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:



Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Reading, Reading Strategies, Relationship Building, Research, Writing

protecting readers

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved to read. Her mother read her books. When baby sisters came along she read books to herself. Her dad would take her to the library. Her teacher suggested books to her, including Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret when she was in fourth grade. It became her anthem into adolescence. She read Harriet the Spy three times, long before there was a movie adaptation. She learned that some books were too cold, some too hot, but most just right, all without someone telling her. No context clues. No five fingers. No color-coded levels or reading logs. Nothing was forbidden or taboo. When her great-grandmother gave her The Secret Garden, she used her own judgment to put it aside until she connected with it a year or so later. She would read anything and everything. Stories and information fueled her imagination.

My apologies for using third-person point of view: I needed to get outside my own head for a while and look at the bigger landscape. What a pure joy, to develop and cultivate a reading life before it was a “thing.” Of my current 90 students, I have one girl who tears through my #ProjectLit books as if they’re a bag of Takis. She is a reader. She tested far and away the highest ‘level’ IRLA from the American Reading Company can test. She is proud of her reading and her intelligence, as well she should be. Meeting her mother at conferences I thanked her, and her mother said they read at home.

Now another 8th-grade girl said she doesn’t need to read The Hate U Give because she already saw the movie. She said this in a defensive, snotty tone, challenging me to push back on this notion. I didn’t try. And please don’t misunderstand: I am not critical of her: she’s a teenage girl who doesn’t see the value in spending time with the book, with the author’s prose and structure and doesn’t want to think beyond that. She saw the movie, and that’s enough.

(heartbreaking)

 

So we’ve had years of reading logs, and accountable talk, and for what? Now I’m in a district that uses a program called IRLA from the American Reading Company that says it doesn’t level readers, only books. When a representative from the company visited my room, she wanted to demonstrate the program with a student, and I chose a young girl who’s been reading anything scary I have in my classroom library. She was reading Through The Woods. The rep look at her computer screen leveled this book, and immediately told the student the book wasn’t at her level, “she was an orange level” and to go get an orange book. My student did what she was told.

That is a true story.

And what is also true is after the rep and group left my room, I went into damage control. I told her to never, ever worry about what level she or a book is in terms of what she wants to read. Read and talk about whatever she wants.

But I am left with my own accountability for using this program with students, and my evaluation is based on how much growth students show over this year. It’s on my TPEP evaluation goals, which my administrator crafted. I didn’t have a say in what my goals were or should be. Okay. This is the reality thousands of teachers face in schools across the country. I have the screenshots. We are required to teach and use instructional time for this program. The research I’ve done is dominated by the American Reading Company, so it’s difficult to find independent data. I am a solution-oriented person: if this is what I am required to use, then I will also tap into my professional expertise (by reading Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, Kelly Gallagher, et al) and make it work. Fortunately, Cult of Pedagogy addressed this issue: What are the best ways to use leveled texts?

And now, for those in the back: READERS ARE NOT LEVELS. BOOKS ARE.

1. LEVELING READERS INSTEAD OF BOOKS

One of the biggest mistakes Serravallo sees is labeling students by text levels. “Levels are meant for books, not for kids,” she explains. “There’s really no point in time when a kid is just a level, just one. There’s a real range, and it depends on a lot of other factors.”

Please: protect your readers. And be transparent about how and why you’re protecting them. You are fighting for their love of reading, but they need to learn how to do this, too, and advocate for their reading lives. 

I’m returning to my Burning Questions unit soon. Not sure I ever stop, actually. Time to flip the script on reading instruction and give authentic and honest hope in our agency.

 

Postscript:

_3__Kris_Hill_-_I_am_sure_there_will_be_people_-_parents_and_teachers___

 

Classroom Library Tip Jar

Please donate so I can replenish my classroom library.

$5.00

Posted in Argumentative Reading and Writing, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Critical Thinking, Media and Mischief, Metacognition, Research, Rhetoric

Saving Summer: Googling.

Recently a post on social media got to me to thinking: (well, overthinking? *shrug*)

After a thread and reflection, I am trying to answer some questions:

  1. Does context play a role in teaching (anymore)?
  2. Just about “everything” can be “Googled” – how do we navigate and help students find the correct information?
  3. What is the nature of teaching with abundant access to information and misinformation?

A post from the New York Times, “In an Era of Fake News, Teaching Students to Parse Fact from Fiction” discusses the challenges of teaching context.

One can, indeed, Google context about a topic. How deep down the rabbit hole should we go?

I get the statement: it’s intended to be for Depth of Knowledge Level One Yes/No kinds of questions, Costas’ level one knowledge, bottom rung of Bloom’s. However — these days the strata of misinformation abounds, and even yes/no questions can result in horrific results. And these days, it is life and death.

I needed my help from my friend Sharon to help ME get some context for this post, and she came to the rescue:

I tried a little experiment, suggested by my husband. I Googled “What are vaccines?”  and “Are vaccines good for you?” both level one questions that should result in facts or a yes/no.

Here is what I got with this first search statement:

(Note: most results are sound.)

 

Here is with search terms my husband tried:

This is when we start going to CrazyTown.

Questions, even with yes or no answers, can be inherently biased. People seek the answers their cognitive dissonance and biases want. “Google” Benghazi, Alex Jones, Pizzagate, etc. Heck, look up “president handshakes.” No, never mind. Don’t.

Google does its best to filter and promote factual information with its complicated algorithms and data. But Fake News is a violent, dangerous issue. I wish we could go back a decade at least when we could, with reasonable critical thinking skills, discern fact from opinion/fiction.

Here is something Sharon and I can fix, so look for a Part II. In the meantime

  1. Use DOK questions first to create an understanding and close reading of Google results. That way, when students are told to “Google it,” they must come away with a minimum of three credible sources.
    • Close Reading:
      1. Look at top searches
      2. Look at the date published
      3. Look at the publisher and media format: is it a credible news source? Blog? Credible Youtube channel or ‘just some dude?’
      4. Look at links and pingbacks
    • Know how search engines work
  2. Tap into the best Social Studies teachers you know — make sure any lesson on search engines include conversations about primary, secondary, and tertiary documentation and artifacts.
  3. Call upon the best ELA teachers you know to discuss point of view, perspective, fact, opinion, and truth
  4. Call upon the best Science teachers you know to help promote scientific research and how bias creeps in.
  5. Call upon your best Math teachers to discuss proving factual knowledge and a variety of algorithmic paths.
  6. Oh, and never forget Electives, PE & Health to talk about false and factual information that spreads on the internet. The arts and the curated effect of beautiful and lasting resources on the Internet for one and all.

So yes, don’t spend a lot of time teaching if it can be Googled. But teaching how Google works is teaching time well spent.

Oh, and I found this, and of course, can find its origins:

But don’t stop the nerd love:

https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/john_green_the_nerd_s_guide_to_learning_everything_online

Posted in Argumentative Reading and Writing, Being a better teacher, Big Questions, Reading Strategies, Research, Rhetoric, Social Media, Writing, Writing Process Explained

Structure Series: Essays for the 21st Century

 

Writing a quick paragraph on social media is good practice.

The five-paragraph essay is likened to learning the foundations of structure and organization critical to being able to write other organized pieces. There may be merit to this, however learning how to write something no one reads anymore may only serve to rust and crumble authenticity.

Might I offer some suggestions, or additions to the five-paragraph essay, especially for secondary students?

Consider these sites/links as mentor texts as well as powerful places to publish essays. Use examples of the essays written here and challenge students to compare their essays to these.

Some close reading/close writing ideas:

  • Read for anecdotes: these may be strewn throughout the piece, or used in the beginning to provide humanity and context.
  • Read for truth (personal truths), opinions (things that strive to persuade) and facts (quantifiable data)
  • Read for thesis (claims)– but more importantly, read for ‘what question the writer is ‘answering’ — identify what prompted the piece, and what happened before and what might happen after is critical to consider the context of any essay.
  • Identify where the author broke away from the standard “five paragraph essay” and where she may have taken some key pieces for organization — how does it begin? How is it concluded? What points are made in the middle?
  • In the conclusions: analyze how the conclusion stacks up with leaving the reader with the desired outcome, whatever that may be. Does the conclusion provide wisdom, more questions, a summation of ideas? How? Why or why not?

Quora

Medium

Flipboard

Op-Ed Pieces from NY Times, Washington Post:

The Right Call: Yale Removes My Racist Ancestor’s Name From Campus

No, Robots Aren’t Killing the American Dream

In contrast, posted in Medium:

A warning from Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking

There is always more to the story. Consider what perspectives or voices are not being heard, what are the perceptions, and what is ‘stochastic terrorism’ —

From Quora:

Read Chris Joosse‘s answer to What is it that conservative voters just don’t get yet? on Quorahttps://www.quora.com/widgets/content

 

These sites allow for curation and dialogue. Challenge students to find pieces that bounce against one another, the claims and counter-claims of 21st-century discussions. We are not sitting around dinner tables anymore, we are sitting in a web of ideas, and sometimes we are the prey: in this day and age, it is critical to not gloss over what is fake news, but to empower our students to consider and weigh the entire issues at stake. It is a monumental task but may mean life or death. Hyperbole? Not when others are reading conspiracy theories and threatening lives. Even if this isn’t factual–consider that some do believe it, and act accordingly.

 

Posted in Common Core, Research, Writing Process Explained

CCSS + Writing Instruction Reflection

If you read one article this summer, my mentor Holly might suggest this one:

Are modern standards breeding a decline in cultural literacy?

I highly recommend it, too.

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath

This post is getting messy. Filled with bits of type and text, like overcooked alphabet soup. Consider it a link festival, full of rabbit holes and mad hatter tea parties. The question presented is now that CCSS is established in many states, what have we lost or gained?

Reminder to read and understand how to move forward with CCSS in ELA/SS:

CCSS

Back in 2013, Dr. Gentry published an article, “Will Common Core Wreck Writing in Schools?”

First, I am wondering if we even have a sense of what is ‘teaching writing?’ It doesn’t seem to exist. There is the editorial/grammatical end to the whole language approach of ‘any mark is a good mark on the page’.

Some of the fears:

How Common Core Might Not Support Real Writing

The worry among good teachers of writing is that if interpreted and implemented incorrectly, Common Core Standards might put an end to many of the practices espoused by Graves and in effect, destroy real writing in schools. Here are some of the concerns and quotes teachers share with me:

Writing is shifting back to a product approach.

Students aren’t given choice of topics.

Children are forced to write from rubrics or templates that stifle creativity.

Ownership for children is out the window.

Common Core says every teacher is a writing teacher but we haven’t been trained to teach writing.

Teachers neither have the time nor the training for teaching the writing process.

Too much test prep and testing take time away from time for writing in school.

Our state writing test is based on strict rubrics and products—creativity doesn’t count.

Our state writing tests are scored by computers—add more sentences and the score goes up.

Teachers no longer teach conventions like spelling and handwriting.

One teacher told me, “It’s hard to see the ‘vibrancy of life’ in children’s writing when all we care about is the score on the state writing test. That’s a product.”

Most of these fear seem to be the opposite outcome from Common Core. I’m not quite sure what the rumors were, or where the fears came from. But the testing part does seem to have some merit at first glance. Later this weekend I’ll be completing a Prezi that contains the brief write rubrics for Common Core writing assessments, and they are valuable for any content area. 

Some of these fears are truly odd: since when have standards given students specific topics? And since when have standards ‘taught teachers how to teach writing?’ 

And on what metric is creativity? I’m not sure. I’m still a bit baffled. 

Contrasting to Gentry’s article, the Atlantic published an article about how the CCSS revitalized and revolutionized writing in schools by Peg Tyre: 

New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-­history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes—cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement—from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.

The critical difference between pre-CCSS and emerging CCSS is writing argumentative and explanatory pieces.

In the coming months, the conversation about the importance of formal writing instruction and its place in a public-school curriculum—­the conversation that was central to changing the culture at New Dorp—will spread throughout the nation. Over the next two school years, 46 states will align themselves with the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, elementary-­school students—­who today mostly learn writing by constructing personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction—will be required to write informative and persuasive essays. By high school, students will be expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays, not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.

The NCTE provides their take, which correlates to the analytical approach, and appears more inclusive instruction.

Writing grows out of many purposes

Writing is not just one practice or activity. A note to a cousin is not like a business report, which is different again from a poem. The processes and ways of thinking that lead to these varied kinds of texts can also vary widely, from the quick email to a friend to the careful drafting and redrafting of a legal contract. The different purposes and genres both grow out of and create varied relationships between the writers and the readers, and existing relationships are reflected in degrees of formality in language, as well as assumptions about what knowledge and experience are already shared, and what needs to be explained. Writing with certain purposes in mind, the writer focuses attention on what the audience is thinking or believing; other times, the writer focuses more on the information she or he is organizing, or on her or his own emergent thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the thinking, procedures, and physical format in writing are shaped in accord with the author’s purpose(s), the needs of the audience, and the conventions of the genre.

And the NWP weighs in with their suggestions for ‘teaching writing.’ I’ve labeled each suggestion to make sense of what skill it may be adressing.

NWP: 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing

Table of Contents: 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing

  1. Use the shared events of students’ lives to inspire writing. brainstorming/ideas
  2. Establish an email dialogue between students from different schools who are reading the same book. literary connections
  3. Use writing to improve relations among students. audience/purpose
  4. Help student writers draw rich chunks of writing from endless sprawl. organization
  5. Work with words relevant to students’ lives to help them build vocabulary. vocabulary/word choice
  6. Help students analyze text by asking them to imagine dialogue between authors. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)
  7. Spotlight language and use group brainstorming to help students create poetry. revising/craft
  8. Ask students to reflect on and write about their writing. self-assessment
  9. Ease into writing workshops by presenting yourself as a model. craft
  10. Get students to focus on their writing by holding off on grading. self-assessment
  11. Use casual talk about students’ lives to generate writing.  brainstorming/ideas
  12. Give students a chance to write to an audience for real purpose.
  13. Practice and play with revision techniques.   grammar/revision/editing –conventions/mechanics
  14. Pair students with adult reading/writing buddies. workshop/mentor
  15. Teach “tension” to move students beyond fluency. craft
  16. Encourage descriptive writing by focusing on the sounds of words.
  17. Require written response to peers’ writing. workshop/craft/revising
  18. Make writing reflection tangible. annotating, self-assessment
  19. Make grammar instruction dynamic. grammar/revision/editing –conventions/mechanics
  20. Ask students to experiment with sentence length.
  21. Help students ask questions about their writing. self-assessment
  22. Challenge students to find active verbs. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)
  23. Require students to make a persuasive written argument in support of a final grade. audience/purpose
  24. Ground writing in social issues important to students. audience/purpose
  25. Encourage the “framing device” as an aid to cohesion in writing. structure/craft
  26. Use real world examples to reinforce writing conventions.
  27. Think like a football coach. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)/mentor texts
  28. Allow classroom writing to take a page from yearbook writing. mentor texts
  29. Use home language on the road to Standard English. word choice/sentence fluency
  30. Introduce multi-genre writing in the context of community service. audience/purpose

Evolving from the fears of the CCSS writing standards to the present, what changes do you think have been most effective, and where are some areas educators are still confused? What is most beneficial to students, or is an understanding that writing is complex, and approach with patience and grace the most important thing?

old scholar

Scholarly articles if you’re really bored this summer:

http://www.albany.edu/cela/publication/article/writeread.htm

http://writing-speech.dartmouth.edu/teaching/first-year-writing-pedagogies-methods-design/integrating-reading-and-writing

http://readingandwritingproject.org/about/research-base

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/twelve-tips-to-teach-the-reading-writing-connection/