frank smith, once again dear friends

Smith simplifies "good reading" frequently in his book. One of the instances that resonated with me was this list:
1) Reading must be fast
2) Reading must be selective
3) Reading depends on what the reader already knows (i.e. their prior/non-visual knowledge)

The first point I touched on in my previous post. Reading slowly does nothing for poor readers. The idea that "slowing down" will somehow encourage comprehension is a false one. Because of the severe limits on short-term memory, the slower someone reads, the less likely they will be able to remember what they have read previously and make sense of it all. Now, this does not imply that no one should ever slow down (as anyone who has witnessed a student rushing through text knows) but that the emphasis for poor readers must not be on comprehending every word, but instead on comprehending the ideas presented on the page. The very act of comprehending what happens will, in fact, "teach" the reader and words they do not know.

The second point is one that many teachers (including myself) are loathe to bring up in class. The idea that it is useful, and even necessary, to skip text in some books opens up the possibility of skipping bits in all books--and all of the classroom arguments and stress that idea entails. However, it is a reality that many books are not meant to be read as a whole (and it could easily be argued that 90% of the books encountered in school fall into this category) and giving students the freedom to skip parts they don't understand or don't need is necessary for both their greater comprehension and the continuation of their appreciation for reading. As anyone who has ever been forced to read something in its entirety knows, forcing completion over comprehension is never successful and serves very little purpose. Who cares if they read an entire story if, because of that experience, they never pick up a book by that author again?

The third point is a tricky one. Most teachers are well versed in scaffolding and front-loading in order to ease students into a text. However, much of this scaffolding is repetitive rather than informative. For example, although a well-meaning teacher may summarize Rikki Tikki Tavi before her class begins reading it, she may not give the class the background on India that would enable her class to follow the story on their own. Instead of telling the students what will happen (which may inspire some of them not to read at all and will not really help those who struggle) this point is about giving them the flavor of the story. Enough of the history of India and the reality of mongooses to allow the students to figure out the plot on their own. This serves two purposes--it keeps the reading itself fresh (and more enjoyable) and allows the students to feel succesful on their own. This last fact is all-important because the success the students feel carries over to the next reading. Middle-schoolers are not easily fooled, they know when they have been "given" the story, and they are also not at an age when they want any adult help--so the teacher must walk a fine line of giving enough information to ensure success without cheapening it, no problem right?

There will be a least one more post on this book--although I could see it going on forever! It will definitely be added to my "wanted" list on Amazon!