BULLETIN: Our guest today heard a few days ago of a very high honor being bestowed on him. Tim Rasinski now joins a virtual Who’s Who list of pioneers and scholars who are members of International Reading Association’s Reading Hall of Fame! Congratulations, Tim! What a wonderful and well earned recognition of your work and passions. To learn more about Tim’s honor, see http://www.readinghalloffame.org/index.html
Today my guest is Dr. Timothy V. Rasinski. Among my most pleasant experiences as a poet was co-authoring a book on fluency with Tim and another of my guests to this blog, Gay Fawcett. For this interview I asked Tim to respond to the following questions.
1 What attracted you to the field of early childhood learning?
My first degree was in business. After serving in the military and a few years in the business world, I knew this wasn’t for me. At the same time, I come from a family of teachers and I have always enjoyed school and working with kids. So I decided to go back to school and get my teaching degree from the Univ of Nebraska.
2 What special interests have you pursued in your career as a leading researcher, reporter, and speaker?
As a teacher I was always interested in struggling readers… I went from a classroom teacher to an intervention teacher. While teaching I noticed that many of the kids seemed to have difficulty in reading fluency – -they had trouble just negotiating their way through the words in the text. At the same time I was into my masters program. I began to read articles on reading fluency that I had not seen before – -Dick Allington’s Fluency, The Neglected Goal of the Reading Program. I read this and other articles and it all began to fall into place for me. Reading Fluency is a key to children’s success in reading. And yet, fluency was being ignored in the classroom.I went into my doctoral program and began to study fluency more deeply. My dissertation study exploring reading fluency won several awards. I found that fluency interventions could make a big difference in students’ reading lives. Since the late 1970s and early 80s I have been deeply involved in exploring this concept of reading fluency and how it can be taught in ways that students and teachers find authentic and engaging – the use of poetry and poetry reading is one way to do this I have found.
3 Why is research-based teaching important? What was wrong with the “old days” when teachers taught the way they thought best, sort of experience-based teaching?
Experience and intuition are great. I say that teachers are artists and they need to rely on their gut feelings about things. But teaching is also a science (that’s why teaching is so challenging – -it’s a science and an art) so we need to be able to provide empirical proof that what we do as artists has a positive impact on our students. I attend a lot of conferences and hear great ideas on how to teach children. But I often ask where can I find more about this approach and how it actually impacts students’ learning. More often than not I am told that the research doesn’t exist. Without some evidence or research base that an approach to teaching reading works, I have to be skeptical. Most of my research today is with teachers where we take what they do and try to determine if it has the positive effects that we are looking for. I think there needs to be more collaboration between college professors and teachers in the field to make this sort of authentic research happen.
4 What is a typical day/week/month/year like for Tim Rasinski? How many miles do you travel in a year and how many audiences do you address?
Last year I spoke to over a hundred audiences. I love meeting teachers and principals and learning what they are doing and how they are making schools better for children.
Normally when I am home, I try to get into the office around 7 am and for 2-3 hours I try to write. I find I write best early in the morning when and where there are few distractions. Then I work on email, paperwork, college committees, student advising etc. In the afternoon I prepare for class. I normally teach in the evenings – 430-700 pm or 7:20- 100pm. These are long days but I enjoy them immensely. I have no plans of retiring anytime soon.
5 Where does children’s literature enter the picture? How do you incorporate literature into your research, your philosophy, and your teaching?
I am a whole language teacher. At least I consider myself one. I am also an advocate of direct instruction in phonics and fluency instruction. I love literature for the sake of literature, but I also am always on the look out for ways that teachers can use authentic literature to teach these essential skills in reading.
6 Why do you like poetry as an effective teaching tool for reading fluency, vocabulary building, phonemic awareness, and comprehension?
Poetry (and songs) offers so much for teachers and students – and unfortunately they are often left behind when something new comes into the curriculum. Poems for children are usually short and are filled with rhythm and rhyme. This makes them easy for children to learn. Even struggling readers can find success in learning to read and perform poetry. The rhymes in poetry make them ideal for teaching phonemic awareness and for reinforcing word families that children need to learn and are part of phonics. Poems have embedded in them a strong sense of voice. This along with the rhythm and rhyme make them ideal for developing prosody, an essential element of fluency. Poetry is also meant to be performed and this means that students need to practice their poems repeatedly (rehearse). This rehearsal is an authentic form of repeated reading which is essential to building automaticity in word recognition. As you can see, poetry is an ideal text form for beginning reading and working with children who find reading difficult. Moreover, when children eventually perform their poems for an audience, they receive the applause and positive reinforcement that will build their confidence as readers. Eventually, I love to see children writing their own poetry, often emulating the work of David Harrison, Brod Bagert, Shel Silverstein, Sarah Moore, Jack Prelutsky, and the many wonderful poets who enrich our lives.
With many thanks to Tim, I open the floor for your comments and questions.