What is Theme, Anyway?
by Samantha Cleaver
Each time students read, they’re entering into a conversation with the author about what matters, agrees Jeffrey Wilhelm, distinguished professor at Boise State University and author of Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements. At the core of that conversation, however, is comprehension. To fully explore theme, students must understand what they read and then extract ideas from the text.
“You can’t think with ideas unless you understand them,” says Wilhelm.
Of course, the connection between comprehension and theme is obvious to anyone who’s ever led a conversation about Animal Farm or The Giver, for example. Getting students to go beyond the obvious and use their higher-order thinking can be a challenge. When you get to the other side, however, it’s worth it.
“A good theme brings relevance to a unit,” says Laura Robb, reading specialist and author of Differentiating Reading Instruction. “It is a rich way of engaging and motivating students.”
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Mastering the craft demands time to collaborate, just what American schools don’t provide.
Teaching dwarfs every other profession that requires a college degree. Nationwide, 3.7 million school teachers serve grades K–12—more than all the doctors, lawyers, and engineers in the country combined. Teacher shortages, once chronic, abated during the recession, when layoffs were widespread, but will soon return with a vengeance. Fully half of all teachers are Baby Boomers on the brink of retirement. Among novice teachers, who constitute an increasingly large proportion of the remaining workforce, between 40 and 50 percent typically quit within just five years, citing job dissatisfaction or more-alluring prospects. Given this drain at both ends of the teaching pipeline, schools will likely need to hire more than 3 million new teachers by 2020. That is an enormous talent hole to fill.
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“If students are not reading and writing with you, they are not reading and writing without you.” Penny Kittle
“It would be hard to be a good writing teacher if you do not write. It would be impossible to be a GREAT writing teacher if you do not write.” Kelly Gallagher