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Improving Student Reading
 

Improving Student Reading

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In this age of NCLB schools are scrambling for literacy programs that work. SSR is not rocket science, but so many teachers and schools insist on structuring reading, taking away choice, and ...

In this age of NCLB schools are scrambling for literacy programs that work. SSR is not rocket science, but so many teachers and schools insist on structuring reading, taking away choice, and expecting failing students to take books home and read. This offers an argument for in-school SSR. It costs nothing, is flexible, and works for all students. Note: There is a lot in the Powerpoint Notes section which does not translate, but you could figure it out from the slides themselves.

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  • The group Americans for the Arts ran a great advertisement supporting art in school that stated: Your kids spend more time at their lockers than in arts classes. Looking at my own students at the time, our students had 35 minutes of passing time a day, and 40 minutes of art a week. Yikes! What are our priorities?! Every activity can be justified, and most have a very good reason. But if students are not writing, are not thinking of themselves as writers, or cannot write the question stands: what are you doing that is more important than that? What is eating up the minutes? Let’s look at writing…. How much time is spent getting out work, or talking to students who have not done the work? Do we go over grammar over and over again, wondering why they can’t identify parts of speech, but never let them use it? Is writing more about editing, process and structure than getting ideas on the page? Is the cart before the horse?
  • Students break into two groups: Those who will work, and those who will not. We can all think about our own classes and agree with this. It is important to give students that choice: if they cannot choose to fail, they cannot choose to succeed. That said, those who choose to fail have to know that there are consequences for failure, and rewards for success. Those who choose to work have to know this, too. They need to feel good about their choice to work and work hard.
  • Students do not write because they see no value in writing. They believe that any writing being done is for you, because its your job to make them do it, that it’s an extension of grammar (and not the other way around). They do it for a grade, for their parents (and that’s just about the grade), for the state and their NECAP scores (the state and school’s scores, not their own). When is writing an expression of themselves? Can they write about what they want to write about? Can they say what they feel? Can they use their own language. No, no, and no. And, in the end, who reads it? Who is the audience? The teacher, who marks it up and then they have to rewrite it. The teacher just didn’t get it. Drafts aren’t about communication, but punctuation. The rules. No, The think. I’ll opt out. I can turn it on when its important. We know they won’t be able to turn it on. We have to turn them on now.
  • Students also break into two other groups: Those who CAN work, and those who CANNOT. Again, We can think about our own classes and agree with these two groups. There are many reasons why a student might be in one or the other. I define “cannot” as there being something that is not in a student’s control; that makes writing more difficult than could reasonably be expected. So, while a student with confidence, resiliency and support might overcome some of these issues, they are still considerable obstacles that become near impossible if combined with others. The barriers are more than any child should have to bear. Your poverty rate—your free and reduced numbers—are the baseline number for those who cannot. That is the smallest number of kids who cannot.
  • There are as many reasons why students cannot do the work as there are students. We cannot control what goes on outside of the classroom. We cannot help that some families are unable to support their children, or unwilling. We cannot stop the distractions and messages kids hear that tell them school is not important. We cannot change the fact that some kids will grow up very fast. We cannot feed them, clothe them, and be their parents. We DO control the six hours they are at school. Those six hours are enough to give kids a fighting chance at learning to write, read and be budding academics. And these kids want to succeed. They know instinctively that school is important—it has value—and that school is a ticket to a decent life.
  • If you combine the two groups—those who will and will not work, and those who can and cannot work—you wind up with this graphic. You have students who could do the work, but choose not to (purple showing). Why? They are failing. You have students who want to do the work, but cannot (red overlapping blue). What are you doing to help them? They are failing. You have students who do not want to work, and could not even if they had wanted to (red overlapping purple). Does the “cannot” create the not “wanting” to? There are a lot of layers to uncover to answer that question. Possibly, if we address the reasons why some will not, and why some cannot, those who will not and cannot will be served, too. Regardless, they are failing, too.
  • For all of your work, only one group is benefitting from instruction. They are willing to work and can work. But they are only one, small group. I would argue that, in most schools, they are at best a third. Another third muddles through, a combination of cannots and will-nots who scrape by through hard work or natural ability, respectively, but never meets their potential. The last third fails outright. Schools tend to blame them for their failings, and if they offer supports they are ineffective and unrelated to what the student really needs. So, we are only really teaching a very small group. How can we turn this upside down? How do we help the other three groups join this will and can group?
  • Let’s start with the “cannots”. You have students who want to do the work, but cannot (red overlapping blue). What are you doing to help them? They are failing. We want to eliminate the reasons they cannot as much as possible. In doing so, students are then left with the choice: do the work or don’t do the work. Accountability can then come into play. The excuses are gone. How can we help them? Here are some ideas to think about:
  • If students cannot do work at home, take that off the table. If you are depending on homework for building skills, you are writing these students off. They cannot do the work. Each day they start off behind. With each missed assignment they get the message that school is not for them. Most important: they are not getting the skills you want them to get. In short, you are banking on something that is clearly broken. How many times do you have to get frustrated by the results before you change YOUR behavior. You are not “fighting the good fight” if student behavior and learning does not change. Go to something that works. If you need to assign homework because the day is only so long, make it things that requires little else but time (SSR, basic skills, flashcards and rote memorization, etc.). Students still have to make the CHOICE to work, but they CAN work if they make that choice.
  • Gives students time to write in school. By having daily Sustained Silent Writing students experience writing, and have something in hand that is the foundation for what the teacher does (grammar, spelling, writing lessons, etc.). You, the teacher, get your student work, the foundation for your lessons. You also control the environment, and are on hand to support their efforts. From this, teachers can identify and address missing skills in classroom mini lessons, small group or individual ones. Conferences allow for students to discuss their work, and give insight into their own challenges. It also offers a chance for teachers to offer individual instruction in small doses over a long period of time. The more you do it, and the longer you do it, the more of the above you get. What would 180 days of sustained silent writing would give your students and your ability to help them!
  • Computers are not a magic bullet, but a tool. That said, they help writers focus on the writing process, but budgets are tight and the lab is not available to all teachers all of the time. If computers are needed, get older ones (donations) and run Open Office (freeware). That gets more computers in kids hands. If not computers, put pencils and journals in their hands. Get them writing. Create a space. Find space. Prioritize space. A writing space. Some place that facilitates the writing process; the works for students. If students cannot write, do what it takes so that they can do it every day. There is no excuse for not writing.
  • You have eliminated most of the reasons that students CANNOT do the work. Now student have to choose the work. Now you can hold students accountable. No more tales of woe, of broken printers, shuttling between divorced parent homes, and basketball games that go late into the night in some distant school gym. In the past, you may have lowered the standard for certain students, because they had circumstances that you sympathized with. At the same time, you hoped for the best. No more. Now that the obstacles to learning and writing have been eliminated, it only remains for a student to want to do the work. Hold them accountable to that, and its consequences.
  • Having eliminated much of the reasons students cannot do the work, you are left with choice. You have students who do not WANT to do the work (purple). What are you doing to help them? They are failing. Why won’t students work?
  • Do kids become astronauts to be weightless and explore new worlds, or to calculate trajectories behind a computer screen? The same question can be asked of writing. What is the value of writing? It’s a valid question, but too often the answer involves talk of skills, later grades, the working world and other abstract ideas. In addition, talk of testing, grades, NECAPs and required pieces sends the signal that writing is not about them, but put upon them. Why would anyone want to carry that burden? Students opt out. The value of writing is many fold. It is about expressing ideas and organizing thoughts. It is about communication. It is about play, and dreaming and passion. Their writing needs to have a purpose beyond school; about getting an idea out, or telling a friend about a great book, or arguing a point. Value comes from the writer. How often do we have a conversation about value? Yes, astronauts work hard and are really, really smart. But they started out as dreaming kids.
  • To what degree do we empower students to put themselves on paper? If writing is an expression of the writer, we have to accept who the students are. That means action and horses, descriptions of snot and kittens. Writing is about putting ourselves on the page. There are limits, but those are teaching moments and not limits. Why does something offend you? Why is some language not appropriate, and what alternatives can you use? Great discussions! The more teachers and writers have those discussions, the more students are invested in their writing and think about how they put themselves forward. To just shut off certain areas is to shut off the taps.
  • The number one complaint about video games: they are too easy. The number one complaint about schoolwork: it’s too hard. Sports, video games, friends… anything, to many kids, is better than a day at school. Why? Players choose which sport to play. Players have either an open mind to learn or a skill set coming in. Teams provide friendship, camaraderie, and support. Coaches offer tight, organized practices that balance drills with scrimmages. (Guess which gets the majority of practice time: scrimmage, with the coach stopping play throughout to correct mistakes and praise good work). Practices and all activities have a clear purpose/value. Games allow a player to be creative and challenge themselves independently. In the end, there is a score. After the game, you shake hands and celebrate. Later, the coach tells you your strengths and faults and you practice for the next game. The great writers experience all of those things—think about the great literary circles and mythical stories about when great authors get together—but we deny kids this experience. The more we can make writing look like a sports team the more students will value the experience.
  • Too often we unintentionally set up gates that keep students from enjoying an activity. Some argue that we need to learn how to dribble a ball before playing basketball, for example. Tell that to my two year old son. And while skills and drills are essential to growth and mastery, they are balanced with a lot of playing time, scrimmages, and just fooling around with the ball. Students need to tell stories, write stories, and tell and write more stories before they get to grammar. Having put ideas and passion on the page, the discussion then should turn towards purpose: you have this, now what do you want to do with it? Once the audience and purpose are decided, a discussion on format and the reasons behind it can happen. Finally, issues like spelling and grammar come to the surface: what does a final draft look like and why? Writing is a process, and that process has a reason that is only clear when the process is respected. If we get students to write, we then have a foundation to learn grammar with. If we start with grammar and structure we will never get to the story full of ideas and passion. Don’t kill it. Now, yes, students do need to learn grammar. And, as a teacher of 7 th and 8 th graders, I appreciate the six years of grammar instruction that comes with my students. But what is the balance of time spent on spelling, punctuation and grammar compared to just writing for fun?
  • Let’s return to the group that can and will work. Remember them? They often get forgotten about, so let’s not forget them. Do they benefit? Yes.
  • High flyers are bored because the class moves too slow. Why does the class move so slow? Because no one did their work, or practice so little that their skills are behind. Because the entire class is tied together by the same activity at the same level, those who can and will sit at their desks, folders out, waiting for others or sitting through the same basic lessons they already know. Bore-ing. Writing workshop allows for differentiation. While everyone is writing, no two students are writing the same thing at the same level. The teacher can address each student individually in conferences, and challenge them in different ways. At the same time, mini lessons tie the glass together. Dialogue, description, strong verbs and the like are all issues of concern to writers of all levels. All writers need help in using strong verbs, interesting adjectives, and how to mix simple and complex sentences for effectiveness. Spelling, for example, is a universal need. More important, by stressing value and creativity over assignments, these students—all students—begin to understand what it means to learn, and not just be a good student. For once, the best students and the stuggling ones are in it together. And because they are together—and all writing and learning and sharing—the struggling students see that writing, and revising and writing and struggling is a normal activity for all students. And the best students don’t see their peers as anchors, but creative human beings.
  • Which leads up back to our original question: what are you doing in your classroom that is more important than students sitting down and actually writing? Questions to ask: Can your students write? Do they have the skills? Do they see themselves as writers? Do they value writing? Do they like to write, or do they goan? Break down the percentages. Honestly, is there any way in your current system—any amount of tweaking—that would significantly alter those numbers? If so, why aren’t you doing it?

Improving Student Reading Improving Student Reading Presentation Transcript

  • What are you doing in your classroom that is more important than students actually writing? An Argument for Workshop Method
  • Will Work Will Not Work
  • Why students will not write
    • Do not see value in writing.
    • Nothing of interest to write about.
    • Competing interests: sports, video games, friends…
    • Does not see connection between forms and rules of writing and written expression of self. GUM is just rules.
  • Can Work Cannot Work
  • Why students cannot write
    • Taking care of other family members.
    • Chores.
    • Shuttling from house to house.
    • Meetings: guidance; mentors; planning room; etc. that takes them out of the classroom.
    • No study space at home.
    • No computer at home.
    • Wrong computer, computer program, unable to use computer or printer.
    • Lack of supplies.
    • Lack of modeling.
    • Lack of help at home with schoolwork.
    • No culture of homework completion.
    • No clear understanding of expectations.
    • Social and personal issues are distraction.
    • Missing skills.
    • Disability (IEP)
    • Different learning styles.
  • Will Work Will Not Work Cannot Work
  • Will Work Will Not Work Cannot Work
  • Will Work Will Not Work Cannot Work
  • No Homework … or homework that is not dependant on much, such as: Sustained reading, skills work, review, etc.
  • Do work in class! Sustained Silent Writing Conferencing Mini-lessons
  • Find the right tools to do the job
    • Use/get old Pentium III with Open Source freeware.
    • Journals and pencils.
    • Create space.
  • Accountability
  • Will Work Will Not Work Cannot Work
  • Value (and for whom?) Vs.
  • Appropriate?
    • Snot
    • Vs.
  • Sports vs. Writing
  •  
  • Will Work Will Not Work Cannot Work
  • Enrichment
    • In class time and support.
    • Values writing.
    • Choice leaves mind uninhibited.
    • Independent work allows creativity.
    • Part of something larger.
    • Teacher helps improve.
    • Flexibility allows for unlimited projects.
    • More choice for afterschool time.
  • What are you doing in your classroom that is more important than students actually writing? An Argument for Workshop Method