Beginning with Reading

The workshop we ran as a ‘taster’ for forming a working group was designed to encourage teachers to think about the kinds of reading they expected from their students and to unpack possible reasons behind students’ difficulties in engaging effectively with written texts. This is the presentation we used: Causes of Students' Reading Difficulties

As we moved into the working group mode we initially maintained a focus on reading, looking at the issues raised in the interaction between the content of texts and students’ experiences of reading. We made suggestions for ways into reading, particularly highlighting the potential of questions, the need to disrupt the sense that the teacher held the key to the text’s meaning, and ways of giving students responsibility for creating understandings. We used these slides: Ideas for Working With Texts

What came out of it specifically for me was actions I could use to deal with the most significant problem I had, which was pushing students to read more difficult secondary reading. 

...what we are really trying to do is trying to get the students in a sense almost to want to work beyond their level.

We also introduced 'negative summary' as an approach to reading which pushed students to be selective about what they wanted to retain from texts they needed to read. Negative summary is a reversal of the common practice of highlighting ‘relevant’ sections of a text as one reads (to create a more summarised version of its meaning). The instruction can simply be: TAKE A THICK PEN AND CROSS OUT EVERYTHING THAT IS NOT RELEVANT TO YOUR PURPOSE.  

I think that freed students up.  They had to see me do it first.  They had to see me on the whiteboard crossing things out of a, you know, very respected critic, and saying, 'I don't need this stuff.  I don't need this stuff.  I don't need this stuff.  And what I'm left with is just a sentence from this paragraph, or these two paragraphs'.  That's been useful for getting students to feel more... to give them more freedom to handle texts, and to do with texts what they want to do with them.

It gave the students the confidence to close in on text and explore detail rather than just kind of generic comments about the whole piece.  So it made me approach text in a braver way.  It gave me some skills to help the students not feel so frightened by text. 

Trying these ideas and discussing them together moved us into ways of eliciting critical writing from students. Go to next page