Posted in ELL, Reading, Reading Strategies

Read All About It

TL:DR; how to help students read and access content areas.

Today, Saturday, April 24, I am a cartographer of curriculum mapping, trying something new, useful, and just a little bit sad, too. I love books and teaching ELA, and while I will still teach reading and writing, listening and speaking, my new role as the EL teacher in an alternative high school shifted my instructional direction.

Basically, I’m tired of students not earning their credits in other content areas. And since I can’t change content, I can change what I do and provide for students, and the space and intentional instruction.

We can many conversations about behind, learning loss, (!) grade level, Lexiles, etc., and the encompassing educational philosophical debates, but my students, right now, sitting in my classroom, are not earning credits, so I’m going to research this and modify through a diagnostician’s perspective.

Background/Context

The English Learner students must meet a protocol to join our building. Currently, the roster includes native Spanish and Marshallese students. The reasons for this are justified, however, the protocols do not guarantee students will come to the building with grade-level skills and strategies. It is an alternative high school whose primary mission is to help student retrieve credits expeditiously. We are on a quarter system: each quarter works like a full semester at the comprehensive high schools. If one could earn .5 credit per class in a semester, they earn .5 in a quarter. Because the instruction and content is truncated, which can be stressful and nearly impossible for some areas such as math and science, students must come to our building with a Level 3 proficiency in one of the EL domains:

But as most of us know, the ‘reading wars’* have been a post mortem blame battle, and I’m still sitting with students who struggle with content area texts. Taking an asset-based approach, my students love to talk, love their families, and many of them work, have started their families, and want to graduate from high school. I take a no-shame approach: we work on vocabulary, text features, etc. And one obstacle for me this past year is being allowed to sit virtually side by side with them in their other classes, like the para-educators do. I’m not going to waste much more time trying to figure out if it’s a trust issue that I can solve, because I can’t. It’s not my problem: what is my problem is helping students access the material in front of them.

My plan:

Schedule:

MondayTuesday – 4 classes +HomeroomWednesday 4 classes +HomeroomThursday 4 classes +HomeroomFriday 4 classes +Homeroom
Check-in day
30 minute online classes
Online students:
Those who chose to be online come to Google Meet classes
Hybrid students: come to the building for instructionOnline students:
Those who chose to be online come to Google Meet classes
Hybrid students: come to the building for instruction
Those who chose Hybrid work asynchronously Those who chose online work asynchronouslyThose who chose Hybrid work asynchronouslyThose who chose online work asynchronously
Fourth Quarter Schedule

Assignments:

Each class period, online or in person, the students will:

  1. Check Skyward for current grade and missing work
  2. Look at their schedule and focus on one class reading assignment:
    • Science
    • History or Civics
    • World Geography
    • Electives
    • PE
    • Math
  3. They commit to getting one thing down during ELA class and must write this intention in their notebook (composition notebook or digital).
  4. Use class time to do a first read of their assignments. The classes are mostly based on reading or viewing content, and worksheets based on reading packets.

Daily Check-In:

Reading Across Content Areas:

Five Words I Heard Vocabulary:

When they come across words in other content areas, they’ll write them on the wall, or a co-constructed anchor chart/word wall. These are the words they’ll also use in their Friday Five vocabulary presentations.

Building contextual knowledge:

My students will be tested this spring. Though the SBA has been waived again this year, the ELPA21 has not. That test doesn’t concern me, but passing their other classes does. Now that we’re back in the building two days a week, and most of my ELA students are physically present, I can support them in their other content areas. My hope is this becomes a habit, we increase text structure, text features, contextual understanding, reading strategies and skills and then build toward assessment and engage in some enrichment activities. I will offer books and choice to read independently, and I won’t settle for just getting them through it. But for now, this is how it has to be.

Reading Wars Resources:

*When I received my teaching certificate for K-8, our professor included phonics instruction and balanced literacy. I didn’t even know there was a problem or debate until this past year.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/11/the-reading-wars/376990/

Posted in Close Reading, Reading

Runs in the family.

Please read all the heartfelt comments in this thread: many teachers and parents reached out with amazing resources, love, and ideas.

Last night my younger son, Daniel, who’s 23, was hanging out with me, and I asked him how reading The Hobbit was going. He had mentioned he was reading it because, well, he never had, and thought he’d go through Tolkien’s books. He said he hadn’t made it through the first chapter. He said with ADHD, he has to read paragraphs repeatedly, and he just gives up. I asked how that made him feel in school, like everyone knew some secret magic that he was left out of, and his body language and face, his deflated posture, broke my heart. Yes, he confirmed. And it made him feel ashamed. School was a place that took a bright, funny, smart,* laughing little boy and turned him into someone who’s had to fight hard to find his own path. Like every other kid out there. He’s not special. His generation has never gone to a public school building without testing from kindergarten through their senior years, and drilled skill after skill, without little experience or joy knowing what those skills were for. Reading logs and extrinsic motivations, academic achievement, meetings with the principal and band director because the band director was going to flunk him because we needed to go on a family trip for personal reasons. Time and again, the cruelty was the point. My older son followed all the rules and fit their mold. Daniel did not. Nothing I did or didn’t do. And yet these two beautiful sons of mine taught me so much about how horrible a place school can be.

But why does this have to be this way? Why does school have to be a place that most of us ends up hating? We end up resenting?

I told him during the pandemic, this past year, I’ve struggled to read. My escape of novels and fiction just isn’t there. Friends posting book after book on Goodreads while I languish. I find myself reading the same paragraphs, too. I just started reading Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians and am embarrassed to admit I am going to have to start over again for the third time because I don’t understand what happens in the first chapter. Is that an elk? A fight? A fight with an elk? And please don’t step in and explain it to me. I’ll get it. About all my brain can handle right now is watching old episodes of Inkmaster and

My dad, who’s 79, tells a story with some trace of bitterness, how one teacher told him his fate would probably be jail. I don’t know what my dad did or said that prompted this reaction from his high school teacher. My dad was a middle child of three boys, all close in age, with two parents who worked outside the home. And I guess he was mischievous, a troublemaker? Prone to staying out late, maybe? I don’t know details of my father’s high school years. I do know my dad is one of the sweetest, funniest men I know.

My own troublemaker self was almost kicked out of kindergarten, and often sent to the corner or hallway many times for talking in first and second grades. The teachers simply did not understand that I was trying to help others near me understand the material. But those corners of the room smell like tooth-fairy breath and shame. And I didn’t learn a damn thing about staying quiet, except that when I do share ideas and thoughts, it comes with anxiety and sometimes pain.

Okay, enough of this. We have a family history of ADHD, this seems pretty clear. Now what? Whenever I am overwhelmed, I make a list. Here are some of my initial thoughts, and many of these were echoed on Twitter. I promise I was not ‘workshopping’ anything — what a breathtaking community you are. I love you, my teacher out there — ready to jump in, share ideas, with love, compassion, and without hesitation.

  1. Reading is not just print on paper. It’s audio, acting, movement, illustrative, and beyond. Let’s embrace a culture of reading.
  2. Love of stories must come first, and remain, the goal.
  3. I want Dr. Gholdy Muhammad to head up change in our education system with her ideas on Cultivating Genius.
  4. Burning questions (allow students to co-construct their units of study with teachers and shifting classrooms– this is a seed of an idea I have)
  5. More money for better early reading instruction that extends throughout all grade levels
  6. All teachers have a partnership with specialists
  7. Art at every grade
  8. Music at every grade
  9. Physical movement without ableism
  10. Multi-modal essays and collaborative work
  11. Sketchnoting, and other interactive ideas to express glorious passages of the ‘grand conversations’

There is so much more, and we’ll keep talking adding, and thinking.

My son will probably finish The Hobbit someday. Right now he’s switched to Recording Unhinged by Sylvia Massey because he’s been playing a lot of music lately with his dad, (who does not have ADHD), going to school, and working. I’ll finish my books, too, and figure out what that elk is doing.

And please follow Nicole Biscotti, M.Ed:

Some books folks recommended, on my reading list:

I Can Learn When I’m Moving By Nicole Biscotti, M. Ed.

ADHD and Me: What I Learned from Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table by Blake ES Taylor

*He’s still funny and smart. And very darn cute.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Big Questions, History, Reading, Series: White People Homework

Series: WPH Know your history (5)

Kimberly Jones, co-author of I’m Not Dying With You Tonight

Rosewood Massacre

Tulsa Massacre

#1619 Project

And Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer this year for her work on the #1619 Project.

https://www.cbsnews.com/video/pulitzer-prize-winning-journalist-nikole-hannah-jones-on-protesting-and-democracy/

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Reading

What did I just read?

Note: I’m posting a few thoughts today. This blog is my pensieve. I’m struggling with writing today. This post is just a note.

This post feels like a fairy tale: not too long ago I was looking around for ways to engage my students in reading. Not just “more,” but — at all. Over the years I’ve witnessed increasing disengagement with reading. Or decreasing engagement with reading. Not sure which sounds better or is more accurate.

But reading is all I seem to do now– I read and listen to as many headlines, articles, tweets, posts, speeches, police scanners and news updates my brain can hold in a day. My skills at detecting lies, bad faith, trolling, racism, etc., have become more finely tuned and accurate. And maybe that’s why my teenage students aren’t reading as much as they used to. It’s one reason. I can point to skills-based instruction and state standardized tests that display an excerpt of text to be autopsied and dissected with no joy or meaning. Only the skills of being able to “cite evidence” or choose the best multiple choice answer. Reading, in its current state, is either boring, irrelevant, or horrifying. Because when we actually read what is under the headline, the subheads and subtexts, we find nothing of substance or nightmare fuel.

When Jennifer Binis (a fantastic writer and educational historian) said something about The Highwayman (an allusion) I became very excited. I taught that poem for years when I taught 7th grade– my husband and I were watching a Led Zeppelin concert that was filmed in 2012 and streamed this past Saturday (not sure how that wormhole of entertainment works), and “No Quarter” reminds me of The Highwayman. What I love about her comment is thinking back this may have inspired her love of close reading.

Think about this: what was the text that made you blush, take notice, think you discovered some titillating secret? Some bawdy passage or prose on your parents’ bookshelf that made you think there’s more to this reading thing than what school told you? My parents had their share of 70s trashy novels I’m sure I read, and I know my uncle stashed issues of National Lampoon I found hilarious and raunchy.

I’m not suggesting we give R rated periodicals to our students. But I am wondering if, for high school students, we share that one deeper purpose for reading is to connect to our whole self–that novels and stories we love might have romance, sexuality, and gender identities, and love? And maybe take a minute and explain the dime-store detective novel or pulp fiction? I had never heard the term “Penny Dreadful” but when I started watching the series, I looked it up and it made complete sense.

Some quick ideas for reading and writing our own “pulp fiction” — look into Film Noir, penny dreadfuls, chapbooks, etc. and write our own. Any recommendations?

PS Read Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad

Posted in Reading

Little Miss Goody Goodreads

I’ve been on Goodreads for over a decade. Here is my user profile link:

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/2159625-k-love

Two things on my mind:

  1. Reading challenges
  2. Stars and reviews

Ready?

via GIPHY

Reading logs irk me. Few things made me feel more like a slatternly and crappy mother than when I forgot to sign the boys’ reading logs. We read to them since day one, and having this accountability drudgery soured my love of reading a bit, too. It was a reminder that reading isn’t for pleasure, thinking, talking–it is about getting a tired parent’s signature and holding children “responsible” to remember something that has no connection to hearth, heart, and home. Add a child with ADD to the mix, and not only are reading logs one more thing that everyone will feel guilt and shame over, but will almost certainly associated only negative feelings with reading.

Last year I thought I’d try the reading challenge, and gave myself an ambitious number. I really thought I could will myself into reading 50 books. Why did I do that to myself? Toward the end of the year I changed the number by almost half and still didn’t make it. And then a funny thing happened: I started seeing my friends’ posts about how they not only read dozens of books, but beat their challenges. And that thing…that thing in me…that is not competitive with others, in fact rebels and fights against academic competitiveness reared its messy head. I felt turned off and a tad defensive. It become all about numbers, not what we were reading and our shared thoughts.

Maybe it’s time to bring back my book club.

I set reasonable goals for this year, and want to read again for ideas and thinking That’s it. Just going to read when I can, want to, and relax about it.

via GIPHY

Literary analysis: reviews

But…what if…we use Goodreads and others like it (Book Riot, LitHub, Brain Pickings, etc.) to share with students authentic and real-world reviews, analysis and thinking? This idea sparked from a conversation on Twitter about star ratings, and reminded me of this review about a book called Basic Witches:

Before you question about why I have this book, I have always appreciated kitschy silliness like this. It’s an okay book, and I wasn’t that impressed. Not sure what I thought it would offer, but it was fine. The illustrations are cute, so maybe that’s what drew my attention.

So how do we not only encourage students to read, read whatever they like without judgment, and grow to communicate when they like, love, or hate a novel? Maybe it’s time to share reviews like this one to encourage students to speak against, or for, books.

One reader, “M” wrote a scathing review:

A reviewer from Goodreads
Part 2 of the review

Let me give this some more thought. I think a mini-unit on how to write a book review, (not a report) but true literary critique would be valuable to most middle and high school students.

“I didn’t find the characters believable.”

I have a Youtube channel, and I need to update many of my videos. In the meantime, here is a link to how to write basic Short Answer Responses and Funnel paragraphs (it cuts off weirdly at the end).

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IHNOLEUuPU-E28cU2fRBIk5robywp9Pb/view?usp=sharing

https://dochub.com/kellylove55cb0317/zoLPkJD/the-funnel-paragraph-format-1-doc?dt=XyMUgA5AMKx2UfLTJLZa

Maybe a graphic organizer like this?

What made you:Page number/quotePage number/quote:Page number/quote
Smile?
Get angry?
Where did you think the author(s) was manipulating you?
Where did you find the text authentic or connecting?

If you have any thoughts or want to add something to this, please send me a tweet @mrskellylove or a comment!

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Big Questions, Bullying, Reading

The English Teacher Companion

via GIPHY

English teachers: the stereotype is fussy, middle-aged woman whose sole job is to sneer at students’ misplaced commas and deny acceptance of late work. There are posts and tweets about how a student turns in late work, and the sheer amount of gleeful, snotty remarks dishearten me to no end. And after I remember to breathe after my raging, fist-shaking, and look deeper into what may be at the heart of this, I am asking all of us who love to read, to write, and to speak and listen to get back to the heart of what we love about being English teachers.

via GIPHY

It is well known that English teachers carry the unfair, unbalanced burden of too much grading. Our standards are vast: we shoulder the weight of teaching all students how to communicate clearly and well in the English language, a language fraught with peculiarities and nonsensical rules, more broken than adhered to. Our scores (along with math teachers and sometimes science) are “counted.” During staff meetings and data carousels, the reading and math scores are displayed on metaphorical pikes for all to see, judge often under the pretense of “growth.” Administration are pressed to raise scores, and if they are truly instructional leaders they promote a school-wide approach. If not, they turn the data walks into fuel for petty discourse and grudges.

While we can’t excuse all of the grading, because we are the expert in the classroom, and our feedback and insight is ultimately what our students desire, I am offering some alternatives to lessen the burden. However, if you are one of those for whom control is more important than your students’ learning, I don’t have a lot of hope. Please –with love-ask yourself if it’s about control versus guidelines.

Consider:

Writing Workshop.
Please: Do not let students read each other’s work. This is not about finding spelling mistakes or misused comma. The reading of the piece is a critical part of this, as is the listening, undistracted, by the feedback giver. The writer reads the work. Follow this protocol for some truly inspired writing experiences. https://mrskellylove.com/2019/07/31/writers-workshop/

Studio: my personal teaching philosophy is that teaching of humanities should be more like teaching art: help the talent grow and guide, but remember art is subjective > objective. If the creator can defend his or her work, allow them to make a case for it. Display students’ work as often as you can, and provide chances for open gallery feedback and discussion.

Single-Point Rubrics
Jennifer Gonzalez has a great post that my own master mentor and friend, Holly, suggested to me years ago. Great ideas do that: they spread, sharpen, and improve. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/single-point-rubric/

Don’t grade everything.
Pick one or two larger pieces of work. Give small check-in grades for progress along the way:
1. Pre-write
2. Draft
3. One revision pass
4. One editing pass
5. Final published work

Do not assign reading logs. Alternative: assign curated content. (Are your students checking up on your and your reading logs? It’s not much fun when we think about it that way.)

Speaking: give students a chance to talk, and you can provide an accountability piece if they share something that’s on their minds.

Listening: Read aloud. Play author’s interviews and speeches. Listen in workshop.

Calendars and Conversations: do not work in isolation, if you can help it, and reach out to colleagues to see if they’re giving assignments that can be cross-purposed. Make sure to help students with time management (Pomodoro method, etc.)

but…mah deadlines!

Deadlines do matter, but I offer that we take a version of ‘love and logic’ about deadlines. English teachers: make a promise to yourself and your students: if they miss a deadline do not offer sarcastic responses. We had a saying in the Puget Sound Writing Project: “Writing is never finished, it’s only due.” Tell students ahead of time that deadlines matter for everyone’s peace of mind and self-care, theirs and the teacher’s. Getting it done and something turned in gives everyone a place to start the feedback and discussion. I would tell students, if you turn in nothing, I am like the fire department: I don’t know if you’re drowning or if you’re on fire. I need to know how to help. There was always the last week of grading where I gave a small window to turn in missing/late work, or redo-work. Some kids took me up on it, some didn’t. Some…couldn’t. I think as we learn more about depression and other trauma we will have new means of helping students with deadlines. And, since we’ve been testing our students since kindergarten, not allowing free play time, we are facing a generation of students who do not know how to self-manage. We’re seeing more anger, violence and disruptions, and the solution seems to be keep kids in the classroom, and we’ll solve the root causes later. But that’s a post for another time.

via GIPHY

We have our jobs to do, and putting in grades and accounting for production is deeply embedded in our educational systems. Until that changes, or we make adjustments where we can, we are going to become increasingly burnt-out. We can be creative and thoughtful about this process, and above all: respectful. Modeling both self-respect and respect for our students will create a safer, gentler community of readers and writers. And who knows? They just might meet their deadlines.

Two additional resources:

https://www.middleweb.com/31398/rick-wormeli-the-right-way-to-do-redos/

Posted in #ProjectLit, Being a better teacher, Reading, Writing

“Your relationship with language is your freedom.” Jason Reynolds

“It took me a long time to understand how much literacy affected my life.”

Jason Reynolds

Please forgive the sound and editing quality of this video. I tried to add titles on some of the key moments of Jason Reynold’s ideas. He showed the students and staff pure love that day, pure truth, and I am forever grateful to Kristin Sierra for working for over two years to bring him to our area.

My only regret is that I assumed I could use part of the $1500 budget awarded to me and my students this year and use $350 of it to take my students. Still a little bitter about that, and I pray there will be a ‘next time.’ Hopefully my students will watch this shaky video, and know I love them, too, and hear his words and message.

When I was getting two of my personal copies of Long Way Down signed, he mentioned he wants to go to more alternative high schools. I said, well…sure enough…that’s where I am now…so maybe…just maybe…

Posted in Assessment, Being a better teacher, Books, burning questions, Burning Questions Book Lists, Connections, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Equity & Cultural Competency, Literary Analysis, PLN: Professional Learning Network, Reading

disrupting mockingbirds.

Is anyone going to understand, aside from other teachers, how amazing what happened is? For all the ills of social media, there is so much good. Note to new and veteran teachers: find your PLN (professional learning network) via social media, and expand your thinking and horizons.

Here is what happened: my district uses packaged novel units based on another district’s work, or now a business, called EL or Expeditionary Learning. The program has many benefits, one of which each student (or scholar as they are known in the district) receives a copy of the central text. There are four modules, each with more lessons than is possible, and the intent is to provide some flexibility and professional judgment in the how to teach, but not the what, and the assessments are ironclad. We first taught Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, and I followed the pacing guide and time frame and came out of it three weeks ahead of my PLC colleagues. No matter–I forged ahead with more essay and creative writing until winter break began on December 21.

Well, break is over on Monday, January 7th, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is our next Module of Study, titled “Taking a Stand.” Being a Grants/Wiggins fangirl, I am all about the concepts of Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions. But–

…but–To Kill A Mockingbird?

My relationship with the novel is probably typical of a little white southern girl with liberal, progressive parents–I loved it. I loved Scout. I loved the bravery, and the characters, the mystery, the strength, and the suspense. I can’t remember when I first read it if it was a choice or assigned, but I see a wavering fog of memory of some teacher and I connecting over my lightbulb moment of why Mrs. DuBose chose to go off her morphine toward the end of her life. The novel taught me so many things, and I am grateful to Harper Lee for this novel. And to this day, it holds a special place in my heart. However, we paradoxical humans can and should hold two or more truths at once, and over the past year or so (long before I knew I would switch districts and be mandated to teach the novel), many respected educators questioned and criticized this novel. I learned and listened to new perspectives and considerations, many of which hold important truths. Truths about race, racism, misogyny, and injustice masquerading as justice.

#edchat #ncte #disrupttexts Looking for help in pulling all the pieces together:— Kelly (@mrskellylove) January 2, 2019

One of the focuses will be https://t.co/OvUczzQe6W— Kelly (@mrskellylove) January 2, 2019

I had this amazing professor in college. He was Sri Lankan, teaching the required Brit Lit class from the POV of colonized people. He gave us “Heart of Darkness” and said:— Tom Rademacher (@MrTomRad) January 2, 2019

“This book is a racist piece of crap. I want you to read it because I want you to know what a racist piece of crap it is.” We read the book and had amazing discussions, using it as a central text to talk about white gaze and other things. So, teach, but teach context.— Tom Rademacher (@MrTomRad) January 2, 2019

I’m just listening in but I do think if you have to teach a problematic text, then you teach it as a vehicle to learn a critical reading process that allows kids to identify other problematic texts out in the world. Because they WILL encounter them.— Jess (@Jess5th) January 2, 2019

When Jess@Jess5th tweeted this –I knew I found the center focus.

The responses received fill my heart. With the deepest of gratitude, I must acknowledge @MrTomRad, @Jess5th, @debreese, @Ebonyteach, @CrazyQuilts, @Caitteach, @ShanaVWhite, @JenniferBinis, @spencerideas, @TheJLV, @ValerieBrownEDU, @triciaebarvia and if I missed anyone, my apologies. You all came to the conversation, and this-this is what I’ll share with my scholars first — we are all learning together, and trying to do better, and ask the big, tough questions.

The plan, such as it is, when we come back on Monday, January 7, in the midst of adolescents who’ve been homebound for two weeks (most of them) caring for younger siblings and doing whatever it is kids do over rainy breaks when resources are limited, and the building expectations PowerPoints that must be shown, is to let them first take and get reoriented, but also–share what happened. How other teachers discussed their ideas, openly and freely. I intend to pair this text with my #projectlit collection, of course, and allow students to find their own relationship with To Kill A Mockingbird along with other paired texts and discussions. I want so much for them.

If you would like the resources and ideas shared, please go to Twitter and follow me, and click on the discussion thread: @mrskellylove

Resources:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Sg5itwdpj_gWT1NDDebgyJLWhvM8T4aQ5k5sIZQoKLs/edit?usp=sharing

This is a draft–just trying to organize the scope and sequence: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1c4BmPo53CFhk3dFi6PuTQr9ln_OvJaeQzjWgzLzW5xI/edit?usp=sharing

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wkQXV6d7f-9NoZR6Ma4z-WtU9gQy4BvHB_mrVbCvxkE/edit?usp=sharing

Posted in Reading, Reading Strategies, Research

There’s a book for that.

I sometimes wish I had the magic words that enchanted students’ brains to desire reading. Instead, I hear a steady stream of protests: I hate to read. I hate reading.

Reading is boring.

Of course, it is. Looking at marks on a page that make no sense, undecoded gibberish which serves to remind our students of their lack of background knowledge, pallid schemas, and undernourished, oxygen-deprived computer testing programs.

Out of 90+ students, I have one–ONE–who reads at the IRLA “Gold” level. She is an exceptional young lady. In classes with mostly 13-14-year-olds who read below a 4th-grade reading level, I’m encouraged to do small group, skills-based instruction. Something is nagging at me, though, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Bear with me–these are just questions, not answers. Doesn’t the one girl who reads books, who sees beyond the intimidating number of pages, and never, ever asks “Do I have to read the whole thing?” when given a short article to read, doesn’t she deserve the grand conversations about thematic questions, art, literature, and history? Yes, and so does every student–and yet the shame and illiteracy of having passed grade after grade with being functionally illiterate have turned many of my students to stone. Reading is the enemy and shall be fought with every emotional tool they possess. Reading is not a normal brain function and telling a student who can’t read that they should read because reading is ‘magical’ when it’s shrouded in smog and the stench of failure is a hard sell.

But maybe that’s just it–honesty. Just tell them straight up–I don’t want them to miss out. To shut themselves away from richer, deeper conversations and insights. Do what I can to take away the shame and stigma and get real. Some approaches we teachers tried didn’t work, but the buck stops here (and explain what that phrase means).

 

One regret I carry from my master’s program was that I didn’t finish or pursue an endorsement in reading instruction. That imposter syndrome humonculus nags at me, but also motivates me to read and learn what I can about quality reading instruction.

Hard Words

Why aren’t kids being taught to read?

The basic assumption that underlies typical reading instruction in many schools is that learning to read is a natural process, much like learning to talk. But decades of scientific research has revealed that reading doesn’t come naturally. The human brain isn’t wired to read. Kids must be explicitly taught how to connect sounds with letters — phonics.

“There are thousands of studies,” said Louisa Moats, an education consultant and researcher who has been teaching and studying reading since the 1970s. “This is the most studied aspect of human learning.”

Study: RTI Practice Falls Short of Promise

In 1st grade, 45 percent of the schools provided Tier 2 interventions to groups of students at all reading levels, not just for students reading below grade level. Moreover, 67 percent of schools provided Tier 2 interventions during the core reading instruction, not just in addition to it.

“It raises the question then, what is the extent of the contrast and differences in services provided to students below grade levels?” said Rekha Balu, an MDRC research associate and a co-author of the study.

That blurring of the lines between core instruction and intervention is worrisome, said Karen K. Wixson, a reading and literacy professor and a dean emeritus of education at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

“Core instruction is supposed to be aligned with Tier 2, but Tier 2 is singling out a particular component and approaching it in a different manner. The core instruction is broader and covers a much broader range of skills students need to be exposed to,” Wixson said.

If interventions that are focused on a few skills take up more of the Tier 1 instruction, she said, “Students are missing a lot of broader things that are going to make a difference in their ability to put it all together in functional reading.”

In other words: we must pivot to strategies over skills in our instruction.

A Powerful Approach to Reading Instruction

WHAT IS STRUCTURED LITERACY?

Structured Literacy is a term coined in 2016 by the International Dyslexia Association to unify the many names for this research-based approach. Also known as Orton-Gillingham, phonics-based reading instruction, systematic reading instruction, and synthetic phonics (among others), this method has been around for nearly a century.

In the late 1920s, physician Samuel T. Orton partnered with Teacher’s College educator Anna Gillingham to create a method of reading instruction that would better support the needs of his patients with reading difficulties. He believed that these difficulties were brain-based and not supported by the popular rote memorization method used to teach reading at the time.

Did you get that? In the LATE 1920s. We’ve known what works for a long time, but we just need to have the will to do the direct instructional work (in the early grades) and carry it through. Not sure how I’ll teach students to read at grade level while teaching them whole-class novels at grade level–kind of like building the shelter while the rain is pouring down and expecting our mental socks to stay dry. Okay, so I need to work on my metaphors. I’m sure there’s a book for that.

Some book suggestions: