Reading Instruction for Diverse Classrooms: Research-Based Culturally Responsive Practice
by McIntyre, Hulan, and Layne
Recently, a classroom teacher told me about a class she had looped up with from second to third grade. She described seeing the gap in literacy achievement between her students of color and other students. She knew what instruction they had received. She understood and applied effective strategies. She didn’t know why she couldn’t bridge the gap or even stop it from widening. She felt that she had exhausted her sources of instructional support. She just didn’t know what else to do.
That conversation left me thinking about Reading Instruction for Diverse Classrooms. I read it years ago because a colleague, Vicky Layne, is one of the co-authors and I have always admired and respected her work. One of my favorite aspects of this book is that it includes all diverse learners, including culturally and linguistically diverse students. I believe that we can’t address the learning gap until we start to see the common themes represented by the students represented there. And this book does that.
Chapter 4 focuses on classroom community and relationships. This is the foundation that culturally responsive instruction, including read and writing, is built on. Specifically, the authors discuss the role of discourse and dialogic instruction. That’s a fancy label for talking to kids using school talk and teaching them to empower themselves to state their ideas and to respond effectively to their peers, teachers, and others. So many of our kids don’t know how to navigate a simple disagreement with a classmate without it spiraling into tears, hurt feelings, or worse. Our kids aren’t given the time or the tools to develop dialogic skills, and sadly, there are few opportunities for them to learn from our modern culture. Addressing this need allows us to build community, relationships, and academic language that feeds reading and writing, yet it is still largely absent from most classrooms. And if you happen to work with English learners, you become acutely aware of the need for oral language models in the classroom and the lack of time set aside for students to interact.
One strategy recommended by the authors is Numbered Heads Together (Kagan, 1994). I witnessed the power of this strategy in a fifth-grade classroom this year. Students who were disengaged suddenly cared a lot about their response to a question posed by the teacher when the element of chance was introduced to the selection of the group speaker. Students who felt they were misrepresented by their speaker had to reconvene to decide how they could improve their listening skills. Others clapped spontaneously when a shy or low language student, given the benefit of oral rehearsal and group cooperation wowed the class with a thoughtful response. That one strategy changed the whole dynamic in the classroom. And Reading Instruction for Diverse Classrooms includes additional strategies for building dialogic skills and classroom discourse, grounding research, and an index where more can be learned.
I highly recommend this book to any instructor teaching students how to read, write, listen, and speak in today's classroom. I say today's classroom because today's classroom is diverse. I hope we all remember that, “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk” (Britton, 1970) and that we are empowered to lift the literacy lives of kids by using dialogic instruction.
More to come soon with a special surprise in our next podcast!
I was teaching a self-contained 4th/5th class in an urban school when I realized I needed to understand how to teach reading. Really teach it. From the beginning. The students who made that very clear to me were my newcomer English learners (ELs). ELs come from all language and literacy backgrounds. Some are literate in another language, some come from cultures where generations of people have not had the opportunity to learn to read and write. But they all had in common that they needed to start with reading foundations and I didn't know how or where to begin.
My students inspired me to start my journey as a literacy teacher. One who teaches students who are expected to read to learn while they are learning how to read. This is a daunting task. There are no easy answers, but there are many researchers and experts whose work has been pivotal in my development as a teacher. One of these, whose book I recently read is Maryanne Wolf. Her book is titled Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. This book was published in 2007, and the fact that I didn't learn about or read it until 2018 says a lot about what prevents our students from becoming fluent at listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Wolf writes in beautiful scientific prose about what has had to happen over time for our brains to be able to read. One of my favorite quotes is this:
Each brain of each ancestral reader had to learn to connect multiple regions in order to read symbolic characters. Each child today must do the same.
Despite the fact that it took our ancestors about 2,000 years to develop an alphabetic code, children are regularly expected to crack this code in about 2,000 days, or they will run afoul of the whole educational structure--. (p. 222)
This book really brought into focus the work of the reading brain. This is the science that teachers want and need, but to whom, for some reason, it is denied. We aren't hard-wired to read as we are to speak. The understanding of the brain-science, married with expertise in reading and writing approaches and strategies that build fluency in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, oral language, and writing will give teacher the agency to make decisions on learners based on effective assessments and sound pedagogy. Our kids deserve this. We know it.
As one of my graduate students put it, "Teachers need the WHY behind the HOW. I can recognize a strategy that seems to be useful. But when I know WHY it works, then I step out of the fog and into the light!" Let's bring our kids into the light of literacy...we can't wait!
Children of all ages love to create. How many times have you seen a child draw or doodle on a napkin or on a piece of paper waiting for food at a restaurant or just to pass the time? Children are natural writers. They scribble, doodle, and even add dialogue at times. When children write, the process of reading is reinforced. Children have to use so many literacy skills to write. They use what they know about phonics, writing conventions, brainstorming, editing, and reading. Children have to think and to remember the message they want to compose and reread it several times to convey what they are trying to say. They are naturally discerning about subject matter and word choice. Getting a child to write can be daunting and frustrating for the adult and the child.
A fun, authentic, and engaging way to get children to write is through book making. This can be done in the classroom and at home. I was reminded of this process over winter break after reading a book called A Teacher's Guide to Getting Started With Beginning Writers by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland. The book discusses the first 5 days of school and how to jump right into book making with children. By simply stapling some paper together and letting children create, children are writing and reading from day one. What an ingenious way to assess students, have an authentic task on the first day of school that any child can accomplish, while creating a sense of classroom community. Most children like to talk and share about what they are creating. Can you imagine the book collection children will have at the end of one school year. How many hours of literacy practice they would have, just by an hour a day of making and sharing books. Just as many practices that are taught in school are transferred to the home, when students are truly engaged, many students will be asking for paper and a stapler at home.
Get ready to create!