Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New semester, new book

The Fall semester at the community college where I teach at night starts this Thursday. I teach the second of two courses in college reading and study skills that is a requirement for those students who are not reading at college-level. Many of my students are straight out of high school, some are *returning students*, some are English as a Second Language students, some have learning disabilities. Most are reading at about the 4th grade level when they enter college.

Yes, you read that last bit correctly. Reading at a 4th grade level in college.

I love teaching beginning readers. They are bright-eyed and excited. Their whole reading life is ahead of them and they are eager to figure out the puzzle that is reading. This does not describe my students at the college.

Many of them have been humiliated by their inability or ignored. They hate reading and they hate books. They hate that they have to take this class (for no credit) before they can take the classes they really want to take. Many of them hate school and are only there to prove as much to me and to their parents who force them to go.

Because I teach the second course in the series, the students know the drill and know what to expect. They've worked hard in the previous course (some have had to repeat it once or twice before passing) and are just beginning to see the result of their efforts.

Understand that these kids can read. They can decode the words on the page. They just can't make any sense out of the words and sentences and paragraphs that are in front of them. They have to be taught how to make meaning from what they read. So in the first course they are taught what good readers do, explicitly. What you and I do naturally. They work on improving their vocabulary and increasing their reading speed. They learn how to find the main idea. They learn how to organize information into memorable chunks, etc. etc.

Then I get them and we work on applying these hard-won strategies to college-level reading material. We work on how to distinguish between fact and opinion. We work on inference and tone. We learn how to take lecture notes, how to annotate and outline, how to study for a test, how to write an essay. How to be a good student.

I try to make time to fit a novel into the course. I think it's important they learn that reading is something that good readers do for pleasure and not just because they *have to*. Ideally, I would let them each chose a novel to read, but I've learned that they need guidance even to find what they might enjoy.

In the past I've used The Kite Runner and found that most of my students were able to enjoy it and understand it with a lot of guidance and class discussion. This semester, I've decided to to try a *hi-low* book - a high interest, low level book that shouldn't necessitate so much explanation and chapter-by-chapter analysis on my part. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom was suggested and I've decided to give it a try.

I read it a few years ago and thought it was a fun read. I hope that this group of students will find it enjoyable and that they'll find something in it to make them think and want to talk about what they've read. Like good readers do.

Have you read it? What did it make you think about? What did it make you want to talk about?


Endment said...

Another book for me to search out --- how wonderful to discover all this good reading

Susan Gets Native said...

I loved that book. It of course made me wonder who I would meet in heaven.
It was fascinating and unexpected and easy to read and way too short!

lily said...

i haven't read it but i sure will. thank you. i really admire what you are doing and for people like you is why i want to be a teacher, you inspire me to help other people as much as my teachers helped me. i'm was an esl student myself and people like you make the worl better one person at a time. you are making a difference. thank you.

MojoMan said...

These students are lucky to have a teacher as dedicated, intelligent and caring as you. If anyone can make reading fun and productive for them, I'm sure you can.

This book is very popular, but I haven't read it yet. Now, I'm thinking I should give it a try.

silverlight said...

You know, I wonder how many of the people who have to take remedial reading classes, have ever been tested for Dyslexia. It has been the bane of my family.
It must be very rewarding to know you are helping crack the door to an entire new world. It is a wonderful thing you do.

madcapmum said...

I understand that the States has a "no child left behind" initiative, and it astonishes me how many people could go through an entire 12 years in that system and still exit the far end without the basic skills. Well, I'm glad you're there to catch!

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura-
I very much enjoyed that book. I made me think hard about the impact my words and actions can have on others without my being aware.


Anonymous said...


It looks like I figured out how to post comments on Blogger (not Blogger beta) as long as anonymous comments are accepted. But now, as of last night, I understand that Bloggers cannot comment on Blogger beta! @#$*&^!!!!


bev said...

I haven't read the book, but know several people who have mentioned that they enjoyed it very much, so it sounds like an excellent choice. Good to hear of the kind of teaching you are doing. I'm sure your students will acquire skills and knowledge that they'll be able to put to work in their everyday lives. When I was working on graduate studies, I was assigned to do my graduate work at the university's writing tutorial services. That was quite an eye-opener for me. I never realized how hard some people must struggle to put their thoughts into words on a page. I remember how exciting it was to watch students improve on their skills over the space of several weeks. I'm sure you must experience much the same.

NatureWoman said...

I haven't read it but it sounds intruiging. It simply amazes me that students make it to college at certain low levels now. I found some of them can't spell to save their lives, either. It's so sad, but I'm glad you're there to help them!

LauraHinNJ said...

Endment: Surpprised you hadn't already read it.

Susan: Did you read "Tuesdays with Morrie" also?

Lily: Thanxs.

Mojoman: Well, I don't know - you'd have to ask them.

Silverlight: I'd guess that some had been tested for specific reading problems like you mentioned, many are just kind of lazy when it comes to schoolwork. Those students who are learning disabled have the *option* of letting me know about it, but the college doesn't tell me anything because of privacy issues. Isn't that sort of ridiculous? I understand the theory of having students *self-declare* if they need extra help, but it might be helpful for the teacher to be able to find out what the specific learning disability is. Often the kids don't know, so I'm in the dark too and have to be a detective as well as a reading teacher.

Madcap: Yes! I wonder the very same thing. A lot of the students come from poor school systems and have coped with many of the other social issues that come with poverty. In fact, I work with quite a few of their families in my *day job* in social services.

Lynne: Glad you figured out how to leave a comment - darn Blogger complicating things! Did you think the book was at all sappy? Can you imagine young people liking it?

Bev: One thing that I love about teaching is that chance to get inside and see how someone else's mind works - especially those people that learn differently! ESL students are very interesting because they've been taught how to think and write in another culture - that is evident in their writing. I have a lot of Haitian students and their logic is very circular - took some getting used to for a *linear* thinker to read their essays and way of processing information.

Naturewoman: I agree. Everyone seems to think they *have to* go to college nowadays, but I don't think everyone is cut out for it, really.