The above quote from Diane Ravitch is taken from the Rasinski’s presentation in St. Louis at our local ILA’s spring banquet. Last week I promised to tell you more about it. Here goes! As I proceed I will try to make it clear which part of what is said is Rasinski’s and which parts are my reactions or comments on what he said. As you could tell from my remarks last week I found his presentation to be enlightening, empowering and encouraging.
During his presentation, Rasinski made it clear that the teaching of reading is, and should be, a science. He gave many details about this. However, he also feels the teaching of reading is also an art and that there are many benefits to treating it as an art as well as a science. Let’s talk about why he feels that way.
As illustrated by his slide about Albert Einstein, he talked about the many great minds over the years who recognized the importance of art. Others he mentioned included the Dalai Lama and Steve Jobs
Rasinski maintains that treating the teaching of reading as art can raise the level of performance of students. Look at his take on Bloom’s Taxonomy:
My take on this rendition of Blooms is that when you use an approach to the teaching of reading that is based on both art and science you raise the level of student performance. When students are allowed the time to create things of their own, they are going beyond what they already know (Rasinski’s words). They are adding new things to the base of human knowledge. In short, they are performing at a higher level than before.
There are unintended consequences to the “All Science” approach to reading. Rasinski shared the example of what it’s like to read a decodable text about the “ag” family. He used the decodable book, Mr. Zag. Rasinski asked is this science? His answer was yes. Is it art? His answer was no. Is it engaging? My answer is no. As I thought about this example, it become apparent there while the text was read, it’s content was at the very lowest levels of blooms (e.g. Mr. Zag saw a bag with a tag). The text did not require the student to perform at a high level. It did not require students to think except at the very lowest levels of Blooms. I anticipated that his next few slides would show us examples of ways to accomplish the very same task (teach the ag family) but do it in an artful way- a way that would engage students and require them to perform at a high level of thinking. That is exactly what he did. Poetry was involved.
This brings us to the centerpiece of his presentation, his new book, which is entitled the Megabook of Fluency. The book is exactly that. It is organized around his prosody factors (EARS). E is for Expression, A is for Automatic Word Recognition, R is for Rhythm and Phrasing and S is for smoothness, fixing mistakes. Rubrics based on these factors are available in the book and are written on a variety of levels including one for 6-8. So, this book isn’t just for the primary grades, it’s content and suggestions include ideas and activities for all grade levels PP-8. For a list of all the strategies in the book organized by EARS skills the reader can go to: https://www.scholastic.com/pro/TheMegabookOfFluency.html.
This link is for people who own the book. You can use information from the book to get the password for this link.
It was in this part of the presentation that Rasinski told the story I mentioned last week. It was the story of a new primary teacher who used the strategy of having children practice reading poetry for four days of the week in preparation for performing those poems on Friday. Despite push back about “wasting” instructional time, she continued to do that. By the end of the year her first grades were performing significantly higher on reading tests. She replicated those results the next year and became the teacher of the year for her state. The book gave several more examples of other teachers in other grade levels having similar success.
By now my readers can guess the book contains a treasure trove of ideas and resources. There are many activities that take advantage of original sources, including a variety of songs like It’s a Grand Old Flag, primary source texts like Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, poems like Paul Revere’s Ride and of course children’s nursery rhymes. I mentioned those nursery rhymes last on purpose. That is because I want to emphasize that this book is not just for primary students. Students in the middle grades can also benefit from instruction in prosody. Rasinski asked what would happen if we had students practice and then perform such historic and artful texts? I think part of what would happen is that through use of primary sources teachers would include both science and social studies content within their literacy block. This in turn would enhance both their literacy scores and their science and social studies scores. The book also includes materials on how to teach comprehension artfully. Based on the examples Tim gave during the presentation, this is done with materials that students would find engaging. It would be done in a way that allows students to perform at the highest levels of Blooms.
As I just indicated, the activities in his book are not just about helping students get better at decoding. Remember last week when I said that during parts of the presentation I felt like I was in a seminar on writing workshop? That is because Rasinski talked about how students used some of the poems and primary source pieces as a source of inspiration for writing their own works. He showed examples of student writing. Hmm. Students writing their own poetry, scaffolded by reading poems from this book or other sources. What a great idea for poetry month! Might I ask on what performance level students would be working? That would be the level that comes after Blooms evaluation level, creating! Ideas for poetry lessons based on Tim’s book can be found at POETRY LESSON PDF
Ok, is all this real science? Rasinski makes a case that it is. Look at his example summarizing the impact of deep repeated reading:
Example A demonstrates that performance improved over several rereads. Notice the big red arrows when doing the next set of rereads (B) and yet another set of rereads (C). They are there to call your attention to the fact that the improved performance with the first set (A), results in the reader starting on the second set at a higher level, and this phenomenon is repeated on the third set. That means the skills gained in the first performance carried over to future performances. Rasinski says that’s science! I concur.
Rasinski also says that repeated reading is more effective when done for authentic purposes. His book gives you many pieces of authentic reading materials and many authentic reasons for rereading (e.g. rereading to prepare for a performance). My experience with his materials over the years is that his materials work and they are engaging to the students.
That concludes what I have to say about Rasinski’s presentation. Stay tuned. Next week there will be a blog post over the next part of this topic. I’m using the title “Singing Our Way into Fluency”. Eric Litwin: Best-selling author of the original four Pete the Cat books, The Nuts and Groovy Joe. will share his views on using music with beginning readers. So please come back next week as we continue our discussion.
For more information about Tim and his various visit his website http://www.timrasinski.com/. BTW- the blog on his website includes free versions of his famous Word Ladders.
Also check out his articles in professional journals:
Article Copyright 2018 by Sam Bommarito
Includes the use of the title “Singing Our Way into Fluency”