hand them texts they can’t read” (p.9).  How do specialists support classroom teachers in teaching the reader, not the text?

Use the comments section to share your thinking!