‘Reading Reconsidered’ Celebrates the Connection Between Reading and Writing

How can I put this without sounding like an embarrassing #superfan? I love Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion so much so that I was giddy when Reading Reconsidered, his latest effort along with Colleen Driggs and Erica Woolway, arrived in the mail. Part of my constantly evolving admiration is that Lemov, Driggs, and Woolway tackle the spiny topic of Common Core in a way that will leave anxious teachers not only at ease, but ready to tackle the four major shifts that have occurred due to the implementation of the Standards.
The book sets about getting to the “core of the Core,” and distills the entirety of the Common Core Standards into manageable chunks which act as the organizing structure of the book. This simplification is refreshing because so many educators are paralyzed by the intricacies and complexities. Here though, we can look at the “core of the Core” with eyes wide open and buckle down and get to work with our students:

Read harder texts
“Close read” texts rigorously and intentionally
Read more nonfiction more effectively
Write more effectively in direct response to texts

However, it is this simplification that allows for an in-depth, multi-faceted approach to reading that includes discussions about “flattening the textual hierarchy,” “disciplinary literacy,” and “Micro Genres and Nonlinear Formats.” The book is dense and cognitively demanding, but because of its structure, it can be read cover to cover or by individual chapters such as “Text Selection” and “Reading Systems” with particular goals in mind. Self-proclaimed Reading Nerds will relish the authors’ ability to provide a global perspective while also drilling down.
ReadinReconJPG-1-300x396A good example of this drilling down explained in the Introduction is perhaps my favorite sentence of the book: “One of our goals in this book then is to be more intentional about plumbing the synergies between reading and writing.” The authors then move from the philosophical to practical resources that will help teachers become intentional in their practice.
For example, in my own classroom, I am a huge believer in providing mentor texts–examples of what students will be writing. These aren’t just any old examples; rather, the pieces should do what the name suggests: mentor. The text should “do” all the things you’d like your students to “do” in a writing piece. In essence, you are hoping that your students mimic what they have read closely with you. However, Lemov, Driggs, and Woolway take it a step further and offer not only strategies regarding text selection, but also provide explicit, concrete examples that I plan to start using tomorrow. Really, tommorrow.
I could write this whole review about how powerful I think using “Sentence Parameters” will be in my next writing assignment. Sentence parameters are specific structures, words, or phrases that you give to students to use in their sentences. For example: “Explain how and why Templeton supported Charlotte in her plan to save Wilbur. Use the word motivated in your response.” Though I give students mentor texts, I can see how this method will actively support my students’ writing, but importantly it will be a lens through which to examine the reading.

The book celebrates the marriage of reading and writing without demanding the reader to choose which is more important.

This synergetic relationship between reading and writing can best be illustrated in the exercises called Art of the Sentence (AOS). This is a technique meant to address student writing deficits through asking a student to “synthesize a complex idea in a single, well-crafted sentence.” For example: Describe the opening to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.” Start your sentence with “In Vonnegut’s satiric portrayal . . .” or “On the basis of today’s reading, describe the impact of the Stamp Act in a single-well written sentence. The beauty of this, of course, is that is transferrable to any subject area and calls upon students to be critical thinkers and wordsmiths–characteristics some would argue are at the heart of Common Core.
What is perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the book is that it will provide insights to future, new, and veteran teachers. In addition, it isn’t a book for reading teachers; rather, this book asks that we all set aside our preconceived notions, and true to its title presents a new view, one where reading is reconsidered.
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Featured image via edweek.org.

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Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a middle school teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, NY.

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