Kids Can't Read Journal Beers' Essay

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This is the goal of struggling readers. A dependent reader takes only a peripheral interest in the text. He gives it the minimum of his attention and approaches it only because he is forced. It is as though he is reading against his will and fighting all the way.

Beers provides an anticipation guide, but I don't necessarily agree that such a guide is very constructive or helpful. It deals solely with crass generalizations, and whether attitudes held before reading the text are still ascribed to after reading the text. For the most part, students' attitudes are going to be superficial and having them partake in an exercise of superficiality is likely to be counterproductive.

Beers argues that performing such activities will help to encourage students to become more involved with the reading. It will help them to engage their prior knowledge and challenge them to think. Beers recommends making statements that will not have such clear answers. It seems that doing so is the only way such an exercise might bear any fruit. However, I still have reservations about such an exercise. It is quite possible that it might unintentionally alienate or stifle a student's interest or development. Rather than suggest statements with which the student might agree or disagree, it might be a better exercise to let the student find out on his own what others have said about the book. This would challenge them to personally take an interest in the text. They would be compelled to ask others and seek out opinions. This would help them to become more independent. Still, I can foresee some students treating such an assignment with indifference. There is no sure way to reach all of them.

Beers' next pre-reading strategy is even worse. She suggests having a "tea party" sort of activity, in which each student is given an index card with a different phrase from the book written on it. The student is then told to mingle with the other students in order to find out what the other phrases are and then try to connect them one with the other. This exercise seems to be more about socializing than about reading and comprehending. Rather than help those students who are embarrassed by their poor ability to read, this could only further alienate them by exposing their inability to read to the other students. Furthermore, if the students are unfamiliar with the text, it is unlikely that random phrases taken out of context will make any sense to them or help them to make connections. I do not agree with Beers' method in this chapter.

Sept. 19: Beers, Chapter 7

Beers assertion that quiet reading does not necessarily mean good or active reading is most likely a correct one. All too often a student can "read" a passage of text without really comprehending what it said. In other words, his eyes could be focusing on the words, but his brain might not be processing the information they are relaying. Beers recommends allowing struggling readers to talk aloud while reading so that they can hear themselves think, ask questions to help support their understanding, and re-read for improvement.

Beers provides several more exercises that might be employed during reading to help the student become more involved in the reading. However, in order for the struggling reader to better comprehend the text it might help if the teacher provides some perspective from which the reader might judge or understand what is happening in the book. For example, it might be beneficial for the teacher to probe the students' understanding of human nature if the book is about characters in literature, or to probe the students' understanding of history if the book is about an historical topic, etc. By seeing where the students are, the teacher can have a better grasp of where they are going.

In other words, an outside reference (provided by the teacher) could help the students make better connections, comments, and questions. Providing a frame or some context may appear to make the students dependent on the teacher, but to a certain extent this should be allowed.

As Beers says, a good teacher should emphasize the importance of rereading. Even good readers practice rereading. One's mind is always drifting off to other subjects when reading and if one does not go back and reread he is likely to miss out on information that may be necessary to helping him to form a proper analysis of the text.

Here Beers suggests a good activity for struggling readers: She advises that they be given a short text and asked to reread it three times, each time rating their understanding from 1-10. They should then talk about why their rating might have increased after each rereading. Some likely reasons might be that they slowed down when rereading, or that they were already familiar with it, or that they knew what part they missed last time and could pay extra close attention to it the second or third time around. The point is to challenge students to refrain from rushing through a text but rather to take one's time and learn to comprehend the text.

Beers also suggests that students think aloud. I think this a healthy activity that encourages good reading skills. They can express their immediate reactions without placing too much emphasis or feeling like they are over-analyzing what they are reading, thinking and feeling. Any over-analysis should be discouraged, especially in longer texts. What should be encouraged, at least initially, is to read solely to understand the plot. In other words, I think Beers next suggestion that students write down phrases that catch their attention and beside them record their thoughts could be helpful in a way but it also could lead to unnecessary diversion and distraction. Emphasis should not be placed upon what they as individuals think about characters or actions but upon what the author is trying to show. This is true comprehension.

Oct. 17: Beers, Chapter 8

Again, Beers provides more strategies to facilitate comprehension -- this time after reading. The first strategy, the scale strategy, is not going to be very helpful for most readers because it places too much emphasis on subjective analysis. The reader should not be asked whether he agrees, strongly agrees, or disagrees with blanket statements. For one, they tend to be superficial and irrelevant. Two, they only ask that the reader give his opinion on something which he has not yet shown he understands. A better strategy by Beers is recommended next and this is the strategy of assessing motive. She calls it: Somebody Wanted but So (SWBS).

SWBS serves as a kind of exercise in summarizing but it forces the reader to comprehend the plot, the conflict and the resolution. Plot typically centers on an action -- a character wanting something and going after it. Conflict arises when that something cannot be attained. Resoultion occurs when the character finds another way to get what he wants or else chooses to want something else. Answering the questions that stem from SWBS is a healthy post-reading exercising that will help the struggling reader bet see whether he has read the story properly or not.

Beers recommends doing SWBS in four columns across a paper, with main characters falling under the heading of "Somebody," their intentions under "Wanted," the conflict under "But," and the resolution under "So." This helps the reader to summarize what he has read and stick to the main and essential points. I think Beers has recommended a brilliant approach to helping students master the art of reading and comprehension with this simple but elegant exercise.

Beers then suggests that students partake in an oral retelling that adheres to a certain rubric. The idea of having a rubric is an intelligent one, but the oral retelling might have a number of pitfalls. First of all, in any classroom it is not going to take long for all the students to pick up on mistakes made by the first retellers and thus develop a good retelling that is based not upon their own reading but upon what others have said of the reading.

Secondly, students who are struggling with reading may also be struggling with shyness, which might lead to a poor retelling. A written retelling might be better in this situation. or, if the teacher insists on an oral retelling, it might be done privately between teacher and student. These are points that ought to be considered.

Beers is correct in asserting that teachers often view comprehension not as a process but rather as a product. Comprehension is both. Answering questions can be helpful, but it does not satisfy the teacher truly interested in gauging whether students comprehend the reading. SWBS is a terrific exercise that could help the process portion of comprehension in after-reading exercises. Answering questions can help in the product portion of comprehending. I would suggest doing both.

Oct. 24: Beers, Chapters 9 and…[continue]

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