Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reading is Dead!!

For most of my lifetime, I’ve heard that reading is dead. In that time, disco has died, drive-in movies have nearly died, and something called The Clapper has come and gone through bedrooms across the nation.

I thought that might grab your attention! The above quote from an Op-Ed article in the NY Times in response to Steve Jobs' attitude about the Kindle. It seems that Mr. Jobs doesn't believe that this gadget that I covet will change much about reading - that "people don't read anymore."

As someone who spends a great deal of time and money in her local bookstore, who gives books as presents and can't seem to read enough - that statement made me sad. My family has always modeled and encouraged reading and we continue to do so with our next generation. My kindergarten niece, Gracie, is at the stage where she sounds out her words as she reads - opening the eyes of everyone to how we make sense of the written word. My nephew, aged 3, is at the stage where he memorizes the stories that have been told to him time and time again. Unlike his dad, whose favorite was Hop on Pop, Brody has No, David! down pat. Reading isn't dead in our family.

And I don't believe that is is dead elsewhere. I do, however, believe that it is changing. I don't think of "text" as purely a novel or short story or anything with a binding. I believe that it is anything that is written - including this blog. It is the exposure to words and ideas that is important, not the format. So I was thrilled this morning to read that Scotland has released it's new outcomes for literacy. Included in it's definition of texts (which is intended to be broad and future proof!) are the following examples of text:

novels, short stories, plays, poems, reference texts, the spoken word, charts, maps, graphs and timetables, advertisements, promotional leaflets, comics, newspapers and magazines, CVs, letters and e-mails, films, games and TV programmes, labels, signs and posters, recipes, manuals and instructions, reports and reviews, text messages, blogs and social networking sites, web pages, catalogues and directories. (emphasis added)

Now - I did not stumble upon this information by accident. It appeared in my Bloglines feed from someone else's blog and I followed the links to read the documents. That is the nature of reading today - not simply curling up with a book (I do that too!) but curling up with your laptop and challenging your thinking by reading what folks in other places are doing. In the past year, I have learned more about literacy from people in New Zealand and Scotland than I have here in the United States. Some ideas I have agreed with, some I have questioned. But all have helped me to form my understanding of literacy.

Reading isn't dead - but it is changing. Are you?

(Photo of PreK niece and 2nd Grade niece during "reading time.")

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Semicolon Rides the Transit

No - this is not the title of my upcoming best seller but a continuation of what some have called my comma obsession!! I was amused when Jenn told me in response to my comma overload that she would be seeking misplaced commas while in NYC - perhaps I was a bit over the top on that post. However, she can now spot appropriate uses of the semicolon while taking the subway!!

It appears that the long lost semicolon has been used "impeccably" on a NYC transit advertisement asking riders to take their newspapers with them when they get off the train. More importantly - it appears that while many of us have relegated the semicolon to the text world, many others in history have been severely impacted by their use or abuse of semicolons.

While this is an interesting read and one to share with all - perhaps the best part for me was the correction. Of course, it involved the use of those damn optional commas!! ;-)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Summer Reading

"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas."- Linus Pauling

I often use this quote with teachers to talk about the brainstorming process or keeping a Writer's Notebook. I know that I froze at times when asked to write and it is far easier to draw upon ideas that I had when the pressure was not on. In fact, I keep a WN for that purpose to this day.

However, I use this quote today to ponder aloud in the global network of blogging about a question posed to me today around summer reading. Many districts, including my own, are integrating summer reading lists for students. After much negotiating, these districts are offering students choice, collaborating with their local public libraries and working hard to select pieces that have literary merit yet also engage their students (is this necessarily an oxymoron?). I give these teachers and districts a tremendous amount of credit because they have reflected on what works and why they want kids to read to create some great choices.

But what do we do with the reading the kids do over the summer? Should we assess it formally? Should it count as a grade? Should we use it in discussion circles? If we don't have an accountability measure in place - will the students read?

These are great questions - hard questions!! What is everyone doing out there on this? Got any research about what works and what doesn't?

Image by donjuanna at Flickr.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Commas, commas, and more commas

We've been scoring the Grades 3-8 ELA assessments for the past two weeks and are finally down to the final two days - if the weather doesn't jinx us for the third time this year!! Seeing the continuum of student writing across these grade levels has been very eye opening and has me thinking quite a bit about the recent conversations around handwriting as well.

Some random writing thoughts from scoring:

(1)The students seem to be writing more than in previous years - which I think is a very good thing!! While they are not always on the right track - they are making great attempts at all grade levels to include more details, provide topic sentences (even for the shorter answers), and connect their thoughts to the reading/listening passages.

(2)Our districts have done a great job in mixing up the teachers at scoring this year. They are not just sending teachers from the grade level that we are scoring, but teachers from the grade before and/or the grade after. This has really opened some eyes and started conversations about the idea of "curricular years" we have been talking about for a while in our region.

(3)Our students are still practicing rampant homophone abuse. Whether they are changing the correct word to the wrong one in the editing passage or experimenting using every possible spelling of "their" the wrong way in an extended response, the just are using the words correctly.

(4)The ability to begin sentences with "And" or "But" still does not sit well with teachers. NYSED does not count this as a grammatical error so students cannot be penalized - but it still panics teachers. I wonder why when it seems to be present in almost everything I read - more as an element of voice than anything else.

(5)I will never, ever understand why so many commas have become optional. My issues with commas are well documented in this blog and I share them openly. I know that I abuse them, I know that I don't always use them correctly, but I do remember the rules from my high school English teacher about when they were required. Apparently, those rules are not iron-clad. Serial commas, commas before conjunctions, and commas following introductory phrases of five words or less are now optional. Huh! That must be why I put them all of the other places they shouldn't be - they are homeless!!

On that note - I'd love to hear what others are noticing as they score. And because I am feeling edgy (can you tell by how I started this sentence?) I share with you this link to a song on the Oxford comma (which according to Wikipedia is another name for the serial comma.) WARNING!! The song does contains a certain shocking curse word which may be offensive!!