It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since Debbie Miller first wrote Reading with Meaning. If you're like me, it quickly became your "go to" resource for thinking strategy instruction and developing understanding with your students. If you're like me, your copy became dog-earred, sticky-noted, and well-loved. If you're like me, you often sat with your tattered copy of Debbie's book on your lap as you taught, on your desk as you planned, or in your hands as you talked with fellow teachers.
And now, our profession is once again blessed because Debbie has written the second edition of Reading With Meaning. In the second edition, she shares some of her recent thinking about comprehension instruction. She shares new insights into the gradual release of responsibility and how to plan to develop student independence. For Debbie, it's always been about intentionality and understanding. Once again, we're taken into Debbie's teaching life... into the classroom experiences that made us all better teachers in the first place.
I've known Debbie for many years. She's my colleague, and more importantly, my friend. I couldn't wait to read the second edition and I was excited to spend a bit of time asking her about her latest endeavor... and to share it with others:
Patrick: What prompted you to revisit and revise Reading with Meaning?—
Patrick: Writing a book is no easy task, "revisioning" a book is daunting. What are you most proud of as a writer?
"Funny you should say that," I told her, "that's what I'm always saying to kids!" And really—that one piece of advice made all the difference. Once I learned that being me was enough, I got myself going and kept at it. And sometimes I still can't believe it did...
Patrick: Thousands of teachers read the first edition of Reading With Meaning and their teaching lives were forever changed. What are some of the ways you hope this second edition will challenge a teacher's thinking?
——to get smarter about big, important topics that are relevant to them and help them become powerful and thoughtful human beings.
I've also been rethinking gradual release and its connection to agency—
Patrick: When you visit classrooms to work with young readers, what brings you the greatest joy?
Debbie: Walking into a classroom and getting to work with kids brings me so much joy (even when twenty or so teachers are watching)! I love it when children understand that smart isn’t something they have, but something they get—that they have the power to make themselves smarter by putting forth effort and working hard. It just doesn’t get better than that.
Patrick: There's a lot of angst today because of the changes made by the Common Core State Standards, yet in this edition you talk openly and honestly about the positive changes they are bringing to classrooms. What would you like teachers to recognize as positives about the CCSS?
If teachers haven't read The Key Considerations section of the common core—do it! They'll feel better. I promise.
Patrick: In Conferring: The Keystone of Writer's Workshop, I write about two questions that our friend, Randi Allison, once asked me... What are your guiding principles? What are you willing to fight for? As you were working on your second edition, what were you most looking forward to reiterating? What message carries over most strongly from the first edition?
D: I love children. I believe in teachers. And these are my most important words to all of my dear colleagues...
There are many effective ways to teach children and live our lives. No one has the patent on the truth. Find yours. Read. Reflect. Think about what you already know about good teaching and how it fits with new learning. Read some more. Think about the implications for your classroom. Collaborate with colleagues. Try new things and spend time defining your beliefs and aligning your practices. Once you’ve found what’s true for you, stand up for what you know is right. Live it every day and be confident and clear about why you believe as you do. People will listen!
Patrick: The new edition includes a focus on learning targets and assessments for learning. How to you nudge the teachers with whom you work to look closely at the ways they are "assessing" thinking?
Debbie: Assessing thinking is hard. But if we don’t, how will we know where children are and what they need? How will they know? Having clear learning targets, or goals, and matching assessments, are the best way I know for children and teachers to understand where they are going, where they are now, and what they need to do to close the gap. Assessments for learning help ensure that no child falls through the cracks—we have tangible evidence (in addition to conferring, listening in, and observation) of where each child is and what they need to move forward. It’s enormously helpful.
Patrick: What else would you like someone reading this to know about you?
We’ll never get smarter if we don’t try new things or imagine new possibilities for the children we work with. I want to be smarter at the end of the day than I was at the beginning. And I’m thinking the kids I work with will be smarter, too...
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By the way, I used BOTH editions last week to talk to my 4th graders about Determining What's Important... and how our thinking changes over time. We looked at both copies of Debbie's book (mainly the back covers) and had an amazing conversation about how Debbie's thinking has changed. Though inferring, my students were so clear about how important it is to revise your thinking and how "what's most important" can change, depending on your purpose. Amazing!