While there is a well-established practice of opening a lesson by telling students what you are going to teach them, it is important that we are thoughtful and intentional about this “what” in each lesson. One of the bedrock principles of Who’s Doing the Work thinking is that we keep the end in mind. The end, of course, is developing readers who are independent and proficient. Generally speaking–by proficient, we mean they know how to read, and by independent we mean they choose to read.
However, too often we run into situations where the end goal is clearly increasing test scores, even if at the expense of independence and proficiency. Our concern is that this approach to literacy instruction is misguided and cannot lead to agentive readers who love to read for information. Consider the following scenario:
**You are teaching the nonfiction unit included in your school language arts curriculum. The curriculum instructs you to teach students about text features and, over the course of the week, you teach students about the table of contents, captions, and subheadings. The lessons include a short, hip video with a rap about each text feature, as well as some PowerPoint presentations that show students the inside of books and ask them to identify each of the text features when they see them. You hand out a couple of worksheets that define and delineate each of these features in a bit more detail. On Friday, you give students a quiz with some sample text from a book and ask them if they can identify and explain the importance of each of these text features. Many can, but many others seem uninterested.
We are sure that you have noticed the obvious lack of what should be the essential ingredient in these lessons: an abundance of gorgeous and thought-provoking nonfiction texts.
If we have the opportunity, when we see lessons such as this, we take stacks of books into the classrooms to share with children. In fact, when this recently happened one little boy, when given a book, asked, “What do you want me to do with this?”
Of course, the energy, enthusiasm, and the learning all increase when students are meaningfully engaged in work with real texts. Not to mention that, the point of learning text features is to learn from books, and practicing that helps students learn both the content and how text features actually work.
Look closely at your lessons. Can you get more books into your reading instruction? Where can you replace presentations, worksheets, or explanations with hands-on interactions with books that are irresistible?
**Note: By “You” we don’t mean you, because we know you would never overlook the books in reading instruction!