How Should Readers Develop across Time? Mapping Change without a Defi Cit Perspective

By Aukerman, Maren | Language Arts, September 2015 | Go to article overview

How Should Readers Develop across Time? Mapping Change without a Defi Cit Perspective


Aukerman, Maren, Language Arts


When children are sorted according to traditionally measured reading comprehension achievement, performance differences often position those from nondominant groups as lacking, with these perceived deficits in turn attributed to gaps in prior knowledge, inadequate reading strategies, and the like (Willis, 2008). The presumed fix, typically, is to get poor children, particularly though not exclusively children of color, reading more like middle class or rich White children. Yet such a presumption, Willis argues, ultimately rests on deficit ideology (Sleeter, 2004) and on a narrow view of what constitutes reading comprehension. An alternative way of conceptualizing comprehension development is needed for those who care deeply about reading development but seek to avoid a deficit perspective. Such an alternative, I argue, must satisfy three important criteria:

* It must honor all student textual sensemaking as a resource (Aukerman, 2013; Lewis, 1993);

* It must locate consistent domains of growth in which educators can teach and observe for change across time (Miller & Goodnow, 1995); and

* It must replace assumptions about uniformity in reading competence with an emphasis on divergent pathways that signal growth (Dyson, 2002; Rogoff, 1990).

In this column, I first describe how two common orientations toward reading comprehension cannot fully meet the first criterion, while a third orientation toward reading comprehension that offers more promise is not yet sufficiently elaborated. I then offer that elaboration by sketching out six integral domains of reading comprehension development: literate identity, intellectual integrity, textual curiosity, imaginative engagement, sociopragmatic agency, and textual dexterity.

Three Conceptualizations of reading Comprehension Pedagogy

As with differences in language, dialect, or register that may be more immediately visible, children's textual meaning making is profoundly shaped by their cultural and personal histories (Lewis, 1993; Willis, 2008): Every meaning a child constructs for a text is, in some important way, a reflection of who s/he is. And valuing children for who they are and for what they bring into the classroom as learners- what I call a transformative perspective-means respecting and welcoming the full range of knowledge and practices they draw upon, including their meaning-making repertoires. But is it even possible to honor children's textual ideas just as deeply as the dialectical and native language resources they bring into the classroom, particularly when those ideas appear "off the beaten path" or flat-out wrong? That depends, in part, on what orientation to reading comprehension instruction one adopts. In my previous work (Aukerman, 2008, 2013), I have identified three distinctly different orientations toward reading comprehension pedagogy that undergird current teaching practices in the field. I will briefly discuss each of these as they relate to adopting a transformative perspective on children's reading development.

In a comprehension- as- outcome orientation (Aukerman, 2013), the salient determinant of whether children are learning what they should be is whether they are reaching "standard" interpretations that the teacher sees as plausible and that allow the students to generate correct answers on comprehension tests. One way teachers have sought to build upon what children know while teaching toward comprehension-as-outcome has been to target making connections (cf. Keene & Zimmermann, 2007). Another way in which educators have sought to integrate a comprehension-as-outcome view with a transformative perspective has been to emphasize culturally relevant texts (Lee, 2001). The extent to which a text is culturally familiar certainly plays a role in the extent to which individuals form standard interpretations of texts (Prichard, 1990), and choosing such texts may help teachers build upon what students know.

However valuable these approaches may be, a limitation of the emphasis on students' text-related prior experiences is that students need-and often want-to encounter texts that go considerably beyond those for which they have extensive experience. …

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