All you need to know about Reading Theory(but were too afraid to ask)

I’d like to go back and take up the question I asked from my first blog post about Cassazza’s article. My question was basically how much of the various fields related to reading and reading development do we as teachers need to be familiar with. Though I feel that I am still pretty far from a definitive answer, I’d like to tentatively postulate the idea that we only really need to be familiar with those aspects of theory and related fields which have a direct connection with our student population and our goals. While it would be  nice to have a deeper knowledge of many of the throries and fields that swirl around developmental reading like planets around a distant star (and I’m certain that this knowledge could easily classified as the kind of career development which is both beneficial and promoted amongst the majority of professionals in our field), the fact is that, as I mentioned in my first post, this is not always practical or even possible. 

 

I expect that focusing in on the issues and theories most pertinent to a population of students would change according to the situation a teacher found themselves in, yet nonetheless I believe there are at least some “near universal” concepts which would serve almost any teacher of FYC. One of these for example would be the issue of high school/college transfer and preparation. I notice this is an issue frequently discussed in the readings we have been doing, and for good reason I think, as almost anyone who goes on to teach FYC will eventually come across the dilemma of how to handle this situation. Another area which I’m sure would merit attention would be returning and older students and the very different challenges that they face in going through FYC. Studying the theories, fields and practices related to these two populations alone would undoubtedly give us a great advantage in our classes. Of course these are not comprehensive. If for example, I choose to do extensive work disabled populations, I would need to refocus my research and learning to cover this population.

 

I suppose the conclusion I’m getting at is that it is really up to the individual teacher( with perhaps guidance from those around them), to make the decision of what is or is not important to them in the wide range of developmental reading and FYC topics. This, coupled with the idea of career long development, I think starts to give an answer to the question that I posed.

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4 responses to “All you need to know about Reading Theory(but were too afraid to ask)

  1. Brendan, I think you make a valid point—after all, it is preferable to be an expert in one thing than a dilettante in everything. Your point is also relevant in terms of research. I’m not sure if you are interested in doing research or if doing research is something that is common to students in your department, but scholars take interests and delve into the body of research on those topics for the betterment of the academic world at large. In truth, one of the aspects of the TESOL program that I have enjoyed most is the way teachers foster students’ interest in specific topics. Although it will be a while before I do any professional research, I already have a number of research ideas that I am interested in pursuing.

    Of course, I understand your hesitancy when you say you would “like to tentatively postulate the idea that we only really need to be familiar with those aspects of theory and related fields which have a direct connection with our student population and our goals.” I feel like this position creates two questions.

    The first is, what do we choose? That is, as teachers, how do we examine a student population and decide what theory or understanding on our parts will best serve our students?

    The second is, how much is enough? By this I mean to ask, how do we know we have a large enough knowledge base in our theory and understanding so that we can best serve our students?

    These are not easy questions to answer and I imagine each teacher in each particular institution they work at will have to grapple with these.

  2. I’ve wondered the same thing myself, and I don’t know if there’s any good way to go about creating our own necessary frameworks based on the pedagogical theories & approaches that are most relevant to the populations we are likely to encounter. I know that TESOL instructors have to consider more specific areas of student learning problems and have a handle on strategies to work with Gen 1.5 students, international students, and speakers of various English dialects, but really, FYC teachers should also be aware of these populations’ diverse needs as well, because apparently the boundaries between programs are not that clear, and we should be prepared for anything here.

    On the other hand, sometimes I feel so inundated with EVERYTHING, so preoccupied with preparing to encounter any sort of issue, I sometimes wish I could focus more narrowly on things like metacognition and critical literacy and leave it at that. However, as I continue on as a student and teacher, I’m continually realizing that the more I’ve read & discussed in this program, the more I’ve been consciously applying strategies and dealing with issues that come up (and hence, improvising) in my classes rather than keeping to a predetermined regimen. For instance, last year I might never have thought to apply elements of a critical pedagogy in a classroom full of 12-year-olds (the avg age of I teach Creative writing to now), but when issues of gender, race, or class have come up, I feel compelled to encourage my students to grapple with these issues as a class and not just feed into dominant assumptions.

    What if I just ignored these teachable moments, because after all, these kids are only 12? But as it turns out, even 12-year-olds have critical questions about the world, and they often enjoy talking about complex subjects in an open environment in which their voices can be heard and others can respond. It’s important to set ground rules for such a discussion so that no one’s ideas are shot down, but ultimately, this approach has been fruitful for everyone involved.

    So basically, I think I’ll keep reading everything I can get ahold of and hope that in moments & situations I can’t anticipate, the overexposure pays off.

  3. I think Amy makes a great point. It seems that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the differences between teaching reading in a TESOL-type setting (since there are three MA TESOL students in this class), versus teaching reading to native speakers in a reading classroom. Although the issues of language might be slightly different, there really is no difference in terms of the diverse needs of the students in the reading classroom. It is certainly not true that all generation 1.5 students are enrolled in the CMS program. It would also be foolish to believe that even native English speakers who were born and raised in California share the same culture, or have the same backgrounds and experiences as the teacher or the dominant culture in the US (whatever that is.) All teachers need to be aware of the diverse population of their students, and modify their lessons to fit the needs of that group of students in whatever ways possible.

  4. I’d like to say that teaching a diverse group of students is one thing that teachers in California at any level need to know. It’s hard to think of a place in California (Humboldt County, maybe?) that would not present a diverse set of students. Brendan, what kinds of readings are you coming up with? Whatever you wind up reading, I’d like you to focus on the subject of the class — what do *reading* teachers need to know? (You mention First-Year Comp a couple of times). Interesting topic.

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