Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Wisdom of Literacy Advocate Cris Tovani

RE-PRINT - Mazenglish, 2012

Nearly ten years ago, Cris Tovani changed my life as an English teacher.  She didn't know this at the time - and probably still doesn't - because while I teach in her district, I've never met her.  But I have read her work on improving literacy for all students, and it made me re-evaluate the way I taught.  Taking a staff development class on "Managing the Reading Classroom," I was looking for ways to promote more reading by my students.  I'd always given book talks, and talked about the act of  reading, but I was probably somewhat guilty of the worst sin for English teachers - assigning reading, rather than teaching it.  After taking the class and discovering Cris Tovani's first book I Read It, but I Don't Get It from Stenhouse Publishers, I was re-born.  Since then, I've kept an eye out for Tovani's work, and I was always pleased.

Now, Tovani is back with new insights, and she is taking on the challenging topic of assessment.  It's one of the most  important tasks of teachers, it's doubly challenging in the English classroom because of the ambiguity of assessing subjective skills such as  writing, and it is perhaps the most ignored and underdeveloped aspect of teacher education programs.  Colleges simply don't do a good job of teaching new teachers how to assess student work.  In fact, I've never met a young teacher  who felt  ready for the challenge.  And, of course, there are always staff development classes for this, and many veteran teachers are willing to share and mentor.  Many districts even practice peer grading and common assessment.  But, that doesn't reach the masses, and many teachers are still feeling alone, in their classrooms, after school, with a stack of student work, and a sense of anxiety.

Tovani's latest work from Stenhouse So What Do They Really Know: Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning - seeks to explain the options - and all the nuances - of assessment.  And Tovani's voice is always accessible and comforting.  In fact, it's quite inspiring because through the use of  narrative, she shares experiences from the classrooms.  And Tovani has always been comfortable talking about her successes and her struggles, her accomplishments in the classroom, and her approaches that taught her something valuable even when they didn't gel with the kids.  The nice thing about this book - and many offerings from Stenhouse - is that  you can preview the work on their site.  That is why I feel comfortable promoting this book even though I haven't bought it - yet.  In looking through the text, I am again pleased by Tovani's extensive use of  examples. She offers visual images of the very assignments she uses successfully in class. And she narrates her thought process from inception to practice. For this reason, Tovani's books are real assets, especially for beginning teachers.

Cris Tovani is an excellent teacher - both of students and of teachers.  I highly recommend taking a look at her work.

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