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Teaching Tips: The Reading Makeover

by Danny Brassell
January 8, 2013
Upon years of research into best practices in reading, I unearthed an amazing approach to teaching reading that has been shown to consistently boost student performance. This secret could cause a stir across American classrooms if implemented widely. The editors of Engage have permitted me to share it for a limited time, in the hope that this highly-innovative teaching strategy catches the fancy of policymakers, the media and general public. It is a remarkable “reading makeover” that could save countless precious budget dollars while producing phenomenal results.

It has been shown to work with all ages. I have found that I can train teachers, administrators and parents how to easily and affordably implement this program in a matter of weeks. It has been shown to work from coast to coast, in both affluent schools and under-resourced ones, from the inner city to suburbs to rural areas. English language learners and special needs students have seen dramatic improvements in reading using this innovative method. There are even unconfirmed reports that many educators report significant increases in their job satisfaction when utilizing this technique.

So what exactly is this “reading makeover?”

It starts with you providing a variety of high-interest reading materials in your classroom, from magazines to digital books, newspapers to novels, poetry to informational texts.

But you already knew that, right?

And it should go without saying that the best way to improve students’ reading aptitudes and attitudes is by giving them plenty of opportunities throughout the day to actually read various texts and discuss reactions to these texts. This is commonplace in today’s schools, isn’t it?

We recognize that reading aloud to students of any age is one of the single best ways to engage students’ interest in reading. So that’s why you can go into any middle school or high school as well as elementary schools in America and see students absorbed in a teacher’s daily read aloud.

Right?

Sadly, this is not the case. A lot of really smart folks with good intentions have spent a lot of money searching for The Holy Grail of teaching reading, ignoring the solution that has been right under their noses all along. Some really good educators have quit their jobs in frustration, while concerned parents across the United States search for answers to how they can help their children succeed.

At the same time, scores of children have been bombarded with test preparation materials while being denied the very resources that have been shown to improve reading: interesting reading materials, time to read and discuss what they are reading in class, and daily read alouds.

One of the bummers about writing articles about the importance of reading to members of the International Reading Association is that it is preaching to the choir. So why devote any space to revealing best reading practices that everybody already knows about?

Well, there are plenty of folks (myself, included) who find themselves at the beginning of 2013 resolving to live healthier lifestyles, but how many of us will take action? I see so many educators who are fearful to devote any precious class time to reading for fun because they think it will seem they are wasting time that could be “better-spent” addressing Language Arts Standard 13.96.87. I constantly ask audiences attending my presentations the simple question: “What good is it teaching students how to read if they never want to read?”

Working with students of all ages, I have seen firsthand time and again that once students see reading as a pleasurable activity, they start to read more, and the more they read, the better they get at it. It does not matter if the students choose to read James Joyce or JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH; people who read more, read better.

I am on airplanes virtually every week, and I cannot remember the last time I sat next to someone reading Dostoevsky, Moliere, or Shakespeare, but I sit next to plenty of folks who read USA TODAY, PEOPLE magazine, and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. And that’s great! These are folks who choose to read rather than look at the back of an airplane seat or watch an airline’s edited version of the latest Jennifer Lopez movie. People who read make so much better conversationalists.

The secret to teaching reading rests in the title of this blog: Engage.

So I challenge administrators to engage their faculties by opening faculty meetings with great read alouds (and if you are an administrator reading this, I will gladly provide you with your own customized list).

I challenge teachers to talk about their favorite reading materials with students, ask students which genres and authors rock their worlds and read aloud a variety of texts to their classes, while also providing time in class for students to read different works.

I challenge schools to fund their libraries and stock shelves with titles that will appeal to broader audiences than those studying 18th century British literature.

I challenge parents to support their local independent bookstores and public libraries and make reading an integral part of their daily rituals. And I challenge policymakers who are so interested in reading research to start reading the research.

Folks, we know what to do. I used to always send my students home with one maxim: education is valuable, but execution is priceless. Are you up for the challenge? If you choose to provide your students with lots of interesting reading materials, facilitate time to read in class with discussions about what various individuals are reading, and read aloud a variety of great texts in your classroom, I guarantee that your students —however young or old—will become lifelong, passionate and more proficient readers.

Now make it happen.

Invited to speak to over 100 international venues last year alone, Dr. Danny Brassell is considered “America’s Leading Reading Ambassador.” He is part of the Invited Speaker Symposium, "Readin', Writin', and 'Rithmetic: Revisited Through the Common Core State Standards," with Ruth Culham, Steven Layne and Greg Tang at IRA's 58th Annual Convention, April 19-22, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas. Danny (www.dannybrassell.com) will also present a session on building home-school reading connections.

© 2013 Danny Brassell. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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2 Comments

  1. 1 Danny Brassell 10 Jan
    Thanks SO much, Jim. Your work in "The Read Aloud Handbook" is the most practical guide for every teacher and parent to own. ;-)
  2. 2 Jim Trelease 08 Jan

    What Danny is saying in every paragraph is simply common sense. Ah, if only common sense were common. 

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