Who does better on Reading Tests? Readers! Thoughts from UCI Teachers Conference

Last week—wait was that only last week?—I drove down to UC Irvine to attend the UCI Conference for Teachers.  My general rule for evaluating one-day conferences or workshops is this: The time is well spent if I take away at least one great idea.  At UCI I got many.

Carol Jago (@CarolJago), educator, author and NCTE past president, kicked off the event with her keynote presentation. These are the kernels I absolutely do not want to forget:

  • On Fostering Reading:”Reading is not a subject; it’s an action verb. We need to do it! We need students who not only can read, but who choose to read.” Also, “Reading is not like math.That is where wide and avid reading comes in.” Finally,”Students need background knowledge. Who does best on standardized reading tests? Readers.” (Yes! I couldn’t agree more.)
  • On Reading Instruction: “Lots of answering questions about the main idea of easy texts will not help them do better on these new tests.” (In other words, students need to read widely and voraciously.)
  • On Vocabulary Instruction: “People learn words from meeting them in a variety of contexts again and again…We need to celebrate and talk about words. But a program may not be the best use of our time.” Jago illustrated this point with examples of how to pull vocabulary in context, including its use of dialect, from That Book Women (text linked below).  Jago explained, “We need to be comfortable in helping students be comfortable in situations where they don’t know every word.”
  • Resources to Inspire a Reading Life

Jago ended her keynote with the Antonio Machado quote: “We make the road by walking.”

A couple of thoughts I had after the presentation—First, Jago gave examples of interesting, text-dependent questions based on That Book Woman. I jotted down frames that could be used for almost any text or grade level.

    • Who is telling the story? How do you know? What does (Name) mean when he says, “______”?
    • Over time (Name) begins to see __________ differently. We see this when he/she says, “Quote.” Why do you think he / she feels this way?

From those questions, students may complete a larger writing task:  How did (Name)’s idea about __________ change over time? Give evidence.

Second, Jago passed out a bookmark with her recommended reads (see above). She was modeling a classroom practice we can all imitate. Teachers need to demonstrate our reading lives to students and share with them what we are reading. We need to actually show we are still on our journey as readers—and joyfully so.

My colleague Rebecca Lowi (@BeccaLowi) thought of an additional way to use these reading bookmarks. Her idea is to invite students to create their own bookmarks with reading recommendations. After they make them, using digital tools of course, students can trade with classmates. What a great way to continue building our community of readers!

I’m out of time, so I’ll end this blog about the first presentation I saw at UCI’s Teacher Conference. I hope to write about the other three I saw that day, but I have to go teach my students right now. To close, the drive was long and teaching all day the Friday the day after the conference was exhausting. Luckily, it was all worth the effort. I left feeling inspired and rejuvenated.

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