Thursday, February 2, 2017

My progress as a struggling reader, and how you can help others.

I have never been a great reader, I could never get into most books and I would rarely retain the information.  I know many others that have the same problem as me, and we all have begun to associate reading with hatred.  That reason alone is why I read the book by Kylene Beers, When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do.  Within the first ten pages I was hooked, and reading faster than ever.  I loved the style of the book, and I got what she was saying in it.  Throughout reading the book I realized my skills as a reader were becoming much better, in speed and my strategies.  After reading this I have felt much more confidant helping others in their reading and have learned how to understand those who don't get it.  Having helped others I have gotten a good amount of hands on experience with what I read about and how I should apply it.  After reading that book, I picked up Critical Encounters In High School English: Teaching Literary Theory To Adolescents, It seemed like a right fit for me as I have a problem really putting myself in the eyes of a character.  This book has helped tremendously as it gives various examples of how I can implement these lenses and tells why I would even want to use them.  This book seems much more directed to both students and teachers, unlike Dr. Beers’ book, which allows me to use these lenses directly after reading.  Even though it was directed towards myself, I didn’t get as caught on to the book as Dr. Beers’, I think it is because it doesn’t have any real conversations.  The overall hope of getting this book is to accelerate my reading skills and ability to apply them, and I think I’m getting that out of this book.

I recently read the book Speak; it was the hardest thing I have done all year.  I could barely make it five pages without losing track of what I just read or completely forgetting everything.   I couldn’t get in the characters thoughts and I couldn’t think how she did, making my experience very confusing and hard. This was not the first time this has happened, as I run into this problem with most books.  I was one hour through and I realized I had only read fifteen pages and couldn’t understand the book at all.  I went to school the next day and asked if others faced the same problem, it was half and half.  I was so confused with why I couldn’t read it.  Around this time I came across the book When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do.  I picked it up and hoped I could read it, and actually get something out of it.  That book ended up helping me tremendously.

This book specifically made me a better reader in speed and ability to understand the information.  I could only read about twenty pages an hour of an easy book before, and now I am reading over fifty.  That is a big jump for me, especially because I am retaining the information, unlike before.  Some of the strategies listed in this book connected with my styles of reading, and there were pages on how to apply it.  I wasn't thinking I would actually become a better reader from reading this but I naturally would remember some of the strategies she listed, and would apply them in the way she showed.  After reading Dr. Beers’ book, I came across Appleman’s Critical Encounters In High School English: Teaching Literary Theory To Adolescents, I felt I would be a good fit to read this book as I fail to apply lenses to my reading.  The book, to my surprise, is a very easy read and I can learn about a brand new lens in less than half an hour.  This book has already begun to help me tremendously and I’m only half of the way through.  I feel like I relate to so many more things as I can almost see in people’s minds.  This book could help other struggling readers a lot, because the topics are explained very well and in a way that is very understandable.  The readers this book will help most are those who fail to put themselves in someone else’s mindset, I had this problem but this book is helping a lot with all the different kinds of lenses I’m being exposed to.

In the beginning of the book, I had little inspiration to read, making my experience much slower and annoying.  I also didn’t know how to think like a teacher during this book; I was still thinking like a student.  Even though I didn’t want to read the book at first, I ended up not wanting to put down the book; I just wanted to read more.  I was so interested in the stories she was telling and how those impacted her teaching today.  I wasn’t learning too much on how to read, but I was learning how to ask for help.  This was very important because I could never pinpoint what it is that I struggle at. Dr. Beers words it the best, “Anyone can struggle given the right text.  The struggle isn’t the issue; the issue is what the reader does when the text gets tough.” (When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, 2003)  After hearing this I felt so empowered to get to those strategies on how to “struggle”. Dr. Beers also states what text confidence is and what it allows students to do “develop the stamina to continue reading difficult text”. (When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, 2003) This is just what I needed: text confidence.  I had to think like I was the teacher in order to use Dr. Beers’ strategies on how to build that confidence in a student.  I am finally starting to realize the importance of using lenses in my reading, and really open a whole new world of the literary theories.  I am just starting to realize this, because I was never taught it, as many literary teachers find it hard to see the importance of literary theory and how it can affect their daily actions.  (Critical Encounters In High School English: Teaching Literary Theory To Adolescents, 2000)

In the middle of the book, I was learning a ton of strategies to read like an experienced reader.  This included applying lenses to see like an experienced reader and Dr. Beers had step by steps of what they were doing to dissect the text.  This was the most influential section of the book as I was learning everything I needed help on.  I would read fifty pages at a time and would do it in a shorter amount of time, each time I read.  The graphs and tables helped so much, they gave me a visual to what I was reading and had much simpler language, making it easy to apply.  One of my favorites was the self-assessment; this was just a reminder and a wake up call to do new things in my reading. Dr. Beers mentions visualizing, monitoring comprehension, comparing, connecting, commenting, and many more, all in an easy to comprehend way.  Making this assessment easy to fill out for a reader that needs it.  This can be given to all kinds of students, as it is a very applicable assessment that allows the student to make sure they are using all of the skills that they can, in their reading.  Around this time I was also getting a full grasp of the entire idea of thinking like the teacher, I was beginning to see how I could take what I was learning “as a teacher” and apply it to my reading as a student.  I was finding out how I could use different lenses, and why I would use them there, most common in Dr. Beers’ book was a teacher, but I had also used lenses for experienced readers, or even readers that I was surpassing.  As Appleman says, “These multiple ways of seeing have become vital skills in our increasingly diverse classrooms as we explore the differences between us, what separates us and what binds us together.” (Critical Encounters In High School English: Teaching Literary Theory To Adolescents, 2000)  I agree with this statement in every way, but many teachers seem to disagree, as I haven’t been taught any of this until Appleman’s book.  Appleman is so right, because you need the ability to see in someone else’s footsteps in order to have a full understanding of them, too many people don’t know about these literary theories and how much they could help them.

Towards the end of the book, I was reading as fast as ever.  A lot of the information was a recap of the detailed situations and strategies in the beginning.  I finally caught on to the teacher’s lens and was mastering it, I didn’t even have to think about it and I could switch back and forth between “teacher mode” and “student mode” anytime.  It became a natural feeling and I would just realize that I was thinking that way after ten or so pages.  This allowed me to connect the different skills and use them in my own way.  The last part also answered a lot of the questions that I asked myself throughout the book, making it feel very connected.  During this part is when I found out what kind of reader I was; I am a mix between a dormant reader and an unmotivated reader.  I like reading, but I usually have other things to do, and when I do have time I never have the urge to read.  This was probably my least favorite part of the book also, as I felt I had learned most of the material already, and I didn’t think I would apply half of the material, as a student.  I was wrong, I am able to use and reference almost all of the information in this book, even when I am learning, not teaching.  The most helpful skill in the final part of the book was “selling the book to students” (When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, 2003) Dr. Beers shows nine different suggestions on how to do just that, the most influential one was “Suggestion #6: Know Your Students’ Interests” (When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, 2003) as I was able to use this to find books that interest me pretty easily along with books for others.  I had to think of a scenario when I was a teacher, talking to the student version of me, what I would say in order to use these suggestions Dr. Beers gives.  This book was obviously meant for teachers, but as a student I got a great amount of knowledge from it.  Appleman says, “Our profession is challenging its assumptions about our literary heritage, our students, and even who is included in the pronoun our.” This related to Dr. Beers’ book a lot for me, as her expected students were teachers, but many others are school students, including me.  I now realize how important it is to really change point of view both in literary text and real life, as it is very rare for someone to think the exact same way as you.

I think the most important information I pulled out of this book, is in the real situations throughout the book, and how Dr. Beers demonstrated those strategies.  These also captivated me most because I felt like I was sitting in the classroom with her.  Dr. Beers, being a teacher, wrote to teachers and this forced me to learn to get the same mindset of hers and I noticed just how important that really is.  What I have learned from this book most is that the teachers need to talk to the struggling student and the student needs to talk to the teacher.  I had to ask for help on how to read this book even at points, just because of the pure density in facts, as I have never read a book like it.  As Dr. Beers shows, the students aren’t always the only one struggling; the teachers don’t always know what they are doing.   That is another importance of when the teachers should apply a student’s lens, especially if the students won’t collaborate, to see what the student really needs help on.  It isn't a one-man job; both have to be willing to put their time into learning and teaching.

Appleman, Deborah. Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents. New York, Teachers College Press, 2009.

Beers, G. Kylene. When kids can't read, what teachers can do: a guide for teachers, 6-12. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2003.


  1. Dawson, first thank you for the honesty and vulnerability you put into your writing. I found myself thinking through multiple lenses as I read your post. From the beginning, I saw myself as a young teenager thinking the same thing about myself as a reader. I kept toggling back to the stories I told myself as young Justin as a student to the stories I tell my students as an older Justin as an educator. Your ability to read these professional books by the likes of Kylene Beers, etc, make sense of them from your own perspective and provide a voice to so many other students (and adults) is quite impressive, my friend. You personify advocacy and your voice is powerful. Thank you for sharing it!

  2. Dawson, I was never a fabulous reader, although I loved stories when they were read to me. Even now, I am a slow reader and it takes me a while to get through a book. But it's so worth it! I love Dr. Beers and Dr. Probat professionally and personally and I'm glad you are researching this COMMON topic further. Thanks for posting!

  3. What an incredible blessing to educators everywhere you are Dawson to share your personal struggle with the world. You are inspiring all of us including those of us who have struggled as learners and yet managed to find our way out of the struggle and into the many amazing learning possibilities that is ours to embrace if we choose to.... but what I find especially inspiring is your willingness to use the struggle to help us to improve our teaching. So grateful to you!