I read an interesting article today, fed to me via my tweetstream, about what a massive risk Facebook's IPO could represent. Basically, the writer pointed out how seriously over-priced the Facebook stock was/is and how the only way for it to hold its value was for Facebook to maintain some very steep revenue growth rates with almost no major asset base. The general thrust? Another dot.com boom on the cards, but in this case on a scale that could threaten the world economy. It struck me as being a bit on the scaremongrish side of things, but some of the facts (comparing Facebook to Google, for example) made for pretty freaky reading. Personally I can't quite understand the high price of the Facebook stock and it worries me how unflinchingly people seem to be clamouring to get on the wagon.
What I've just told you there about that article is pretty much along the lines of what would happen if I were to meet you today and chat about this. You might present some of your own opinions or questions, or tell me about something else you read on the same subject.
I think it would be fair to say that I covered most of the main ideas or points from the article, even if the summary was through my eyes and what I personally respond to as being interesting or important. I think I've got a bit of a grasp about the overall purpose of the article, some of the supporting details, and I've certainly got my own (however uninformed) opinion about the general issue.
I daresay, if pressed, you would conclude I'd actually read the article and grasped most of it. I also presume it would take you and I about five minutes - give or take a few minutes based on how interested in the issue YOU were - to work through this process. And, this exchange would (or could) commonly happen through a casual conversation.
Okay Raven, what the hell are you getting at here?
Basically, this is how so much real world reading happens. We find and read the stuff that interests us, and if it is particularly interesting we may choose to discuss it with others we know who are (at least to some degree) interested in the same broad topic.
Why then, when it comes to reading and school, do we usually step completely away from this very natural process and put so many of our learners through the torture of demonstrating their reading comprehension by (a) choosing the texts for them, (b) having them 'talk' about them to an audience of 1 (as in, the teacher), and (c) making them write out laborious reports going over every nook and cranny of the text, whether or not it is of relevance or interest to the reader or anyone else within paper plane throwing distance?
No wonder so many learners are probably inclined to burn something after they read it at school - especially if it meant somehow that they could escape the mindnumbingly boring process of writing a big long report about it - that only one other person in the room is likely to read (and then only briefly, with the grading pen hovering above it, dripping threatening trails of red).
One of the reasons we do this is because we are following a time-honoured tradition of making reading at school as laborious and uninspiring as possible. Another reason is because so many of us overlook or ignore other assessment tools available to us.
As a VCAL teacher, there is an assessment tool available to me for reading that I haven't made nearly enough use of. It's called an oral questioning tool. Funnily enough, combined with learner-selected readings (as I demonstrated in the post here), a casual style oral questioning tool comes incredibly close to the ambience and exchange I attempted to describe above for something I read today.
Here is an example oral questioning tool I developed for VCAL Literacy, adapting some excellent templates provided by the QA team at The Gordon TAFE. This particular one addresses the outcome Reading for Knowledge:
Basically, the learners source their own texts, I negotiate and verify for them if they are long and complex enough for their level as well as meeting the defined range of text types for VCAL literacy. They read them. When they're ready, they call me over and I bring my folder full of pre-prepared oral questioning tools meeting all the different text types and VCAL reading outcomes. We have a chat and I complete the checklist. They go over it with me afterwards and we both sign and date it. I do random recordings of these chats using my phone mic, just to back up my evidence if it becomes necessary for auditing purposes.
What this almost ridiculously simple and accessible process has done for my VCAL classes is genuinely hard to put into words.
One, it could take up to 3-4 classes for my learners to prepare a written report for one text they had read, and even then there was no guarantee it would emerge complete or accurate. The oral questioning tool takes somewhere in the realm of 5-10 minutes, following (on average) 10-15 minutes to read the text.
Secondly, the learners enjoy it. They chat/talk better than they engage with formal report-style writing. We sometimes get 'banked up' (with 3-4 students waiting to check a text with me at the same time), end up sitting around a table together and suddenly we may have 3-4 people discussing the text and its content/issues (hey, they do have common interests as it turns out, both as teenagers but also within their trade groupings). Sometimes I don't even need to ask questions - the chat/banter draws enough out to demonstrate competence with the outcome elements and I can simply complete my check list.
Finally, and this is possibly the biggest development, the learners are naturally gravitating to more extensive reading. They shop around more texts looking for ones that really strike them as being 'talkworthy'. Not only does a 5-10 minute chat about the text remove the angst involved, it seems to motivate them to look for texts that are genuinely interesting to talk about. They're not interested in spending 10 minutes talking about a text that is utterly boring or irrelevant to them. Based on this engagement, many of them are happy to go above and beyond the 'minimum number' of texts or demonstrations of competence required for each outcome.
I'm truly an idiot for not paying more attention to this assessment tool option in the past.
It changes everything.
It sort of, well... seems a lot more like reading (and what happens after or through reading) in the real world.