What is the Reading Partnership
Reading partnerships refer to teachers interacting with students around texts and reading instruction as opposed to trying to do things to students to make them better readers (Hall, 2012c). What do I mean when I say we are doing things with rather than to students? When we, as teachers, do things to students we are often trying to “fix” them in some way. We have identified one or more skills a student is deficient in, and we create instruction and experiences that are designed to help the student become more proficient in that particular skill.
But wait – isn’t that what good lesson planning is all about? Don’t your struggling readers lack skills that they need more instruction on?
Well, maybe you’ve noticed that identifying and providing instruction on skills to struggling adolescent readers isn’t helping. Year after year, they remain in the same position. It’s not that struggling readers don’t need help. They do. It’s how we offer the help that we’re going to change.
When we decide what adolescent struggling readers need and then go to it we are doing things to them and not with them. Every time we identify a skill they need to learn and set about teaching them that skill, we are doing things to them. Every time we decide what books they can or cannot read, we are doing things to them.
Do you see the pattern? When we view struggling readers through a deficit lens of what they can/cannot do it results in us trying to “fix” them by doing things “to” them – just like a doctor would give you a shot or a pill to cure you. However, the challenges struggling readers face are not illness or disease that can be cured by giving them texts at a particular reading level or having them do worksheets. To really help struggling readers, we have to work with them.
Working with struggling readers means listening to their concerns about reading as well as their ideas about how they want to improve as readers. It also means hearing about what has/has not helped your students in the past and learning what kinds of experiences they would like to have with reading that they have previously been denied. Once these understandings have been reached, you then craft lessons that connect and extend the goals and ideas students have for themselves.
Keep in mind that the Reading Partnership Approach (RPA) is not a free-for-all where your students get to do whatever they want when they want. It is a partnership where the two of you work together to help students become strong academic readers. Helping students become strong academic readers means drawing on the knowledge and experiences that you both have and putting it all together for the students. Helping students become better readers isn’t solely your responsibility. It is a shared responsibility that you work on collaboratively.
What’s Behind the Reading Partnership
The RPA has been research-tested at the middle school level and is grounded in several theories.
Understanding these theories, and the results of the research, is important if you wish to try out RPA in your classroom. First, the information presented in this section will help you understand why things are done as they are in RPA. It will also help you understand how to view your own instruction and align it with an RPA approach should you wish to do so.
The research findings I will share with you will provide evidence for what works and will also help you understand some of the difficulties you or your students might encounter when taking an RPA approach to instruction. Finally, both the theories and the research will help you talk to your colleagues and your administrators about your work and let them know that the instruction you are using is methodologically sound.
First, what do I mean by the terms theory and research-tested? Well, when I am talking about theory I am sharing with you explanations for why the world works the way that it does. The theories that I will share with you about RPA are based on much research conducted over several decades by many people. Theories provide us with understandings about phenomena. In this case, our phenomena are struggling readers.
By now you’ve probably heard the time research-based a thousand times. But did you know that research-based and research-tested are not the same thing (Duke & Martin, 2011)? When someone claims a particular instructional approach has been research-tested, it means that one or more research studies has examined that approach in classrooms and can comment on how well it helps students learn. Research-tested means that there is data to support the specific approach or curriculum being used.
Research-based means that the particular approach or curriculum has not been tested, and there is no specific data to support it. It likely draws on other practices that have been research-tested.
For example, recently there has been a push at the middle schools where I live to have students participate in guided reading groups. Guided reading is a practice that has been research-tested at the elementary level. People who support the use of guided reading for adolescents could say that it is research-based, which it is. It is based on findings from elementary grades. However, there is no direct evidence to support using elementary school reading practices with adolescents.
Keep in mind that it is not possible for everything to be research-tested nor is it necessary. I share these terms with you so that you can have a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses associated with RPA. As we move forward into the theories and research that support RPA, keep in mind that it has been research-tested only at the middle school level. If you used RPA at an elementary or high school level, RPA would be a research-based practice. Based on my personal experience in classrooms, I think RPA has the potential to be successful for grades 5-12.
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