Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Outgrowing Yourself as a Reader - Lucy Calkins

I was so fortunate to be accepted to return to the Summer Reading Institute this month at Teachers College in NY.  It is truly so inspiring and packed with learning it supports my entire year as a literacy coach as well as grows my personal knowledge and understanding of literacy.   And there is no better way to start the week than a keynote by Lucy Calkins.

So much of what she says I cannot capture in words but I thought it important to share the gist of her message and there is just no way to paraphrase it.  Much of this is direct quote.  It's a message that never occurred to me.  Which is how I know it will really change the way I look at my teaching and learning... and reading this year!  I hope it resonates with you as well.

You know that song, “I Hear the Earth Move, Under My Feet...”?  What times these are in education! Times of pressure, times of intensity,...
We live in an information age. Technological knowledge doubles every 2 days. All that knowledge is at kids’ fingertips. It used to be the teacher’s job to convey knowledge to the uniformed, to carry crucial content... and now anyone can access any information with one click.  The teacher’s job therefore is to no longer deliver the information because information is like air, it’s everywhere!  The job now is to help kids actively construct coherent meaning from the deluge of information.  As literacy educators, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Some people think our work revolves around helping kids tackle more complex texts, and it’s true that some of things that were expected at the end of fourth grade are now expected at the middle of second grade. And those expectations of course, build over the years. But the far bigger challenge is that kids are expected to read with incredibly high levels of comprehension and to write with enormous skill.  The challenges in today’s world does require the lift in expectations. After all, this generation will be the ones to figure out how to keep New York City and other coastal cities from being damaged by floods that are sure to come and other world calamities and illnesses...

The most important thing I can say today is that study after study shows that YOU ARE  what makes the difference in students and achievement.  And I’m worried about this country, I’m worried that this nation is trying to accelerate student achievement by spending seven and a half million on tests and seven and a half million on the technology for those tests and saving nothing for teachers.

The first thing I want to suggest, is that to lift the level of your teaching you need to work on your own reading. I would like this institute to be a turning point for you as a reader.  Come to the institute thinking I’m going to gather knowledge and I’m going to really work on my reading, I’m going to reach for more. I’m going to try to outgrow myself as a reader. You might be thinking you don’t really need to work on your reading. Yet at the start of every writing institute most of us resolve to improve our writing and do get goose bumps at the prospect of writing.  Because we realize….there is writing and there is writing…. we know that writing better as a writer is demanding, deeply personal and intellectual work.  But I want to suggest that if you think of reading well as merely getting the words right, or following the plot or figuring out the theme of the story then you are teaching a reading that is unimagined.  If learning to read well is kid stuff, that will show in what you do.  The kids will learn that learning to read better is kid stuff and teachers just bribe and trick kids into doing it and that in real life skilled readers don’t think about what they read and don’t work on outgrowing themselves as readers.  But you can say to yourself today, “I’m going to try to outgrow myself as a reader. To set goals and to work deliberately toward those goals.” If you do that you can become a reading mentor for your kids and your colleagues. The thing is…to get better as a reader takes resolving to do so. 

Malcolm Gladwell says that to become an expert at anything takes ten thousands hours of practice.  The problem is that it takes ten thousand hours of deliberate practice.  No matter what it is you are trying to get better at it’s not practice makes perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect. Deliberate practice makes perfect.

So let me ask you, for how many years of your life have you been reading?  And for how many of those years have you been deliberately working at outgrowing yourself as a reader?  What is the shape of your learning curve as a reader?  My suggestion is to resolve to accelerate your curve. 


My initial reaction to this message was hmmm, let me think about that.  I don't know if I can outgrow myself as a reader!  I mean, if you know me you know that I am an obsessive reader.  I read while drying my hair in the morning, while waiting for my kids at dance/soccer, every evening before bed and anytime I get the chance. I even "time myself out" from reading when I have other things to get done!

And I get that I can be a "plot junkie" rushing through to what will happen next...but learning that about myself has made me a bit more reflective and this last year I have slowed down and tried to look at my reading through different lenses. 

So how to improve now?  Because Lucy says if I am not learning I cannot model and be the best reading teacher I can be!  Mentally I am stopping and rereading to ponder things that would have previously slipped through my mind.  I am actively trying to build theories and determine author intention through text evidence (instead of personal experience).  I'm trying to actively keep my ideas within the text.  Does that make sense?  It might not sound like much but it has really changed my reading!

Will you be outgrowing yourself as a reader this year?  I would love to hear what you will be doing!

Cross posted at Once Upon a Teacher

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