Young Adult Lit/Crit

April 22, 2008

Warning: Explicit Instruction

Filed under: Reeves — sostrom @ 10:51 pm

In Reeves, Chapter 7, we meet Joel.  Reeves describes Joel as “Everystudent” (196).  She explains that Joel “virtually stopped reading in middle school” and was (at the end of 10th grade) experiencing increasing “difficulty comprehending his textbooks” (196).  As the chapter continues, we find that Joel’s reading comprehension problems stem from, among other things, “inadequate background knowledge, and […]knowledge of how to negotiate a writer’s use of literary techniques” (227). 

In other words, Joel may know how to read, but he doesn’t know how to comprehend what he reads.  He needs explicit instruction in reading strategies.  There are plenty of trade books that address how to teach reading, but the one that I found most helpful is Mosaic of Thought by EllinKeene and Susan Zimmerman.  The authors delineate seven reading strategies in a clear and very accessible way.  However, the main point is that reading needs to be taught.  We need to actively and explicitly teach our students how to connect with the text, use the context, question what they read, activate their prior knowledge, synthesize, reread, identify the most important ideas, etc., in order to provide them with the tools we expect them to use.

For example, Joel describes his problem with reading Stephen King’s Cujo: “It’s just he goes on from one thing, you start reading, and it’s like switch to a different thing, and I just kinda got lost about what was going on” (201).  Reeves writes that Joel “was not experienced in suspending information that he did not fully understand” (202).  This reading strategy could be modeled using a picture book and a think aloud, and then practiced, supported and honed through explicit instruction rather than the assumption that once a kid learns how to read, they need no further lessons.

As facilitator of this chapter, I’d like to post some other questions for response:

  • How can we motivate students like Joel who seem to view reading as something they only do at school to read at home?
  • What post-elementary school memories do you have of teaching or being taught to read?  What worked/didn’t work for you?
  • Do you think Joel is really “Everystudent” as Reeves says?
  • Joel feels he is successful in understanding Othello because of the audio tapes he and his classmates listen to.  What are your thoughts on audio tapes – root of all evil or helpful instructional tool?
  • Reeves characterizes Joel as a the type of student who teachers “never quite get to the core of their thinking and never quite figure out how we can provide it in a form they can recoginze and use” (196).  I think this is a realistic and frustrating aspect of teaching.  Have other experienced this struggle to connect and understand a student?  How do you meet the needs of a student whose needs you can’t determine?

Looking forward to our discussion here and in class Thursday.


ps/ Reeves says that Iago dies at the end of Othello, but as I recall he is only wounded.  Can someone verify this either way? 🙂



  1. Sarah,

    Great post! And you are rocking the blog this week, as Kari mentioned.

    I think the basic problem with the Joel situation is that we have a one size fits all mentality, and that students’
    reading issues are not addressed because English teachers are teaching literature instead of reading. I’m not saying that English teachers should be reading teachers, but I am saying that students often radically differ in what they
    want and need out of an education. Those who need help reading should receive specialized, quality reading instruction.
    Unfortunately, most schools do not have the funding to provide this much needed resource. Once again, the answers to so many of our educational problems lie in the political arena. I guess we need to get politically active
    if we’re going to make any difference.

    And Iago does not die at the end of Othello, which is definitely an abberation for the typical antagonists in
    Shakespeare’s tragedies. See you in class.


    Comment by scrollman — April 23, 2008 @ 10:34 am

  2. re: OTHELLO–Well, Iago doesn’t die on stage–but the execution order is issued by Lodovico in that last scene…KES

    Comment by sunyprof — April 25, 2008 @ 6:56 am

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