California Standards for the Teaching Profession: Standard Three
3.1 Demonstrating knowledge of subject matter content and student development
3.2 Organizing curriculum to support student understanding of subject matter
3.3 Interrelating ideas and information within and across subject matter
3.4 Developing student understanding through instructional strategies that are appropriate to the subject matter
3.5 Using materials, resources, and technologies to make subject matter accessible to students

Formal Response to Chapters One through Five of Conversations, by R. Routman

Big Ideas:
• The goal of all learning is to discover meaning (25).
• The five components of a reading-writing curriculum are as follows: reading aloud, writing aloud, shared reading, shared writing, and independent reading (26).
• The main focus in literature must remain on getting meaning and enjoyment from the reading (72). 
• Phonics knowledge is important but not all-encompassing; that is, skills and meaning must go hand in hand from the very beginning (106).
• Learners need to know what is expected and how to be successful. This is done by modeling thinking as well as modeling performance (177).

 In the first five chapters of Conversations, Regie Routman exposes and explores a vast amount of information on the subject of teaching reading. In this paper, I will discuss the basic principles Routman explores and respond to these with my own observations and thoughts.

 Early on in Conversations, Routman states that “learners will work harder and learn better, and what they learn will mean more to them, if they are discovering their own ideas, asking their own questions and fighting hard to answer them for themselves” (25). She follows this basic premise throughout the book by emphasizing a balance of guided exploration and expository moments. I agree with this position, especially after I have read this section of the book. I still hesitate to fully endorse her ideas, though. One thing I have learned in my experience is that, in practice, no one methodology is sufficient in the ever-changing classroom setting.

 Why is reading aloud important in the classroom? As many studies prove, children who have been read to learn to read more quickly than those who have not. So what can we do for those who have not been lucky enough to grow up being read to, but read to them in school? Other reasons, Routman states, are that reading aloud helps develop understanding of reading, develop vocabulary, prediction, listen better, and understand literacy language. 
 In my student teaching, I have been surprised by the children's’ desire to read aloud and to be read to aloud. As soon as I finish reading one book aloud, they are asking for another one. I have a hard time telling them they have to wait. It is so motivating to have children want to be read to. Routman provides a number of ways to incorporate reading aloud in the classroom, like buddy reading, and others.

 Shared reading consists of learners seeing a text and being invited to read along as it is read (33). This low-pressure exploration of books allows learners to participate at their own level, not only with reading, but with instruction in grammar and other reading strategies. I imagine this works best with primary grades, though it could transfer into the upper grades with poetry and other new topics. 

 When students and teachers collaborate in writing projects, it is an example of shared writing. This could take the shape of class books or guides done all at once, or over a span of time (37). This strikes me as a good idea when first introducing many of the writing projects Routman describes throughout the book. It allows the different patterns of thought and ideas of individuals to be shared with the group. Another way to do this is with writing aloud. I would do this with my class to teach anything from reading responses to journaling or letter writing. I think demonstration is incredibly important, especially when the though process is demonstrated with it. In a way, this reminds me of math is done in the classroom. Every day in my class, we correct the five-a-day by having a student do the problem at the board while explaining what they are doing and why. The same needs to be done explicitly with writing, and not just for punctuation mistakes. 

 One of the most important aspects of Routman’s ideas about independent reading is her emphasis on discussion and recommendation of books by the students, and keeping a record of what has been read. In my initial student teaching classroom, independent reading has been knocked out of its regular place by the P.E. schedule. Also, it seems that there is never a end to the paperwork that the kids are assigned to do that would allow free time to read or even check out new books from the classroom library. Even before began reading Routman, I have felt strongly about reading time in class. I know that most of the students in my class put television and video games at a higher priority than reading. The classroom should have time to train in this important skill. Of the important ideas in independent reading, I especially like the idea of students doing interviews in pairs after reading a book. 

 Routman catches an amazing truth in chapter three. She says, “In too many classrooms, students don’t read during reading time; they respond to reading” (72). In my student teaching classroom, I notice that often the worksheets take so many days’ reading class time that the students cannot even remember the story by the last page of the packet. I do not understand this method. The reading is not memorable enough to remember it through all of the rote response work. Why not have reading that will engage students more, and responses that are applicable? (Routman has suggestions for “effective extensions” on page 73.) I also like Routman’s idea to have a list of prompts in the front of the response log to help children get started with each response. 

 As I read the section on phonics issues, I agreed with much of what Routman states. Phonics has its place, right along with the other strategies for teaching reading. As with any methodology, it fits some of the time with some of the students; and though it has the potential help some individuals, it can also hinder others.

 The next section on teaching reading groups is what really frightens me about teaching. It seems like a juggling act full of assessments and picking out materials and managing students and finding motivation, and have no idea where to start with it at all. She glides through the concepts of using word cloze, guided reading, and teaching every kind of strategy with ease that puzzles me. I can grasp guided reading in the context of tutoring a child, and to a point in small groups, and I can see how Routman incorporates many of her ideas into guided reading into group work. I think it is a reality I will have to create in my own classroom before I fully understand, or maybe I will see it in my second student teaching assignment. 

 I think, also, that Routman is putting all the activities out together, and in a classroom, the teacher will pick and choose, and add things as they see fit. I will be glad for this resource when I am in that position. For example, in pages 153-161, Routman reproduces a set of reading groups. The teacher uses only a few of the many strategies in the four groups. I would be interested in what management techniques this teacher used to occupy the rest of the class while she met with the other groups. Were they the ones listed on the next pages? What did the class look like as she worked? Was it silent or moderately noisy?

 In the last section, I appreciated Routman’s ideas for teaching students how to interpret text, especially for creating literary questions rather than literal questions. I also identified more with section, as it is closer to the level of my current students. I want to try these things with them. I wonder how they would react to being asked to have literature conversations rather than doing worksheets. Literature conversations could work for required reading textbooks much more effectively than the worksheets seem to do. I also wonder how my class would react to self-evaluation. I had several teachers in elementary and high school who required self-evaluation, and I found that I was always harder on myself than they were on me. In any case, it is good to know what the students feel about how they are performing, as well as providing a good forum to discuss their worries about not performing well enough. Routman also suggests that tests be compiled from student questions. This would create questions that are level with class comprehension, as well as creating a sense of participation for the students.

 Overall, this section of Routman’s Conversations was so packed with concepts and ideas that one single response has been very difficult to compile. This text will be a marvelous resource in the years to come.

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