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Solid Teaching Strategies, Somewhat Out of Touch with Real Classrooms
on August 5, 2007
As a Middle and High School teacher with ESL students, and a professional developer, I have been on the look-out for texts that would deliver a practical approach and solid strategies for teaching content area literacy. The authors advocate the use of constructivist approaches to teaching as well as in the professional development of the teacher. The target audience is the pre-service teacher (grades 6-12).
I really liked how each chapter of the 9th edition opens with an overview and a map of the concepts. The figures in the books are great illustrations of the strategies and techniques, and one in particular was a particularly apt example of Guess What's in My Head (figure 7:10)that show how unproductive it is as a teaching technique. Each chapter begins with an activity that poses a set of questions that sets the stage for learning about the chapter content. The authors attempt to be thought-provoking but in chapter 6 I wonder if they and their editors were really paying attention. Here they try to show the complexity of reading by citing the adventurer David Livingstone's encounter in Africa with "preliterate natives" (p. 186) who ate a book to literally digest its contents. Its inclusion in this book makes me wonder who they think is teaching "diverse learners" in the school.
As a synoptic text, the writers try too hard to cover all the bases of content area teaching at the expense of some in-depth analysis of the effectiveness of the techniques and strategies they recommend. Many texts on teaching reading at upper K-12 levels tend to concentrate on comprehension techniques, which is fine for somewhat-proficient readers, but neglects the weaker readers and the ESL students in the heterogeneous classroom whose comprehension difficulties are compounded with de-coding challenges.
As an ESL teacher, I would have liked to know how all of these strategies for teaching in the content areas could be adapted to my students. Instead, there is a separate chapter on "Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners" who, as practicing ESL teachers know, do not cease to be "diverse" after they have been mainstreamed. Having tried some of these strategies with my students, I can say for sure that QARs is far too challenging for ESL novice and intermediate learners when they are asked to think beyond the text. To participate in classroom discussion they need scaffolding for the language functions and vocabulary. In my opinion, the weakest chapter of all was Assessing Students and Texts (Chapter 4). The authors have completely missed the basic point about rubrics: to make assessment more consistent. There are better books on assessment with rubrics than this chapter.