I’m an English teacher who loves to make fun of English majors: touchy-feely folks who walk barefoot on the grass and weep because they are harming living organisms. I openly mock the Kumbaya circles and feel-good approaches to composition, literature and learning. At first I thought the Reading Apprenticeship program was one such pedagogical offshoot of a feel-good paradigm that I had long ago come to resent—the assumption that we must build confidence instead of building skills and hold hands instead of holding students accountable. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was wrong. The Reading Apprenticeship™ online course confirmed much of what I already understood about reading but made it visible, broke it down in such a way that I feel more confident in teaching reading as a process to my students. The activities, far from being Kumbaya circles of self-congratulation and introspection, are challenging interactions with a text, encouraging attentive reading and critical thinking. Having taken this course, I can now see how I read, and hopefully I will be able to help my students to see how they read as well.
Making the reading process visible—through think-alouds and talking to the text—is perhaps the most valuable “take-away” from this course. Modeling is nothing new: the ancient Greeks used it to teach, and it is still a valuable methodology today. However, I had never thought about modeling reading before. Yet it makes perfect sense. Modeling my own reading process through a think-aloud or talking to the text helps my students to see the incredible effort, the struggle required to read. Students hearing each other’s think-alouds, as well as their own, helps them to take note of what they are doing—and not doing—in order to understand a text and make connections to it. Likewise, talking to the text allows students to see their own reading processes. Writing becomes an extension of their reading—a way to understand a text by making their thoughts visible. Writing, as an indispensible part of a reading process, allows them to see how they form and reform their understanding of a text and how they develop their opinions as they read it.
This is the Metacognitive approach of the Reading Apprenticeship™ program: seeing what we think, how we think, and why we think it as we read. I’ve long attempted to get my students to do this. What is it about you that makes you respond to the text the way you do? How are you reading it and why? These are often overlooked questions that are so essential to understanding our own reading processes. RA activities—such as think-alouds, talking to the text, and think-pair-share—are extremely helpful for developing metacognition in my students throughout the semester.
In addition to these activities, several pedagogical ideas that I found in the class reading assignments impressed me, and I will be incorporating them into my instruction as best I can. For instance, on page 32, in chapter two of Reading for Understanding by Ruth Schoenbach et al., I found the suggestion: “Decide whether to clarify any confusions at this time.” This had never occurred to me. Why wouldn’t I clarify any confusion immediately? I had always done so. What I came to realize as I pondered over this simple piece of advice is that I am perhaps too quick to guide students in their reading comprehension, not willing enough to let them struggle with a text. I, the mocker of Kumbaya-handholding instruction, was perhaps too eager to hold hands and to give quick answers instead of allowing students to struggle with the questions on their own. Fostering a community of readers requires letting go, to a certain extent, of my control. It requires allowing readers to struggle, make mistakes and get messy with a text. It requires expecting them to interact with a text and with each other instead of merely watching me interact with the text on their behalf. The challenge—and one I have not quite yet figured out how to meet—is getting students to take on that responsibility. Being a part of a community of readers requires considerable effort on the students’ part. Getting them to put forward that effort is always the challenge. I am hoping that as I step back more, my students will come forward to meet the challenges of a text without me.
My students will always need me, however, to introduce them to the paradigms of academic prose and literature. They must become familiar with the ways of thinking that “experts” within my discipline work from as they read and write. On page 34 of Reading for Understanding, the authors note that “students also need to know about the customary ways of thinking, and therefore reading, that constitute the practice of science, history, math, and literature.” A community of readers cannot succeed without this fundamental understanding, and it cannot be garnered without a teacher. Thus, part of fostering a community of readers entails my arming them with “the tools of the trade”—the ways of thinking upon which the reading is predicated. Furthermore, part of the metacognitive discussion will entail my students discussing the validity of the paradigms upon which a text is predicated.
I don’t believe implementing these ideas and activities will come easy. However, I now feel more confident about showing my reading process to my students and helping them see their own. And seeing how we read is the first step in any kind of metacognitive discussion. For if we cannot see how we read, then we will never know what (or how) we think.
Brian Jukes has been a full-time English professor at Yuba College since 1997 and is currently the Composition Coordinator. During the 2010-11 academic year, he served as the interim dean of the Language Arts and Fine Arts divisions. He teaches all levels of English composition and several literature courses. He received an MA in English from CSU Sacramento in 1995, his BA in French in 1994 and BA in English in 1992.