Review by Adrienne Chasteen Snow
Author: Sandra Wilde
Audience: K-12 Classroom Teachers and Reading/Literacy Specialists, Coaches, and Consultants
Protected time for reading and literacy instruction is a norm in most public elementary schools, Language Arts has traditionally gotten much of the focus in professional development for educators. With the Common Core making more than half of the standards (Foundational, regular, and secondary subject-specific Literacy) English Language Arts, Reading continues to be at the forefront of research and focus for best practices. In her book, Quantity and Quality: Increasing the Volume and Complexity of Students’ Reading, Sandra Wilde takes a good, hard look at Reading as a practice and as a subject area. She argues that the reading that our students needs to not just be bookended by tried-and-true pedagogy and implications from the latest research, but needs to be authentic and of a true rationale, heavy in both quantity and quality.
She begins with 6 core principles that she says enable her main premise that reading must be the main activity in our Reading/English/Language Arts classes. The principles from the first page of the first chapter are:
- Everyone reads a lot, including setting personal goals, as described below.
- Everyone reads widely – fiction and information, different genres, topics, and styles. you can also read narrowly or deeply if you want; all of the Twilight books in a row, everything you can find on spiders.
- Everyone grows as a reader. The goal each year is to read more challenging books over the course of the year than those you read at the beginning. The reader chooses the books, but the teacher mentors.
- There’s time for reading during the school day. The amount will vary depending on circumstances, but reading needs to be a part of school, not just a hobby.
- Teachers help kids be smarter readers. This includes literal and informational understanding, and also literary appreciation. There needs to be plenty of teaching, in individual conferences and in lessons and conversations for small groups and the whole class.
- Everyone keeps a record of books read. Readers need to monitor and document the extent of their reading.
While none of these ideas are particularly revolutionary, Wilde argues that the precepts are non-negotiable if our children are to become the type of readers that our world demands they be if they are to succeed. Wilde expressed gratitude to other writers and let the reader know that many of the ideas in the book come from the notable research and positions on education held by so many in academia. Stephen D. Krashen’s book, Power of Reading (2004) provides support for Wilde’s basic tenants that we read more and more as we grow and that those readings need to increase incomplexity over time because if we do, then we will have a group of better writers, speakers, learners, thinkers, and humanitarians. On paper, we will also have adept test-takers who are able to demonstrate comprehension through their own metacognition. The future is rosy for our students if we can help them find their way to literacy and informational text!
Wilde speaks to teachers in a smart and friendly tone, showing respect for their profession and always remembering that the children are the reason why they are teachers. She makes a point to use her knowledge of curriculum and instruction in the latter half of her text when she focuses on “What to Teach”. Wilde makes it known that a room full of students who are reading is not enough; the teacher must also consider what information to bring to her students in a most serious manner. Wilde’s perspective is very child-centered and does not advocate following a script blindly or teaching lessons on subjects students have already mastered. Instead she believes in using information gained through the process of conferring and bringing students to knowledge through discovery and a Constructivist approach.
One of her chapters is titled “Special Cases: Beginning Readers, English Language Learners, Struggling Readers, Reluctant Readers”. In this chapter Wilde addresses many of the exceptions to the rule. She is sensitive to the differing journeys of students and shares strategies for scaffolding.
She also shares three research studies that demonstrate the powerful connection between the role of culture and literacy. Understanding these correlations, teachers can be sensitive as they challenge all students in their charge to grow.
The book has many statistics, facts, and figures that support Wilde’s message. However, when looking for a common-sense justification for her rationale, her straightforward words do it best, “Reading, a lot of it, has got to be the center of our reading curriculum, just like cooking is at the center of cooking school. Everything else that goes on must be in support of readers spending time constructing meaning from the books they read. Reading itself develops not only reading ability but the knowledge that comes from reading and the habits that support a lifetime of reading” (p. 13).