Exploding the Reading: Building a World of Responses from One Small Story, 50 Interactive Strategies for Increasing Comprehension (2014), by David Booth

The third in my set of reviews of pedagogical texts.

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 20.4.

Exploding the Reading

Booth - ExplodingIn Exploding the Reading, David Booth presents his findings from a significant and well-constructed pedagogical study. His ambitious study looks at different ways of teaching one single story in a multitude of different educational settings, as a way of investigating students’ responses to different methodologies for teaching the text, and the implications for such methodologies in creating a strategy for learning across disciplines, rather than merely the acquisition of literacy.

The text Booth chooses is the selkie folk tale. A significant number of different variations are included, ranging from folk tales from a number of cultures through poems and ballads to modern stories and picture books. In all, Booth lists at least 15 different parallel texts; sadly, there is no definitive list of the versions explored in the study. These texts were taught in classrooms from kindergarten through Grade 12, in “Ontario, New Brunswick, and the Northwest Territories” (7). Booth considers not only how the books are presented by teachers, but more importantly how students of all ages in these various geographical spaces respond to the texts.

The notion of “meaning-making” was explored through ten possible types of activity:

  • Text talk
  • Telling and retelling stories
  • Reading and viewing connected texts
  • Giving voice to words in print
  • Writing as response
  • Responding through the Arts
  • Responding through role-play
  • Research and inquiry
  • Technology and texts
  • Texts as sources of language knowledge

Each method is presented in detail in a separate chapter, with descriptions of teachers’ approaches and students’ responses. Interwoven with the practical application of Booth’s methodology are discussions about the pedagogical underpinnings and implications of the study. One flaw in this carefully constructed study is Booth’s reliance on technology—specifically the iPad application Explain Everything—as an instructional tool. The observation by a participating student-teacher, Elaine Vodarek, that “having an iPad in the classroom has transformed the way students are able to respond to texts” (13) immediately brings into question the applicability of what we might learn from the study, as the idea of “iPads in the classroom” is, for many—if not most—Canadian teachers, an impossible dream.

The study is significant in that it reveals a number of different effective methodologies laid out carefully beside students’ responses. Nonetheless, I found the information difficult to parse, as each chapter is structured differently. I can see why this is perhaps natural, given the different approaches taken in each case study, but it behooves the author, I believe, to enforce a more consistent arrangement to the chapters, so that it is possible to draw comparisons between examples more easily. In the end, I am left with a great respect for the scope of the study, and the pedagogy behind it, but not with a strong overall sense of what the study ultimately reveals.

Exploding the Reading is nevertheless an important addition to Canadian pedagogy, as much—or perhaps more—for its systematic presentation of a multitude of instructional techniques appropriate for all ages as for its findings. Booth is astute in his awareness that “when we help students enhance their reading by activating their own connections, we offer them a reading strategy for life” (25). What Booth advocates in Exploding the Reading is valid and valuable; I only wish it were easier to distill the wisdom from the words.

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