Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reading with Intention

When I read Debbie Miller's Reading with Meaning in 2002, I couldn't wait to take it to school and show it to my colleagues. She took Ellin Keene's landmark work in Mosaic of Thought to a level that even I could understand. Debbie was a practicing first grade teacher, grappling with the same children and questions that I was. She understood my children. The book quickly became a grade level book study... and changed our practice forever. One of the things that we really loved was the way that she took reading strategies and spent time with each one. She didn't flit from one to another every day but spent weeks really teaching students to understand how to use the strategy in their own reading. We adopted her outline for the year and have loved the depth of her lessons (activating prior knowledge, drawing inferences, asking questions, determining importance, summarizing and synthesizing, monitoring, and creating visual images). Reading with Meaning became the first grade bible for our reading instruction.

When I heard the Debbie had a new book, Teaching with Intention, I was on the list to get the book long before it was released. When the book finally arrived, I took it out that very day and began reading. It was like catching up with an old friend! When she talked about "thoughtful, reflective, strategic teachers," I thought, "Exactly! That's what we have been trying to become!"
In this book, Debbie does not remind us of the specific strategies and yearlong lessons that she has already put forth in Reading with Meaning. Instead, she asks us to align our belief system to what we really do in our classroom. If someone walked into my room one afternoon after the children has gone, would they know that I believe that a literate classroom has to be organized, purposeful, accessible and above all, authentic? Would they be able to see the gradual release of responsibility in the way that I use read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading? Could they find artifacts of each easily around the classroom? Would they see my notebook of formative, on-going assessment that includes running records, conferring and anecdotal notes along with teacher-made and more formal assessments and then see how that information is being used to design lessons in my classroom? Would they find the joy that the children and I share each day? This type of practice cannot come out of a Teacher's Guide filled with teaching tips, but must be based on an alignment of beliefs. As Debbie says, "it's hard to imagine the circumstances where prepackaged programs and scripts teach children better than I do." . Debbie reminded me to relax, slow down and be present in the moment.

Finally, in this test-obsessed environment Debbie reminds me to trust myself - to not lose sight of my intentions while I am trying to fit everything in. She reminds me to teach deeply and well and to "nix the juggling act." This book was like having a cup a coffee with my favorite teacher friend and leaving our conversation with a smile on my face!


Teach to Learn said...

Thank you so much dayle! I love the book.

Melanie Holtsman said...

I can wait to read it!