Archive for December, 2010

Reading in other classes: Textbook reading level

December 13th, 2010

To stay relevant as a librarian and be the best possible resource for my campus I can, I will be examining how to teach reading in other subject areas besides Language Arts/English. This is not to say that other teachers should stop teaching their content and teach someone else’s. What I’m finding is where basic reading strategies will help students succeed in any class they are in.

Here’s a great quote from Billmeyer and Barton in Teaching Reading in the Content Areas:

Miller (1997) notes that science and social studies textbooks selected for a grade level are often above the reading level of many students in that grade. Similarly, an examination of math textbooks reveals that even though the mathematical concepts may be grade-level appropriate, the reading level can be one, two, even three years too advanced for the students for whom the books are written (Braselton and Decker, 1994).

Even though the research is a decade old, it doesn’t matter because so are most of our textbooks. This re-emphasizes for me that we can’t simply sit a student down with a textbook, tell them to read a few pages, and expect them to learn the material to the same degree that an involved student would. Many of the strategies for effective reading involve engagement with the material mixed with an understanding of how certain texts are laid out. Unless teachers provide that framework first, student reading will be inefficient for the majority of students.

China tops PISA results in education

December 7th, 2010

This summer I attended the Sustainable Leadership conference through the AZ K-12 Center. One of the issues brought up briefly was the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test/survey that 15 year-olds around the world take to determine which nation has the most effective schools.

For the longest time, students from Finland and Korea were the top scorers, the United States ranking in the middle.

This year, kids from Shanghai took the test for the first time and blew away the competition. Time magazine reports that Chinese classrooms have more students, but teachers make more money than in the United States and there is a huge emphasis on problem-solving skills. The world’s changing so quickly that rote memorization won’t suffice – by the time you memorize the facts, technology/politics/the world will have morphed already. Even if it didn’t influence the test, students still need the ability to think critically. Rigor, right?

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

December 6th, 2010

I used to be a huge fantasy fan and then in recent years my interest dwindled. It seemed like in every book we saw the same plotline: the kid discovered a magical world and then found out that they were the chosen ones and/or had the real magic inside them the whole time (see also Dumbo’s Feather).

Reckless starts out that way and I got nervous. There’s a wardrobe mirror that two boys go through that links to another world, appropriately named Mirrorworld. The first chapter goes very quickly through the kids discovering Mirrorworld and growing up a little. More than one student who has read the book got confused by the first few chapters. When I booktalk this on Wednesday, I’m going to summarize the first chapter so they don’t get lost. (One kid who previewed the book for me was perplexed. “I know there’s a mirror and I know there’s a guy named Jacob. How old is he? There’s a world in the mirror?”)

Once the protagonist is older, though, the book rocks.

Jacob Reckless is probably going to be the chosen one. His father has been missing but we see that he has brought inventions from our world into Mirrorworld and has tilted the balance of power in the war between the humans and the Goyl, a race of gargoyle-esque stone warriors.

Jacob is a treasure hunter whose brother has been struck by a Goyl. The curse is that Will’s skin will turn to stone and go from human to Goyl. Jacob wants to find a cure.

As Jacob and friends quest for a cure, they encounter Mirrorworld variations on old fairy tales. Sleeping Beauty in Mirrorworld never got rescued; mummified hands of failed suitors reach out through the thorns surrounding her tower. Snow-White ends up running off with a Dwarf because that’s the life she’s grown accustomed to.

My favorite twist of fairy tales was a scene involving killer unicorns. Those beasts have horns for a reason.

The pace is decent in the book. It’s one subquest after another that leads Jacob into the bigger picture of influencing the war. Funke avoids the fantasy writer trap of describing a flower for an entire page and I appreciate that.

The character dialogue is great. I just wish Clara, Will’s love interest, was more than an accessory. She takes a predominant role in the middle of the book as there is a question of if she loves Jacob or Will, but the only times she’s mentioned in the last third of the book she’s either fainting or distressed. Fox, a shapeshifter who transforms into a badger (just kidding…she transforms into a fox), provides a stronger female character who tries to bail out Jacob on more than one occasion. It shows their friendship and a possible romance between the shapeshifter and the treasure hunter.

Funke does a great job of sticking to the rules of her world, which is important even if it is a fairy tale land. Every magic token has some law governing it, working almost like technology. Only one character was able to summon magic off the top of her head and she was one of the main villains, the White Witch Dark Fairy.

Reckless is a great read and I recommend it to students who like fantasy stories and/or can appreciate irony in storytelling.