Kelly Gallagher’s book, In the Best Interest of Students (2015), warns that “what is the in best interest of students” doesn’t always align to the standards. Therefore, it is important to remember (especially during this time of implementation) that “standards simply indicate WHAT should be taught; they do not discuss HOW they should be taught. But of course, as we know, how the standards are taught is the critical component to elevating our students’ literacy skills” (6). This is Gallagher’s call to action for teachers and he offers many ideas, suggestions, and real-world application of activities that help to “stay true to what works in ELA Classrooms.” Though the book focuses on Common Core (CCSS), it is still pertinent and relevant to Oklahoma– especially because our new standards were written by teachers, reviewed by students, and developed using a democratic process.
Here are some key reflections, take-aways, and questions from #NSUEngEd ENGL4133 (Spring16) pre-service English teachers regarding this idea:
- Teaching is not about checking off things you have taught your students on a list to prepare for a standardized test or to complete certain standards. If we only covered material for those two things, students would not be getting the kind of education they need to be successful and thoughtful and prepared for life.
- Writing should not always be in a box. Students are taught to put essays into 5 paragraphs, and the real world does not work in 5 paragraph essays. The book discusses how arguments made on the news or advertisements are much different than how students are taught to form their argumentative essays, and if teachers are only using one way to give students a way to voice their claims on something, then the students are not going to be prepared for real life. Providing real world models for students to analyze to see what makes the argument effective would help students understand how to make their arguments stronger.
- The book has examples to use for students to understand the text. There are charts on reading beyond the text, asking what the text does and asking what is not included, and they all help to encourage deeper thinking.
1. I really hope to implement the conversation chart on page 147 to make sure that all of the students are getting adequate listening and speaking time in order to process the information given to them.
2. I already planned on doing everything in my power to help my students find books and genres that can get them excited to read, and in then book, it states on page 145 that the best way to help students learn to read for enjoyment is by implementing an extensive classroom library. This idea has sparked within my the desire to start collecting YA books now, in order to have a well rounded selection when I begin teaching.
3. It is important to me for my students to be able to voice their opinions in an educated and well supported way. The activity on page 112 is interesting to me because it helps students to organize thoughts in a meaningful way to support their argument. I want to use this activity in the classroom to help my students not only learn how to write effective argumentative essays, but also learn to argue effectively in real life situations.
I agree that (p. 197) that students are being shut down by reading and going to the “Sparknotes reading,” I also agree with Gallagher that Sparknotes is a useful tool. My question is, if I tell my students that they can look at Sparknotes or Shmoop, how do I convince them that reading the actual book is much better than just using the Sparknotes alone?
- I loved all of the activities in chapter 4- Staying True to What Works in the Teaching of Writing. I will definitely use a few!
- I enjoyed the shift from 50/50 to 80/20. This makes me feel much better about choosing a novel.
- I liked how prereading activities were identified as undervalued. I personally have seen teachers teach prereading as a very important tool. I think that this is a missed opportunity for the most part.
- CLAUDIA SWISHER’s Review via GoodReads:
Claudia rated it “really liked it”
Solid work…just what I’d expect from Gallagher….A POV that’s pro-student, and ideas that can really work in a real classroom.
I was hooked from the first, but then began to squirm when I saw the focus of the book was CCSS. Since our state has banned and outlawed CCSS and anything resembling CCSS, I was worried that this book might be discounted by professionals in #oklaed.
Gallagher’s subtitle, “Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom,” keeps him on point…What about CCSS is positive and what is problematic? He has hit on all the points I liked and didn’t like…and he does not push CCSS or David Coleman’s singular view of ELA.
Lesson 1, page 2 of Chapter 1: “Avoid falling in love with these standards. They won’t be her forever.” My career is a testament for all those reforms that were gone from the landscape before teachers figured out how to fully implement them. I was heartened by his insight here.
The book highlights NCLB’s hyperfocus on only reading in ELA classes, and shows that CCSS, at least, expands to writing, speaking and listening…but the assessments that are so closely aligned to the Standards do not reflect that alignment. Reading will be the basis of the assessments, with canned writing based on reading right behind.
When you read a Gallagher book you know he’ll share the work from his own classroom. I appreciate that about his books…and his website where he encourages us to borrow.
His belief in the power of reading for pleasure will forever endear him to me…and I like his ideas about building in more choice in the regular ELA classroom: a whole-class book, book club books with similar themes or issues, and free-voluntary reading all together in the classroom.
A strong piece…still concerned about connecting it so closely to CCSS. Hope it doesn’t date the book.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHILE YOU READ:
- KC: Was there anything in the book that he suggested to do or believed in, but you did not agree with?
- AS: One specific area of weakness that I would like to see improve is the writing skills of modern students. The book gives a specific list of shortcomings in the CCSS. What are some examples from the book/suggestions for improving writing that utilizes the new standards?
- LS: Overall, what do you KNOW works when it comes to teaching students how to read, write, listen, and speak. What is in their best interest?
Gallagher, Kelly. In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in ELA the Classroom. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2015. Print.