Today's Teacher Tip comes from a conference I attended back in 2009 by the fabulous Kelly Gallagher.
If you don't know Mr. Gallagher, you should definitely familiarize yourself with his work. His book, Readicide, talks about how teachers across America are destroying student desire to read. He begs us to reconsider the books we've been teaching, opting for more student choice and more contemporary novels.
Additionally, Mr. Gallagher agrees with the new Common Core push to increase the amount of non-fiction reading in the ELA classroom. I've found this to be especially important in my current teaching position where my students have a very limited schemas, making it difficult for them to comprehend complex texts.
For example, on a recent practice assessment, my students were asked to read an article about the conservation efforts of Roosevelt and Muir. They were then tasked with comparing those efforts to their own toward a cause they support. Several of my students couldn't answer the question because they didn't know what was meant by a cause, and several more were frustrated because they had never supported any cause and did not have any authentic connections to the text.
It's clear to me that our students need more exposure to current events, historical events, and varying worldviews in order to make sense of their reading. In an effort to give them this, I started assigning Articles of the Week. The purpose is to give students high-interest, non-fiction texts about which they will demonstrate comprehension and critical thinking.
Mr. Gallagher posts his AOWs on his website each week, which are great for high school students. For my middle schoolers, though, I often do a lot of my own digging. I've had great success using Junior Scholastic Magazines and my Facebook news feed to find great articles.
I have an AOW center in my classroom each week. Students must show evidence of close readings, which they know requires multiple reads. I ask them to code their text with all of their reading strategies and comments, and then they have to write me a one-page response. The first half of the page is a good summary of the text, and in the second half, they are asked to share their thoughts (I often provide a critical thinking question) with evidence from the text as support.
This is a great Common Core-aligned activity that can really be used in multiple classrooms. For example, math teachers can do a Graph of the Week and social studies teachers can do a Map of the Week. Critical thinking and reading comprehension skills are vital no matter what subject you teach!