This APM Reports documentary by Emily Hanford Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read? is a really thought provoking piece about how children read and how kids and families land in the middle of the tug of war over how kids read – phonics vs. whole language still at it. We can all agree that everyone needs to learn how to read. When we examine prison populations and reading literacy rates we starkly see why. Better readers do better. Is reading natural? If we just give kids lots of books, is that enough? Where does phonics fit in? For how long? The education community does not agree. I am a scientist at heart. I must follow the science of reading to formulate my bottom line.
Reading instruction must be dynamic and include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Reading is natural for some but not others especially if you have a processing difference like dyslexia or are coping with trauma. Kids need support with phonics blending AND they need to learn whole words. Real tasks that use real texts across content areas to build background knowledge is essential for ongoing vocabulary development and reading comprehension.
1. Phonics is ESSENTIAL through at least 1st grade and should continue as needed through strategic grouping.
2. Spelling instruction is important but should never hold students back from new learning or be overdone.
3. Word study or morphology with roots, prefixes and suffixes teaches kids to crack the code as they develop as readers starting in 3rd grade especially when gamified.
4. Leveled, “just right books” can limit access to and practice with complex language so beware.
5. Science, social studies, art and music build students general content knowledge and develop and even accelerate reading comprehension skills.
Need help developing your reading approach based on reading science? Let me know. I can help.
Integrated curriculum is an approach to curriculum development where multiple content areas are “integrated” into a coherent learning throughway creating an engaging, relevant program of study for students.
Integrated curriculum also fosters collaboration because interdisciplinary team’s can come together to design.
College and Career Pathways lend themselves to Integrated Curriculum design because the conditions for industry themed course work are part of a day’s work! Teachers need support to design in this way and Administrators have an opportunity to leverage Integrated Curriculum Design as Professional Learning for teachers. Teachers thrive when they learn while they build curriculum in collaborative teams!
I will be presenting an Integrated Design Studio at the Linked Learning Convention next week in Anaheim if you want to learn more.
On a beautiful Spring evening I walked up to a warehouse in a light industrial section of Richmond, CA. I heard music playing and community members socializing and celebrating. Bright eyed youth dressed in formal serving wear with aprons were expertly serving hot appetizers and engaging with party goers about each choices’ ingredients
and flavors. These students were finishing their final project for a program called Plant to Plate organized by West County Digs, a local non-profit that works with school gardens in West Contra Costa Unified School District. 16 High school students learned how to grow food by reclaiming an abandoned garden plot and teaming up with local chefs to expertly prepare what they grew. The event culminated in a presentation of gratitude to the parents from their teens in the form of flower bouquets invases that the students had also created and a graduation ceremony where the students received a professional chef apron and a personalized trowel to commemorate there experience.
This Plant to Plate program exemplifies what our teens need most: motivating career themed experiences. Teens naturally are curious and driven. This teen energy is amazing to behold but can also not mix well with traditional sit and get modes of content delivery. For a lot of students, this antiquated mode is ineffective and becomes frustrating for both students and their teachers. The confines of a classroom with textbooks and a sage on the stage teacher has left so many students behind. Work Based Learning (WBL) opportunities, especially those that are thematically integrated into high school course work, offer a promising shift in how students value their education. If students value their education and know in their bones that what they are experiencing will help them find a real career, they will perform.
Students experiencing success, even if small, is key to motivation. Motivation is the key to learning!
What is your district or school doing to provide more Work Based Learning opportunities for students? I’d love to hear your comments.
The new CA accountability system is here! It combines five Status and Change levels creating a five-by-five grid that produces twenty-five results. The colored tables provide a way to determine the location of a school or district on the grid and is a great way to see a district at-a-glance!
Performance for state indicators is calculated based on the combination of current performance (Status) and improvement over time (Change), resulting in five color-coded performance levels for each indicator. From highest to lowest the performance levels are: Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red.
The five color-coded performance levels are calculated using percentiles to create a five-by-five colored table (giving 25 results) that combine Status and Change.
Here is an example English Learner Indicator report
Enter the district into the field to access the 5 X 5 Report. You can click on the interactive report to expand the view.
One of many powerful uses for this handy data view is to conduct Community Asset Mapping by indicator. Since you can see the district at-a-glance, teams can identify potential school site assets in the district for potential replication of best practices.
A Best Practice Catalyst Card is a half sheet sized card that has a strategic and digestable amount of new content on it to share during professional development, team meetings or in a coaching session. The Best Practice Catalyst Card focuses the work, acts as a conversation starter, can manage overwhelm and provides formative assessment of knowledge about the new best practice.
Here is an example that addresses best practices for English Learners:
Instead of thinking that I am “The Teacher” – the knowledge giver who stands in front in total control-instead of that traditional pedagogy, we need a 21st century vision of teaching, where there is less teacher talk, where what I’m doing is thinking about how I am going to pull the most out of these kids; how I’m going to enable these students to be empowered; how I can make sure that I create a classroom that’s free from threat and stress, where they will be willing to take risks.
– Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, The Connected Educator
So how do we get out of our students’ way so they can become independent learners? It is hard to stop being the sage on the stage. Often it is about giving up control and tolerating the noisy, messy sounds of learning. As an educator my ongoing reflections on my own instruction always lead me to “stop talking so much, you lost them.” So being more of a coach and a cheerleader and less of a pontficator is the work of teaching these days. Tending to the delicate balance of crystal clear directions, engagement structures and routines with the chaos is the work.
If we can help develop in our students:
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Collaboration and Leadership
Agility and Adaptability
Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
Effective Oral and Written Communication
Ability to Access and Analyze Information
Curiosity and Imagination
Then, we have done our jobs. When they don’t need us, then we can claim success!
May 2013 be the year of the teacher as coach and student as independent learner!
In an attempt to address the proliferation of struggling students in our test driven school culture, many school districts have been re-looking at their retention policies. Some argue that retaining kids and having them repeat a grade gives students more time to learn the basics while others argue that retention does more harm than good. Studies show that if a student has not learned to read by the end of 3rd grade they will most likely be a struggling reader for years to come. As the curriculum shifts from early literacy – learning to read, to using reading to learn, many students fall behind. This is often referred to as the “Mathew Effect” or the “4th grade slump.” This phenomenon is even more prevalent for our English Learners who get stuck at the “intermediate plateau,” that is they stay at the Intermediate level of English proficiency for their entire academic career and are sometimes referred to as “lifers.” So is retaining students until they learn to read a good strategy? What about early math proficiency?
The jury is still out but there is compelling information to guide our thinking. Most agree that if you are going to retain a student, do it early. First graders are more flexible and kind to their peers than say fourth graders. The idea is that younger students will experience fewer stigmas than older ones. Students who repeat first grade do seem to become more fluent when given the extra year to catch up. But as students progress through the grades, these same students seem to lose ground. The stigma kids face when “left behind” or “repeating” is very real and can have lasting consequences like low self-esteem and dis-engagement from school. Teacher’s attitudes towards children who are retained, while well intentioned, are often skewed. Teachers often lower expectations for retained students, which contributes to further declines in achievement.
So if we don’t retain children who are behind what can we do? We can differentiate our instruction and target skill development for students who need an extra boost. We can create an apprenticeship classroom where students who are proficient can mentor and model for those who are not quite there. We can use Response to Intervention (RTI) inquiry teams to figure out why some students are successful and develop systems of support so students don’t fall through the cracks.
We need to find better ways to meet the needs of all the kids in the room. Retention may temporarily solve a problem and be convenient for grown ups but we need to make substantive changes to curriculum and instruction based on what works for all kids before they get too far behind. To use a metaphor from medicine, we need to stop performing autopsies and focus on preventative care. Big time!