CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 27. . . .March 24, 2017
Reading Power: Teaching Students to Think While They Read. Rev. & Expanded Ed.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2015.
192 pp., trade pbk. & pdf, $24.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55138-310-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55138-913-4 (pdf).
Review by Kristen Ferguson.
Thinking is an essential part of reading; however, it is an abstract concept and, therefore, difficult to teach. Because we can’t “see” thinking, it is difficult for us to describe and explain it. (p. 27).
In 2006, Adrienne Gear wrote Reading Power to help teachers make the thinking process of reading explicit. The reading powers are based on the reading comprehension research of David Pearson. Gear focused on five reading comprehension strategies which she calls “reading powers”: connect, question, visualize, infer, and synthesize (transform). The book, Reading Power, was very successful, and the approach has been adopted into schools across North America, the UK, and Australia. In this new second edition, Gear has expanded on the original Reading Power by adding more resources and widening the scope of the book to include secondary students.
Some of the things I deemed important then are not so important now, while others now seem essential. The basic fundamentals remain; however, a great deal of new thinking and understanding about purpose and pedagogy has emerged. As I like to tell teachers in my workshops, best practice evolves from reflecting and refining. And that is just what I hope this new edition of Reading Power is going to accomplish –reflecting and refining my thinking about comprehension instruction and what we, as teachers, can continue to do to help our students develop as thinkers of text, as well as decoders of text.
In this second edition, Gear has revised the order of the reading powers, created new templates and rubrics for each writing power, and added more about using the reading powers in literature circles and at home. The recommended book lists for each reading power have also been expanded to include books for middle and secondary school students.
There is a chapter dedicated to each reading power, and each chapter is structured in the same way:
- a song about the reading power
- sequential lessons about the reading power
- an anchor chart
- a list of recommended books to teach the reading power
- blackline masters for classroom use.
Additional chapters in the book include chapters dedicated to: what is reading power?, the components of reading power, and application and assessment.
This new edition of Reading Power is excellent. It is very clearly written and contains a plethora of resources for teachers. I appreciate the emphasis on the gradual release of responsibility model used when teaching each reading power. I also think that using literature circles as a way to reinforce the reading powers is a practical and valuable idea. The recommended books lists were very thorough and include Canadian authors, including books by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit authors.
There are a number of similar books about teaching comprehension strategies that are also immensely popular such as Debbie Miller’s (2002) Reading with Meaning and Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis’ (2007) Strategies That Work. In Reading Power, Gear notes that some in the literacy education community have voiced concern about the popular method of teaching comprehension strategies one at a time and in isolation, with little emphasis on critical thinking (p. 129). I have to admit the idea that my own children will be taught making connections every year from kindergarten to Grade 12 is disconcerting. Gear acknowledges this issue by including a section in Chapter One entitled, “Myths about Reading Power”, and later in the book Gear also addresses the critiques about teaching comprehension strategies. Gear ( p. 129) states:
If we teach comprehension strategies in isolation, our students might indeed learn to mirror what good readers do; however, if we isolate strategies solely for the purpose of comprehension, we are missing an important piece of critical thought. We need to be mindful of this, to continue to bring back to the big picture –the integrated whole, the structure and framework of critical thought.
There is no doubt that Reading Power is a thorough and detailed resource to explicitly teach reading comprehension strategies. It is a book that I would recommend to pre-service and practicing teachers. But as literacy educator, I am also left to wonder if these comprehension strategy books have had their day. Are new comprehension strategy books just more of the same? If there is one, for a third edition (or perhaps even a new book!), I would love to see Gear relate the reading powers to other literacy skills, such critical thinking skills or Freebody and Luke’s (1990) four resources model (code breaker, text participants, text user, and text analyst). For instance, how can teachers teach making connections and inferring to get students to think critically about issues of power and voice? While Gear addresses the criticism and states that comprehension strategies should be brought back to the “big picture” of reading, there are few details about how teachers can truly do this. I think this would be a valuable and needed new book. And Adrienne Gear could be the one to do it justice.
Dr. Kristen Ferguson teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay, ON.
Freebody, P., & Luke, A. (1990). ‘Literacies’ Programs: Debates and Demands. Prospect: Australian Journal of TESOL, 5(7), 7-16.
Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Miller, D. (2002). Reading with Meaning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
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