Yesterday I noticed a post from my friend Teri Lesesne on Facebook and so, like I do with any post from Teri, I stopped to see what she was offering. It was a link to a research study. “Seriously, Teri,” I thought. “Research on a Saturday?” But if Teri thought it was worth sharing, then I figured it was worth reading. And so I opened the link and began reading.
Wow! What a find. It was a smart study that examined the top performing nations on the reading portion of the PISA–the international achievement test–to discover why they are top performing. Specifically, the researchers looked to see if any particular behaviors or attitudes accounted for high performance. The “most striking” finding was that across all 13 of the top performing countries, the “best predictor” of reading achievement was 1) enjoyment of reading; and 2) the use of reading strategies to summarize a text.
I was not surprised at that first finding since that just makes sense: If you like to do something, then you’re probably more willing to do it often. And as you do it often, you get better at it. My colleague Bob Probst and I have been talking about the bi-directional relationship between will and skill for some time and we’ve never seen a teacher who didn’t automatically nod his or her head in agreement at this.
But the push from the CCSS to push kids into more complex texts has meant in many places teachers are feeling the pressure to always focus on a lesson to be learned and to use a book that might be way beyond students’ “wantability” and certainly “readability” level. I’m hoping this research will remind everyone that we can’t build competence without also focusing on confidence and confidence is about enjoyment, about belief that you’re good at something. It’s hard to care about being good at something you don’t like. And of course building enjoyment without building the skills to keep getting better doesn’t make sense. It truly is a bi-directional relationship: improving will builds skill and that improved skill fosters will.
Maybe this is why Penny Kittle‘s newest text Book Love is so important; it’s why Teri Lesesne’s Making the Match, Donalyn Miller‘s Book Whisperer, and Jeff Wilhelm‘s You Gotta Be the Book are all must-reads. These books help us nurture that will to read.
The focus on summarizing was a bit surprising. Then I thought about a strategy I love to teach kids: Somebody Wanted But So. This summarizing strategy has always made an immediate difference in students’ understanding of a text. It’s easy to teach and once learned, kids can use it with just about any text. If you’ve not taught it to kids, I’ve written about it in When Kids Can’t Read. In brief, students use those four words to help them think through the events in a text. Here’s an example of one student’s Somebody Wanted But So statement (3rd column) after reading The Gettysburg Address.
And here’s a photo that shows a class effort to use SWBS to think about Macbeth.
As summer heads this way, what if kids went home with “You’ll LOVE These Books” bookmarks and the knowledge of how to easily summarize what they’re reading? What if throughout the summer students could turn to their school homepage to post their comments (or videos) about what they’ve been reading and there also find more great book lists that their peers suggest? What if next year as a nation we talked more about why we love to read and less about Lexiles? What if becoming a nation of readers was about first becoming a nation that valued a child’s interests over a child’s test scores?
Dear policy maker, are you listening? Want to improve how students score on a reading test? Well, first make sure they love to read. The rest will be easier. Not easy. But certainly easier.