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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Readicide: Finding the Sweet Spot of Instruction

Today all of the collaborators of Focused on Fifth are talking about chapter 4 from Readicide by Kelly Gallagher. If you haven't read the previous posts, you can start here with chapter one. This book has been so validating for me. I have reconfirmed some long held beliefs about helping students love to read, but it has also been very instrumental in making me reconsider some of my teaching strategies. 
Chapter four has made me rethink my teaching strategies more than any other chapter in this book. You'll remember from the past posts about this book that overteaching a novel is a HUGE contributor to readicide. But underteaching is another big contributor. Do we ever give a student a book that is just a little too hard for them and expect them to tackle it on their own? 

Kelly Gallagher gives the example of a student reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the first time. Would a student pick up on the slew of opposites thrown out at the very beginning? Probably not on their own. I totally plan to test this out myself. My youngest daughter, Cate, has this book as her assigned summer reading for English. She hasn't started the book yet and I can almost guarantee she won't even start it until August. Then she'll focus more time and effort on getting the 30 required reading annotations than on the use of allusion, symbolism or irony. The contradictions the author makes would be the perfect content for an annotation, but I'm pretty sure Cate won't think of that as irony. It's not that she's an inexperienced reader, nor a reluctant reader. In fact her fourth grade teacher, told me that asking Cate for a summary was very exhausting because she would recall the entire story down to the most minor little details. I should have recognized that because sometimes her stories are so incredibly long. (Mom, do you remember the day we went to the grocery store? I was wearing my favorite blue shorts and my white Converse and we saw the lady from your work. She had a blue headband on and her nails were get my point!) The girl notices everything and while that does help with summarizing, it's not going to help her find the contradictions within Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is going to be exactly what the author is talking about in this chapter - underteaching. Give a child a difficult text, no support and then make a wish that they can construct meaning from the text themselves.

Underteaching a novel can be just as painful as overteaching. Instead of just telling your students to go read the book or using all of the great ideas in the 122-page teaching guide to cover everything in the book, we have to find what he refers to as the "sweet spot of instruction." When a text is difficult for students, we need to find the right balance of instruction. We need to be the teachers.

So what does the author recommend to help you find that "sweet spot" in between overteaching and underteaching?
  • Recognize the importance of framing - Prepare your students beforehand by giving them a preview of the final exam essay question, teaching the vocabulary, discussing the historical context, giving background on the author and his purposes in writing this text,  and discussing the value of the text to the modern reader. This is all before your students start reading.
  • Remember the value in second or third readings - Just read a portion of the text again to look at it with a  sharper lens.
  • Use a big chunk/little chunk philosophy - Have students read a larger portion and then analyze together a smaller portion.
  • Teach students what good readers do - I love the idea of using a chart where students can list what good readers do. I've done this before in first grade to show my emerging readers that they already do the things good readers do. It's more of a view yourself as a reader and you become a reader thing. But what is better here is that the students are adding to the list together when they come to difficult parts as a class. As the teacher, you help them see the strategies they have used to figure it out.  Students keep their own lists in their binders while the teacher can create a class anchor chart. It takes 5 minutes once in a while and the list is created throughout the year. This is definitely a must try for me. We need to give students strategies to use when the reading becomes difficult.
  • Don't lose sight of the 50/50 approach - Half of our students' reading should be recreational. I'll be working on this one too. I feel so crunched for time when I look at all of the core in fifth grade, so I need to really focus on giving more recreational reading time.
One last thought (maybe I should call it a request), last week I mentioned the recommendations some of you left for me - Wonder, Absolutely Almost and Fish in a Tree. I read them all during this past week and loved them all. Wonder was my very favorite. I'll be saving it as a read aloud during our social issues book clubs. Absolutely Almost was my second favorite. I really loved it too. I am going to read it out loud during the fall. And while Fish in a Tree was my least favorite, I loved it too. I probably shouldn't have put it back to back with Wonder. Thanks for the great recommendations. I'll take more anyday!

If you haven't read this book yet, I highly recommend that you put it on your reading list. It's so practical and applicable to teachers of all grades (especially 3-12). 
Click on the cover to go to Amazon.
As you can see from our schedule, we only have one more chapter to discuss.  I hope you will hop though again next week as we end this summer's Focused on Fifth book study. And don't forget to keep going on this hop about chapter four by stopping at The Organized Plan Book next. Her link is down below.

The Organized Plan Book


  1. I have to admit I sometimes assume that 5th graders already have it all figured out when it comes to reading strategies. Readicide helped remind me how important it is to teach students what good readers do.

    Quinnessential Lessons

  2. I love the chart idea. definitely going to try that. Book ideas: Punished by David Lumbar, i use it to introduce figurative language and Sign of the Beaver. My kiddos love this classic.

  3. I also liked the idea of making a list of good strategies for tackling challenging text. I have to admit though, I am very guilty of trying to throw too many strategies at my students all at once. This chapter made me realize that in getting overly excited about trying to help my kiddos become stronger readers, I am throwing way too much at them at one time. I need to slow it down and find the value in just shorter, less formal lessons.
    The Organized Plan Book

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