Unbraiding the Literacy Skills by Christopher Bronke

Posted on Posted in Teacher Stories

Far be it for me, a bald, middle-aged man, to know anything about women’s hair; however, in learning from some colleagues, I am going to ask you to bear with me as this metaphor unfolds. Imagine this: it’s the Friday before Winter Break, you were out late at last night’s office Holiday Party, you get out of the shower and decide “I don’t have the time nor the energy to do my hair today; I will just toss it into a quick braid.” Now I get it, this is where you are saying, “what do you know about women’s hair” (or any hair), and while the answer is “very little”, the point remains true. When pressed for time, running late, distracted by other more important things, going to work in a braid is just easier than dealing with doing one’s hair.


And I would argue that until recently, it was easier to just put our English skills into a braid as opposed to taking the time to really do our skills right.  Let me explain.  At the core, English has three discreet and very different skill sets: reading, writing, speaking, and while they all overlap and depend on the others for maximum success, these skills are inherently and vastly different in the instruction and feedback needed in order for students to achieve mastery. This has been something with which I have wrestled with for years now, trying to figure out how to unbraid these skills so that student demonstration of mastery and my feedback along that journey is done right, isolated in ways that target the specific skill sets in unique ways.  


Despite my best efforts, though, I struggled to do this and continued to find it easier, be it because of time or difficulty, to just throw my skills back up into a braid and move on.  


Recap has changed that for me.  While it relies on speaking skills, thereby not completely undoing the braid, it has allowed me to untwist two essential components of the braid: reading from writing.  I have always had two fears with reading quizzes: 1. Multiple choice does nothing to give me feedback on how to help students and 2. Having students write about what they read relies on students being able to articulate their thinking about a text via writing thereby inherently “punishing” great readers who might be developing writers.


Recap allows me to assign reading quizzes on which students can, on their own time and with as many takes as needed before they submit, simply talk to me about the chapter, replying to my question(s) without writing getting in the way.  I know that teachers have, for years, been using books talks, and while they are great, I believe there are two drawbacks: 1. They take a lot of time and 2. Students are inherently more nervous talking to a teacher face-to-face.  Recap solves both of those problems.  


Please understand, I am not advocating we stop having students write about literature or that we abandon book talks; both of these are essential components to any great ELA classroom.  I am saying, though, that with a tool like Recap, we have the ability to unbraid our skills and help students improve by providing targeted feedback on isolated elements of the discipline.


Check out Christopher’s Recap Pioneer Page