The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide To Developing Skilled Readers, by Jennifer Serravallo
Given the fact that I read so often, so broadly (although mostly within nonfiction of various genres), and, if I may immodestly say so myself, so well, it may seem somewhat odd that I enjoy reading and listening to material about how to read books better . This is perhaps even more surprising given that this book is aimed at language arts teachers for grades K-8, and given that my instruction of those age groups has generally assumed that someone was able to handle a book rather than involved teaching them how to do so for themselves. Even though I have never been a language arts teacher, I found that this book was somewhat relevant in that it brought to mind what had long been implicit strategies for myself. Seeing as I learned how to read so early and so profoundly, it was interesting to see what sort of prompting and scaffolding were used by language arts teachers to prompt students to read and to reflect on and respond to what they were reading when those students were not particularly motivated themselves to engage in such tasks. This is not to say that I found this book perfect, or without serious problems even, but rather that I found it useful and productive, and certainly worth thinking about and responding to.
This book is a practical guide and recipe book in that it provides 300 strategies (no exaggeration here) for how teachers can guide their students to read better. The author seems to presuppose that the readers of this book will be able to classify readers based on an A-Z scale, as the strategies assume different levels of reading proficiency generally but not strictly moving from lower levels to higher levels. The 300 strategies are divided into thirteen main goals that are organized in a systematic fashion: Supporting pre-emergent and emergent readers, teaching reading engagement: focus, stamina, and building a reading life, supporting print work: increasing accuracy and integrating sources of information, teaching fluency: reading with phrasing, intonation, and automaticity, supporting comprehension in fiction: understanding plot and setting as well as thinking about characters and understanding themes and ideas, supporting comprehension in nonfiction through determining main topic(s) and idea(s), determining key details, and getting the most from text features, improving comprehension in fiction and nonfiction by understanding vocabulary and figurative language, supporting students’ conversations in speaking, listening, and deepening comprehension, and in improving writing about reading. The strategies themselves seek to improve a wide variety of tasks, including critical thinking skills and the self-knowledge of encouraging young readers to think about what kind of books they enjoy reading and reading more of those (while gradually expanding one’s tastes) to build habits of reading what one loves.
There is a lot to appreciate in a book like this one, and as someone who reads regularly and enjoys reading a great deal, this book hits the right notes in encouraging teachers to encourage reading among their young students. To be sure, this book is not aimed at young readers, but is rather aimed at those who are seeking to mold and encourage young minds to put the time and focus and energy into reading well, thinking deeply about what one has read, and being able to talk and write about the material one reads in books in an intelligent and thoughtful fashion. The book is intensely practical, and ought to provide any marginally competent language arts teacher with enough material to thoughtfully present reading both in-class and for homework assignments for independent reading of both fiction and nonfiction over a diverse group of genres ranging from poetry to historical fiction to picture books to nonfiction like histories and biographies and books about math and science. Nevertheless, there are a few areas where this book stumbles, because the author approaches language arts from a clearly leftist social and political worldview. The author’s seeming preoccupation with gender and sexual politics is unseemly and immoral, and the author seems unaware that an encouragement to young people to think critically and reflectively on their readings, and the biases of writers, will lead such young people to be critical of the teaching methods and approach of the author herself. This book shows the typical leftist blind spot of not being able to see the biases of their own worldview, which makes it likely that this book will encourage debates in ways that the author may not find entirely comfortable. After all, leftists like the author are notoriously tolerant only of those who think and vote and act like they do, and encourage young people to think critically only if they criticize the same things they do.
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