Last year Alicia Cohen of new educational publisher Amba Press approached me to ask if I had any ideas for a book. I’d been writing this blog for a few months, and was in the middle of working on Jacaranda’s English 8 textbook, so I thought I’d have a go at writing something of my own.
After several years of working with the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English (VATE) in their Community of Practice investigating reading, Reading Strategies seemed the perfect topic for a book. I sat down and sketched out a few ideas, and sent a draft table of contents which quickly began to evolve in PRS.
From the start I wanted to keep the book practical. My favourite types of educational book are the ones where you can grab them off a shelf, flip them open, and instantly find something to use in a classroom: think Doug Lemov’s Reading Reconsidered, or Ron Ritchhart’s Making Thinking Visible. These books have enough theory to be credible, but not so much that you get bogged down while looking for ideas you can actually use.
In PRS I explore six Reading Strategies: Making Connections, Visualising, Questioning, Inferring, Summarising, and Synthesising. These six areas are widely recognised as key factors in reading for meaning. Because I’ve been a secondary teacher my whole career (except one week of primary during teacher training, and I have no idea how anyone manages it!), I set about creating activities for each of the Strategies that can be used in secondary classrooms.
Part One – the Strategies
In Part One of the book I go into detail on each of the six Strategies. The format is the same throughout: Each chapter begins with an introduction to the Strategy and some of the theory behind it. This is followed by four classroom activities, each of which has:
- A brief description and overview
- Instructions for the teacher, including a list of required resources
- Instructions written for the student(s)
- An example
- Discussion prompts to reflect on the activity, either alone or as part of a team
- Discussion prompts and suggestions on how to extend the activity, connect it to others, and where to go next
The activities in Part One are a combination of tried and tested lessons like the Text Walk (sometimes called a Chalk Talk) and unique activities that have been designed just for this book.
Part Two – Putting the Strategies into action
Part One gives English teachers an introduction to the Strategies, activities to go with them, and ideas for generating their own activities and extending the ones in this book.
Part Two takes everything a step further, providing a discussion of ways to:
- Combine Strategies together to come up with new and unique activities
- Construct a unit of work that is focused on skills rather than comprehension and content
- Use a folio of work from the Strategies as a form of assessment
- Develop an entire 7-12 English curriculum with the Reading Strategies in mind
- Expand the English curriculum into a whole school approach to reading
- Create a culture of reading at your school
Where Part One is perfect for teachers who need to grab an activity to use in the next lesson, Part Two is focused on ‘bigger picture’ planning. It is perfect for classroom teachers and English faculty leaders who want to move away from a ‘traditional’ English curriculum that focuses on texts and towards a more contemporary, flexible and student-centred curriculum.
Practical Reading Strategies is out March 30th
Putting this book together has allowed me to condense over a decade’s worth of teaching and working with English colleagues across Australia. I hope that English teachers everywhere will be able to grab a copy, flip it open, and find something they can use immediately to teach reading in an engaging and student-centred way.
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