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The Problem with Dialectical Journals

Well, at least we know how our students feel about dialectical journals… But, how should teachers feel about dialectical journals?

Teachers grapple with how to assign independent reading activities to help students interact with assigned novels or independent reading. Dialectical journals have been teacher favorites since literature-based reading pedagogy was popularized in the 1980s. KWL charts and variations upon the same theme have served as into-through-beyond activities within English-language arts, history/social science, and science courses.

At surface level, these forms of reading response seem to assist students in reaching our goals of promoting independent reading comprehension. The thought/hope has been that if we can just get students to access their own prior knowledge of content and story schema, then help students connect these to what the author has to offer, then establish a relevant and personal connection/application to the readers’ lives… students will problem-solve their way to full comprehension and reading enjoyment. The pendulum has clearly swung from the author to the reader side of the equation.

The Problem with Dialectical Journals

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After years of “teaching” this reader-centered, literature-based approach, educators are starting to see the results. Almost 60% of community college students and 30% of university students require at least one year of developmental coursework. And, yes, remedial reading is the chief subject of this remediation. http://www.communitycollegecentral.org/Downloads/Developmental_Education_TOOLKIT.pdf

Good readers may be able to put up some of this reader-centered nonsense and still engage with the text; however, students with reading difficulties desperately need comprehension strategies that will help them understand what the author has to say. The focus on personal relevance impedes comprehension. Tier I and II Response to Intervention readers confuse “What it means to me” strategies with “What the author means” strategies. The latter is much more important for developing readers (and for that matter, all readers). Some personal application within teacher-guided class discussion makes sense, but should be secondary to teaching the text itself.

In lieu of dialectical journals, teachers should help students learn and apply the five types of independent reading strategies that promote internal monitoring of the text: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. These SCRIP strategies promote the reader-author conversation and, thus, internal monitoring of text to help students achieve your goal: “to get them to read and understand what they are reading on their own.” Here are some SCRIP Reading Comprehension Strategies resources and bookmarks. Having a consistent language of instruction that works for narrative and expository texts is useful.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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