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.
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.
The Expository Reading and Writing Course (ERWC) is a High School English class that leverages high interest, non-fiction text and rhetoric to prepare students for the rigors of college reading and writing demands.
In the current assessment landscape for California, students need to score a Standard Exceeded on the ELA CAASP (Smarter Balanced) or receive a 3 or higher on an AP English exam in 11th Grade in order to be “College Ready” and skip the Early Placement Test for CSU and UC Admissions. Here is a graphic:
Students have an opportunity to be “Conditionally Ready” if they take the ERWC as their senior English class and receive a “C” or better. This is HUGE for many students.
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:
During workshops that aim to deepen knowledge of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I hear a consistent message from teachers – “My students are already behind with the current standards so it is no surprise they struggle with the new, more rigorous standards?” Or, “My students are high performing but we are afraid they won’t perform well on the SBAC Assessment performance task.” These are valid concerns. Often our instincts are to scaffold pretty heavily so students don’t experience too much difficulty. We want them to feel comfortable in class and stay as motivated as possible. In some cases, complex text and challenging math have been systematically removed from the hands of our struggling students albeit with the best of intentions. The consequences are stark. Many students, especially our lower performing students, have become very dependent learners and have not built the academic muscles necessary to excel at the table of scholarship. While our high performers don’t struggle as much, they too are pretty dependent and how well are we meeting the needs of those kids who already know it? Students at all performance levels need 21st century skills so they can have options when they graduate.
The key shifts in the CCSS ask us to interrupt this dependency cycle by ensuring that all students experience complex texts and tasks that require critical thinking and deep levels of engagement. There is a key document linked here provided by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium outlining their emphasis on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that is not a “one size fits all” approach but rather utilizes “flexible approaches that can be customized” that “gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn.” The CCSS challenge us to think K-16 for all learners. But how will we do this?
Consider using provocative, ambiguous questions to frame learning and provide real world lenses to set purpose for authentic learning using technology to enhance engagement. Put engaging, relevant text related to the question in front of students frequently starting off with shorter, accessible complex passages working towards greater text length and complexity reading goals. Students need to learn how to annotate and summarize text across content ideally utilizing consistent procedures. We need to make the invisible, the language of our disciplines – text structures, academic vocabulary – visible to students so they can express the sophistication of their thinking and access core content successfully.
Most importantly this work needs to be built in collaboration with teachers! In my collaboration with teachers around Common Core, I see that teachers really get it! They understanding the need to move students towards independence and how time crunches and incoherence have led dependence. When given some tools to collaborate – to sort, anchor, calibrate and share ideas, teachers and instructional leaders have the expertise. We just need to get them the right tools and get out of their way!