Capitulate vs Conquer

Students readingAs I eager­ly gath­ered up my ideas and insights for a fol­low-up arti­cle about last month’s “Mys­tery Read­er” top­ic, I found myself try­ing to nego­ti­ate two seem­ing­ly incom­pat­i­ble schools of thought regard­ing effec­tive lit­er­a­cy teach­ing and learn­ing. I am a huge pro­po­nent of stu­dent choice and voice (instead of teacher- or cur­ricu­lum-dic­tat­ed text selec­tions), teacher exper­tise (instead of reliance on script­ed pro­grams), and fos­ter­ing a life­long love and moti­va­tion for read­ing (instead of seek­ing the holy grail of high test scores). How­ev­er, late­ly I find myself grap­pling with the ide­al world of what lit­er­a­cy teach­ing and learn­ing could and should look like and the real­i­ty of the world most teach­ers live in, one filled with con­stant pres­sure to meet the stan­dards and pro­duce read­ers who show what they know by pass­ing high stakes tests. Search­ing my the­saurus for just the right words to describe this mixed feel­ing, I set­tled on “capit­u­late” and “con­quer.” Allow me to elaborate.

Capit­u­late, in the strongest sense of the word is to say some­one is cav­ing in. A milder form of the word means to come to terms with some­thing that is per­ceived as unset­tling. It rep­re­sents the neg­a­tive side of the coin. Con­quer, on the oth­er hand, rep­re­sents vic­to­ry. It describes the abil­i­ty to over­come or avoid defeat. Def­i­nite­ly the pre­ferred side of the coin for most folks.

So what do these two oppos­ing words have to do with pro­mot­ing reflec­tion and enhanc­ing com­pre­hen­sion through ana­lyz­ing mis­cues of stu­dents’ oral read­ing (the essence of Mys­tery Read­er)? In shar­ing my enthu­si­asm for such a tech­ni­cal aspect to lit­er­a­cy instruc­tion, I must con­fess that I expect some excep­tion­al edu­ca­tors to dis­miss it because it sounds too dry, too focused on judg­ment of a reader’s per­for­mance, with not near­ly enough empha­sis on ignit­ing a pas­sion or pro­mot­ing read­ing joy. To those who might ques­tion the Mys­tery Read­er approach, it just might feel a bit like capit­u­lat­ing, like accept­ing a prac­tice that tries to quan­ti­fy a process that shouldn’t be used for any kind of mea­sure­ment, espe­cial­ly that of children.

But here’s the thing, with more than twen­ty-five years of expe­ri­ence as an edu­ca­tor, I can still vivid­ly recall just about every sin­gle for­mer stu­dent who need­ed more than his or her peers to dis­cov­er what it means to be a read­er and to find plea­sure in that expe­ri­ence. For some kids, con­nect­ing them with the right book is para­mount but equal­ly impor­tant is pro­vid­ing effec­tive instruc­tion that builds nec­es­sary foun­da­tion­al skills and strate­gies. Skills and strate­gies that won’t mate­ri­al­ize hap­haz­ard­ly. And that’s why I encour­age you to con­sid­er shar­ing this activ­i­ty with your stu­dents, enabling them to learn and under­stand the ben­e­fits of a pow­er­ful form of feed­back. Flip the coin, choose to con­quer the bar­ri­ers that keep some kids from know­ing what it feels like to get lost and found in a great sto­ry. And while it’s true that not all things that are mea­sured real­ly mat­ter and not all things that mat­ter are always mea­sured, I am con­vinced that run­ning records and mis­cue analy­sis deserve a place in our lit­er­a­cy teach­ing and learning.

As promised in the first install­ment of Mys­tery Read­er, I have a few sug­ges­tions for col­lect­ing audio record­ings of anony­mous stu­dent read­ers to share with your mis­cue ana­lyz­ers. The first is a free app I’ve used exten­sive­ly, called VoiceRe­cord­Pro. With just a bit of explor­ing, I found the app to be user-friend­ly and per­fect for col­lect­ing oral read­ing sam­ples. Once record­ings have been cap­tured, it is easy to rename them, add notes and share them via drop­box, google dri­ve, or email. These options make it pos­si­ble to quick­ly swap record­ings with col­leagues in oth­er grades and schools to ensure anonymi­ty when shar­ing Mys­tery Read­ers with stu­dents.  VoiceRe­cord­Pro can also be used for all sorts of mul­ti­me­dia projects. My stu­dents first uti­lized it when illus­trat­ing and per­form­ing the poem, “If You Give a Child a Book” by Dr. Pam Far­ris. Check out our YouTube video here.

Anoth­er option for col­lect­ing oral read­ing sam­ples is using the “run­ning record” assign­ment tool from Read­ing A‑Z/Raz-Plus. Though I am not one to plug com­mer­cial, for-prof­it sites, I have to say I am a huge fan of this fea­ture and how it lends itself to Mys­tery Read­er. A free two-week tri­al is offered for the Read­ing A‑Z/Raz-Plus site that may be best known for its vast col­lec­tion of ebooks and print­able black­line mas­ter books. The annu­al cost for an indi­vid­ual teacher is close to $200, which is pricey, though dis­counts are offered to schools or dis­tricts sign­ing up for 10 or more sub­scrip­tions. The run­ning record fea­ture on the site allows teach­ers to access a pow­er­ful way to record and ana­lyze run­ning records as well as col­lect oral retellings. Stu­dent record­ings can be saved and shared with par­ents to demon­strate stu­dent growth over the year or they can be used with stu­dents dur­ing read­ing con­fer­ences or inter­ven­tion sessions.

I invite you to sub­mit ques­tions or con­tact me for more infor­ma­tion about how to use either method, VoiceRe­cord­Pro and Read­ing A‑Z/Raz-Plus to imple­ment Mys­tery Reader.

A third col­umn relat­ed to Mys­tery Read­er will be shared in Teach it For­ward next month, with a focus on expand­ing the activ­i­ty to include reflec­tions and con­ver­sa­tions with stu­dents about read­ing conferences.

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