Saturday, October 9, 2010

When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do (grades 6-12) - Kylene Beers

Summary:  For Kylene Beers, the question of what to do when kids can't read surfaced abruptly in 1979 when she began teaching.  That year, she discovered that some of the students in her seventh-grade language arts classes could pronounce all the words, but couldn't make any sense of the text.  Others couldn't even pronounce the words.  And that was the year she met a boy named George.

George couldn't read.  When George's parents asked her to explain what their son's reading difficulties were and what she was going to do to help, Kylene, a secondary certified English teacher with no background in reading, realized she had little to offer the parents, even less to offer their son.  That defining moment sent her on a twenty-year search for answers to that original question: how do we help middle and high schoolers who can't read?

Now, in this critical and practical text Kylene shares what she has learned and shows teachers how to help struggling readers with:

Comprehension      Vocabulary      Fluency    Word Recognition       Motivation

Here, Kylene offers teachers the comprehensive handbook they've needed to help readers improve their skills, their attitudes, and their confidence.  Filled with student transcripts, detailed strategies, reproducible material, and extensive book lists, this much-anticipated guide to teaching reading both instructs and inspires. 
(Summary from book - Image fro abebooks.com)

My Review:  I'm always looking for ways to improve my teaching and one day my literacy instructional coach brought this book for me to read.  Kylene Beers voices what every secondary English teacher fears: will I be able to teach older illiterate students to read?  For most teachers the education programs focused on secondary Language Arts do not cover (at least not in depth) how to reach students with a wide range of literacy gaps.  Some have decoding skills, some have sight words, some have comprehension if it is read aloud, and others have nothing.

There are so many steps to reading, that as we grow, we stop realizing we're do them.  Things like predicting, questioning the author or character's motives, using the context a foreign word is placed in to understand what it means for this situation, to understanding sequencing of events are skills good readers do without consciously thinking.  And, these are skills many teachers assume students should have before they reach middle school.  That just isn't the case any more. And I would beg to disagree and say that in the past there were illiterate students in the secondary grades, but that teachers simply gave up trying because 'if they hadn't gotten it by now, they're never going to get it.'

With high stakes testing (NCLB) ensuring that these students aren't simply forgotten--at least, that is in the schools with higher numbers of these students or who have teachers who want to reach each and every child--more teachers are trying to find ways to reach those students.

Beers provides personally researched practices, with anecdotal notes, showing ways she was able to reach students and overcome a multitude of non-readers' difficulties.  I have used some of her ideas in my classroom and I will attest that they do, indeed, work.  Some of my favorite strategies are Say Something, the Anticipation Guide, Probable Passage, and Tea Party.

There is an extensive appendix and many templates for easy application and personal classroom use, as well as many comprehensive lists that typically aren't covered for secondary Language Arts teachers in education programs.  From a list of sight words, to roots, to easily confused words, to most common syllables in the English language, this book is a go-to guide for teachers trying to teach ALL levels of readers.

I personally use different chapters and sections of this book from year to year.  Each group of students come with unique and individual needs, and many ways to address those needs are given in this book.  If you're thinking of doing a Reading endorsement program, I'd highly recommend reading this book and adding it to your personal academic library.  Every Language Arts teachers in the secondary levels should own a copy (and preferably use) this book.

Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up: A resource book choke-full of great ideas and quite guides for any Language Arts teacher (or any teacher for that matter who is concerned that his students are able to comprehend text) wanting to improve literacy at the higher grade levels.

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