Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

02.04.16On Control the Game and the Culture of Reading

We’re in Albany today with 150 or so educators from around the country talking reading. We spent a bit of time this morning talking about a video that I love—it’s of Maggie Johnson doing Control the Game reading of a key excerpt from To Kill a Mockingbird with her 8th graders. This is one of my favorite videos. I love the culture of it- how Maggie and her students read the text expressively, lovingly, lingering over the sentences, and even laughing quietly to themselves. And that to me is the key- that it’s not just Maggie who’s reading it lovingly, her students are too and they are doing so publicly. The result is that students observe their classmates read To Kill a Mockingbird expressively and with evident enjoyment. This is one of oral reading’s biggest plusses- it builds a culture that publicly celebrates reading.

But more than just getting to enjoy Maggie’s teaching, we got to watch it with our colleagues at the workshop, and their comments have been amazing too. Here’s Maggie’s clip for your enjoyment, followed by a few comments we especially loved.


Jen Rugani of Leadership Prep Canarsie Elementary Academy observed that Control the Game in Maggie’s class wasn’t like a roving spotlight but was shining on everyone. The pleasure of reading wasn’t localized just on the person who got to read but was shared by everyone. We watched as Maggie and her students smiled and laughed quietly to themselves as they read. She maintained positive eye contact with all of her students, not just those who were reading aloud, inviting them into them into this shared experience. Showing pleasure in and appreciation for great reading is critical to any class. But Jen’s observations point out how we can build a culture of pleasure in and appreciation for what is read.

Jenny Einberger of LEARN Excel also noted the way Maggie playfully challenged students: “I need an irritated Atticus. Who wants it?” She observed that Maggie’s students enjoyed having the opportunity to channel the characters in the novel. Kids, after all, love to be actors. Maggie’s approach challenges them while it gives them that chance.

Janelle Styons from Lebanon Road Lebanon Road Elementary School of Charlotte-Meckenburg Schools observed the power of the Culture of Error Maggie built, noting how safe it was how normal to stumble and keep reading on. If kids are afraid to make a mistake and think reading is errorless, they will avoid the challenge they must embrace to become readers. That too is critical.


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