reading communities, reading identities


This weekend I returned to a handful of articles by Gay Ivey, looking for inspiration for building the reading community in my classroom. (Click on her image at right for her google scholar citations. Also Peter H. Johnston, her collaborator on several of the articles.)

I am going to excerpt two of them here--I will try not to paste the articles in their entirety, though I will want to. In reviewing these I felt regret that I never was able to visit a classroom at a high school in Madison that was built on these strategies during my time there, but I also felt edified about the practices that I hesitate to bring into my own classroom because I feel they are counterproductive.

(Things like reading logs or teaching reading as a very mechanical, one-way-only process.)

This is not to say one should only read articles that back up one's own instincts, but that it can be isolating as a teacher to be out of the research realm of the university, working mostly alone in the classroom, which 101 demands thrown at you each week and so many of them *not* about reflective practice or studying the latest research. It was exciting to read this work and recenter myself in my vision of how we can make school more useful, meaningful, and authentic....

Articles can likely be found arguing for different practices, arguing for the very practices I shy away from. This year is crushing me a bit, it's a lot, our classes are too big, things feel disorganized, and it is my year four in a profession where people statistically tend not to stay past year five. I am making a point to recenter myself in the parts of the work that inspired me to go down this path in the first place, in the parts of the work that engage my creativity, sense of humanity and joy of working with students. I am not sure the large school environment ultimately fosters these things, but for now I will maintain my intellectual and spiritual curiosity and keep going.

One idea that kept coming out in the articles was how creating a community of engaged readers helps students develop their personhood, empathy, sense of morality, in addition to improving their test scores. Improved test scores were cited as justification for these programs (and what a district would want to see) but then it was asked, seeing these other things developing: aren't our most commonly used tests and measures missing out on key aspects of adolescent development? Great stuff. Read it all!

On to the excerpts--Many thanks to Dr. Ivey for her research and for sharing the articles with me that I didn't have access to.

(I think I fixed most of the strange formatting issues from pasting, but may have missed some. Bold text is my addition. )


MORE: Dr. Ivey on the Voice of Literacy podcast.


Ivey, Gay. "The social side of engaged reading for young adolescents." The Reading Teacher 68.3 (2014): 165-171.

" 'Me and my group of friends, we’ll be, like, sitting in McDonald’s, for instance, and we’re just teenagers talk- ing about normal stuff, and all of the sudden we’ll just be talking about what happened at school, something interesting that you read or something like that. '

Eighth grader Johnny seemed to be still trying to grasp this realization as the words came out of his mouth. Could it really be the case that school reading had found its way into his real life, had insinuated itself in conversation with his buddies?

Johnny was not alone. Recently, Peter Johnston and I (Ivey & Johnston, 2013) conducted a study that included Johnny and 70 of his classmates. We were interested in what they had to say about their reading experiences because their teachers had made a deci- sion that would be considered radical in some circles: They shifted to students all decisions about what to read (or not to read) and what to do (if anything) with their reading. They filled their classrooms with books they thought students would find hard to resist, and they fully abandoned the idea of having all students read the same book. They did not require students to create projects on the books they read, answer questions to prove their comprehension, or even write about their books in response journals. They did not present short lessons on cognitive reading strategies and then direct students to practice using the strategies in the books they selected. They did not set goals, or have students set goals, for how many books they might read over the course of the year.

By the end of the year, students were reading like never before, quite literally. Many students told us that they had never read a book in its entirety before eighth grade, or that they could not remember reading a book since second or third grade. They were reading in language arts class every day in the time their teachers had set aside, but reading did not stop there. They read in other classes, between classes, at lunch, on the bus, into the wee hours of the morning, and on weekends. One stu- dent who had grown accustomed to having 20 minutes of reading assigned as homework in previous years described the shift this way: “I [now] set my timer for 20 minutes and when it goes off, I just keep reading for about an hour after that.” Even students like this one, who had been compliant in the past, experienced a new kind of reading.

The new reading experience for these students is what researchers consider engagement in reading (Guthrie, Wigfield, & You, 2012). When readers are engaged, they are not just going through the motions. Rather, they are “motivated to read, strategic in their approaches to comprehending what they read, knowledgeable in their construction of meaning from text, and socially interactive while reading” (Guthrie et al., 2012, p. 602).

It is this last part, the social dimension, that we found in our own work to be more substantial than previous research has led us to believe, particularly for young adolescent readers like Johnny and his classmates. Reading for these students was far from a solo act. They talked in and out of school, to friends, peers outside of their social groups, teachers, and family members. They talked during “silent” reading times, at lunch, in math class, on the bus, and via text message and Facebook. In fact, they talked so much that stu- dents began to consider it normal, everyday conversation.

Research would suggest that all of this engaged reading would be linked to higher reading achievement and competence (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2010), and that was certainly the case among these students. More prominently reported by students, though, was a surprising set of consequences of all this engagement rarely linked to reading in school instructional pro- grams. In addition to describing the ways in which they became more strategic in their reading, students attributed social, emotional, moral, and intellectual development to their reading.

They reported shifts in their academic and social identities, becoming what they had not previously imagined. For instance, a student explained, “I feel like I used to be a very social person, and I’m not a very academic person, but I can actually, like, have conversations about books now, which is kind of weird for me” (Ivey & Johnston, 2013, p. 262). In short, whereas the goals of engaged reading, from an instructional perspective, are typically about getting better at reading, students who were engaged as readers viewed reading as fundamentally about working on relationships, both with others and with themselves.

We were certainly not the first to notice this phenomenon. Rosenblatt (1983) suggested a transactional view of the reading process where the con- struction of meaning from text and the social nature of reading are intimately connected. Judith Lysaker and her colleagues (Lysaker & Miller, 2012; Lysaker, Tonge, Gauson, & Miller, 2011) have studied how reading can be a site for relational development even for very young children. What we were struck by, however, was how the context these students experienced seemed to promote this kind of learn- ing, particularly since the students themselves were responsible for what they read and what they did with their reading....

....But there is a different set of reasons why socially engaged reading matters. Students report that the talk itself changes their relationships with each other. Sasha put it this way: “Like you’re compatible with these people. Like, I never thought I’d be compatible with that person...they just change my mind a little bit, and they see what I think about.”

Because the compulsion to talk about books is often so great, students will talk to peers outside of their own social groups. Lucy observed at the end of eighth grade, “People are less in cliques and groups than we were last year. So, I think that’s a step closer to actually being united.” Students even reported making new friends over books. What is more, they begin to see themselves collectively as “smarter.” There is a hugely significant consequence, though, that likely starts with the dialogical engagement within books as discussed earlier. When a reader can entertain the perspectives of several characters at once, it enables him or her to be able to predict the implications of one character’s actions on the thoughts and feelings of the other. Amazingly enough, this can carry over into actual worlds, with students taking seriously the potential repercussions of their own actions on others."

Ivey, Gay, and Peter H. Johnston. "Engagement with young adult literature: Outcomes and processes." Reading Research Quarterly 48.3 (2013): 255-275.

"...These adolescents showed,to varying degrees, an awareness of these processes and self-transformations, and thus a sense of agency with respect to their own development—their personhood and future narratives. This study raises questions about the adequacy of existing models of engagement for explaining students’ engaged reading experiences and about currently advocated approaches to teaching English language arts that (a) minimize the roles of engagement and fiction, (b) require students to read the same text, (c) focus on engaged reading as an individual cognitive act without regard for the social nature of literate and human development, and (d) expect uniform outcomes across students....

Although there is a substantial body of research on student engagement in general and the contexts that enable engagement (e.g., Christenson, Reschly, & Wylie, 2012), our study responds to calls for students’ perspectives on engagement, which Reschly and Christenson (2012) note are “critical to understanding the person–environment fit and to efforts to enhance student engagement” (p. 13). Yazzie-Mintz and McCormick (2012) similarly argue that students’ perspectives afford us the opportunity to discover the different processes by which students become engaged and the potential outcomes of engagement that are unrealized in standard forms of measurement. In this article, we draw on student voices to construct an expanded understanding of the nature and outcomes of engaged reading and the processes through which those outcomes are realized. We approach this work through an expanded sociocultural theory (e.g., Deakin Crick, 2012; Stetsenko & Arievitch, 2004) for two reasons: (1) because of the breadth of development touched by research on engagement, including the development of identities (e.g., Moje, 2000), agency (Reeve, 2012), moral development, and other dimensions of personhood (Stetsenko & Arievitch, 2004); and (2) because engagement is not solely an individual phenomenon but, rather, is relational (Yazzie-Mintz, 2007) and cultural (Yazzie-Mintz & McCormick, 2012)...

...In other words, a transactional view of the reading process offers new meaning to engaged readers’ “construction of meaning from text, and [being] socially interactive while reading” (Guthrie, Wigfield, & You, 2012, p. 602). Lysaker and Miller (2012) argue that such dialogic encounters “might be necessary for deep engagement” (p. 21). From this viewpoint, engaged reading offers the possibility of expanding the capacity for social imagination in the reader’s own life, potentially changing readers’ social behavior (Kaufman & Libby, 2012; Lysaker et al., 2011) and life narratives— their possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986). In this sense, as Deakin Crick (2012) argues, the engagements necessarily would have ethical/moral implications. Indeed, from this perspective, engaged reading is fundamentally about highly consequential dimensions of readers’ socioemotional lives...

...Conversations inspired by reading were connected to student reports of changes in relationships in and outside of school. Students shared instances of interacting with peers whom they would not have otherwise (e.g., “This morning, this girl, she’s got the book called Scars [by C.A. Rainfield] that I love, and we just sat there talking like forever. We had so much to say about it.”) and of using shared knowledge about books to ease social tension (e.g., “It’s like an icebreaker.”). Others reported new friendships (e.g., “We both read that, and we talked about how much we liked it, and now we’re really good friends.”) and the deepening of existing relationships (e.g., “One of my friends who did recommend, like, one book, we really weren’t that close before, but it turns out we both had an experience in that book, and we bonded over that.”). Students reported increased interpersonal trust. As Harris explained, “I don’t know how to put it, but it’s just that talk, you get to talk between each other, and that makes you feel you can trust that person more.”...

...Yazzie-Mintz and McCormick (2012) note that the current linear assembly line model of schools, in which “materials and parts are assembled to produce identical products over and over again—puts the focus on only those factors that are directly associated with a countable output measure of achievement (standardized test scores, graduation rates, etc.)” (p. 758). They ask,

What about the processes, interactions, and relationships...? What about the consideration of other measures of achievement, success, and output? What about the differential ways in which students experience schooling?... engagement is a complex process that does not happen the same way every time and with every person. Contrary to much popular criticism of schooling today, this is a good thing. (p. 758)

Our data provide support for asking these questions in the context of engaged reading and suggest that it might make more sense to view engagement, particularly engaged reading, as an integral part of complex social practices, that are at once processes and outcomes and that promote a healthy development of personhood (Stetsenko, 2008; Stetsenko & Arievitch, 2004).

Our data also raise questions about the assumptions underlying currently advocated approaches to reading instruction in which (a) the role of engagement is minimized, (b) students are all required to read the same text at the same time, (c) the role of narrative is minimized, (d) the focus is centrally on an individual cognitive act without regard for the social nature of development, and (e) uniform outcomes across students are expected. For example, a primary argument for all students reading the same text, particularly classics, includes the need for people to be able to engage in important common cultural conversations (Hirsch, 1988).

In this study, students certainly engaged in common conversations, even though there were only three or fewer copies of each text, and many read the same text, just not at the same time. Consequently, students experienced regular, expanding reviews of a text they had read, as they took up conversations with current readers, often ones whom they had persuaded to read the text. Common conversations are perhaps better viewed as the outcome of motivated social dispersal than of enforced transmission."

Additional articles:

Ivey, Gay, and Peter Johnston. "Emerging adolescence in engaged reading communities." Language Arts 94.3 (2017): 159.

Ivey, Gay, and Peter H. Johnston. "Engaged reading as a collaborative transformative practice." Journal of Literacy Research 47.3 (2015): 297-327.

Ivey, Gay, and Peter Johnston. "Engaging disturbing books." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 62.2 (2018): 143-150.

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