The Dumbest Argument Against Independent Reading

I’m in my eighteenth year of teaching and I’ve set aside time for student self-selected reading every day for every one of those years. It is the most sacred item on my agenda. On one of those days where we have an assembly and a fire drill and a bee gets in the room and blows a ten-minute hole in my science lesson and I have to cut something, I never cut independent reading.

As a student teacher, I was fortunate enough to be placed with a mentor teacher who valued independent reading time as much as I do. But even back then, her principal looked at this 30 minutes as wasteful. When the administration adopted a new program and my mentor teacher was wondering where she would fit it in, the principal suggested she just get rid of that student reading time.

It’s been that way ever since. I have never had an administrator who offered a full-throated endorsement of independent reading. More often, it’s the opposite. I’ve sat in meetings where principals presented research showing independent reading wasn’t effective. (Not true, by the way. Read more here.) I’ve known teachers who were flat out told to end the practice. I’ve sat in meetings where an administrator’s minion (a “coach,” she was rather hilariously called) questioned its efficacy.

An aside: My sneaking suspicion is that administrators don’t like independent reading because teachers aren’t doing enough. This is where the criticism of Drop Everything And Read came from. Teachers, those valuable professionals who eat up the lion’s share of district budgets, shouldn’t be getting paid to sit around reading with their students when they could be teaching. It’s a belief that permeates the entire day. Although providing students feedback is a critical part of the learning process, most teachers I know wouldn’t be caught dead grading student work while students are in the room. Teachers are supposed to teach, every second of every day. And they’re supposed to do all that other teachery stuff during their prep time (good luck with that).

In fairness, some data does suggest that independent reading isn’t effective for our lowest readers. The reason independent reading doesn’t work for the lowest readers, the research has concluded, is because those students — wait for it — don’t use the time to read (or they attempt to read stuff that’s too hard, which is just another way of saying they don’t read). Those students, we are told, should be engaged with the teacher in direct instruction.

This is quite possibly the dumbest reason to stop doing something I have ever heard. I can think of no other thing we do inside the classroom or out of it where we would apply the same logic.

–Students who don’t pay attention to our lessons don’t learn as much, so we should stop teaching lessons.

— Students who don’t do their math assignments don’t learn as much math, so we should stop assigning math.

— Basketball players who refuse to try hard in practice don’t get any better, so we should pull them off to the side and coach them separately.

— Your daughter refuses to practice piano when you ask her to, so you should stop giving her time to practice.

Of course the kids who don’t read during independent reading time don’t get better at reading. That doesn’t mean we should stop doing it. It means we should figure out how to get kids to do it, just like we would for anything else we believe is beneficial.

–We don’t stop making our kids take baths because they don’t like them.

–We don’t tell our daughters, “Ah, the hell with it, just leave your room filthy,” because they don’t want to clean it.

–We don’t allow our sons to eat pancakes and pizza for dinner every night because they don’t like fruits and vegetables.

And we shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders when students don’t want to read. Nor should we pull them back and make them read to us. Reading to oneself is a life skill that has the potential to change futures.

Yes, we should teach reading lessons. We should intervene with kids who struggle. But we should also provide the time for kids to read whatever they want to themselves. We shouldn’t give up just because a handful would rather not.

–My mom got me to eat celery by slathering it with peanut butter.

–My dad got me to clean my room by threatening consequences if I didn’t.

–My third grade teacher got me to turn in my homework by announcing to the class which kids didn’t turn theirs in.

Get creative. Pull out all the stops. Get kids to read to themselves.

For some, that might mean helping them find books they’re interested in or guiding them toward books they can actually read. It might mean establishing a culture where kids don’t feel self-conscious about reading books at a lower level than their peers. It could even mean —gasp — consequences for not reading, just as there would be for kids who refuse to do their math, try hard at basketball practice, or clean their rooms. Experiment. Get creative. But don’t just give up. Independent reading is too important.

 

 

 

Higher Education: Transitioning From a Teacher to a Professor

The following is a guest post by Dixie Somers. 

Many institutions of higher learning require that newly hired professors have some experience in K-12. After entering the field, however, those individuals often struggle to walk the thin line between remembering their grade level experiences and developing lessons for adult students. The advantage in having such a background, however, is that new professors understand what future teachers will face once in the classroom. An effective transition can be accomplished by keeping a few things in mind.

Many Jobs Come with New Professorship

Most new hires come in as assistant professors. In that capacity, you will be expected to teach, conduct research, and provide various services to the institution you work for. You’ll most likely be teamed with a tenured professor who will help you navigate your first few years. The teaching component is usually composed of between two to four courses per semester. However, it should be remembered that it takes an enormous amount of preparation for each class.

The second job is research.  Institutions of higher learning depend on exposure, status, and reputation to attract quality students. They get those accolades through publications. Additionally, professors become tenured through their publications file.

The third job is service to the institution. That can come in the form of serving on committees, organizing conferences and lectures, and advising students. That job serves a dual purpose. Not only are you providing a much-needed service to the organization, but it also provides you with the opportunity to network with other staff.

Get to Know Your Department Early

To move into a tenured position, you’ll need a strong endorsement from your department. As a result, networking is extremely important. Each department will have its own culture and patterns of behavior that you’ll have to learn and adapt to. It’s important to remember that a political pervasiveness, which is different than at grade level schools, will permeate the department. That factor will require you to learn the nuances of the people and structure of the department so you don’t get sucked into the middle of disputes. The best way to get to know your new department is to attend all functions, whether formal or informal. During such events you will want to ask uncontroversial questions about things you’ve heard, then listen to the stories that will provide enlightenment. Most importantly, you will want to find ways to relieve stress while learning about your co-workers in a less constrained setting, such as the gym.

Change Your Perspective on Being an Education Professional

Transitioning from your position as a teacher to a professor of a college like Stevens Henager College can be a challenge. One of the key things to remember is that faculty members treat each other and students differently than they do in grade level schools. Social distance needs to be established between you and your students and they need to understand that you are not their peer or friend. There are two ways to establish this.

The first is with your dress. If you wear professional clothing then you’ll be treated as a professional. Another way is to establish your position by using your title of “Dr.” or “Professor.” You don’t have to appear as if you know it all. In fact, you’ll gain more respect if you say “I don’t know, but I’ll look it up before we meet again.” In many cases, it can be a great learning opportunity for the students by asking everyone to seek the answer in order to share what they found during the next class. Feel confident in the fact that, in your field, you are an expert.

Your future as a professional in higher education will ultimately depend on several things. Included are your teaching record, evaluations, publications, outside letters reporting on your standing in the field, and the record of your service. The upside is that you’ll have more freedom in academia than you ever thought possible.

 

Dixie Somers is a freelance writer and blogger for business, home, and family niches. Dixie lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is the proud mother of three beautiful girls and wife to a wonderful husband.

Growing Tomatoes in Wintertime

The following is a guest post by Kathy McBroom. She blogs for teachers and Christians at Real Life. Real Faith. 

 

Growing Tomatoes in Wintertime

Kathy McBroom

 

This past summer my two accidental tomato plants produced some amazing tomatoes. I say ‘accidental’ because while visiting a nursery last spring with some friends, in a weak moment I bought two tomato plants. We were scheduled to leave for Haiti the following week, so I arranged for a friend to come by and water the plants. I wished the tomatoes well. At our house plants must have a will to live.

When we came back, all I could say was, “Wow.” It was like the plants had been watered with steroids. They were huge; some of the best tomatoes I’d ever grown.

I was advised to save some seeds as starters for next year. I did, and there is now a small bag of seeds hidden in a kitchen drawer. After I pulled the dead plants out of the planters, I noticed there was a section that was still alive. I plucked it off and stuck it in a paper cup. I added some water. And then that thing grew and grew. I moved it into a pot. It grew some more. So I repotted it. It is now November, and I am in unknown territory. The plant is huge, unwieldy. I’m out of my league with these tomatoes, unsure what will happen next and what I will do about it. But I can’t let them go. I’m all in.

I never meant to be a teacher. I was Miss Playful in college, not much direction at all. On a whim, I added an English/Secondary Ed minor and student taught. I assumed it wouldn’t last. Teaching, like growing tomatoes, was something I had fallen into without much of a plan. I didn’t know what I was doing. Then, like my tomatoes, something unexpected happened. I fell in love with the kids — high achievers, low achievers, and all those in the middle. I started spending hours planning, and still do even though I ought to have it down by now. The seasons that I was out of teaching, I was drawn back to the classroom. The bells. Schools lunches. Pep rallies. Homecoming.

In spite of never majoring in English, I’ve now taught it to high schoolers for nearly 23 years. I still find myself sitting in English department meetings and having no idea what others are talking about. But I have never been a quitter.

The kids have changed. I’ve changed. Education has changed. The emphasis on data and test scores and the constant game-changing is confusing, annoying, and frustrating. These days I am surrounded by younger teachers with sharper minds, but I’m not done yet.

Like that tomato plant out by my garage that grew to an astonishing size, I can’t seem to let it go. I can’t give it up.

Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s an overachiever attitude. Maybe it’s because even though I’m now over 50, I can still remember things that my teachers taught me. I like a challenge. I can’t say no. I can’t give up until I’ve given all that I have.

I got into teaching the same way I got into growing tomatoes — on a whim. But in spite of the constant challenges, I won’t walk away. I’ll continue to stretch, to grow, and to ripen. I won’t allow myself to wither on the vine. I’m all in.

 

Don’t Let the Last Hour Spoil the Whole Day

end of day

Here is a list of nonsense words:

lurst, nifkin, bluck, pansate, wazzle, morky, wolire, chagg, fonticule, kittop, glope, tercopular, moobin

Fun, aren’t they?

In 1964, a German researcher named Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a series of experiments using words like those above. He wanted to determine whether the position of a word on a list affected how easily it could be recalled. To accomplish this, Ebbinghaus prerecorded lists of nonsense syllables, then played them to himself and tried to recall them. He found that the words near the beginning and end of the list were more readily recalled than those in the middle. He called this the “serial position effect” and postulated that the words at the end of the list were more easily recalled because they were still in his short-term memory, a phenomenon he called “recency effect.”

The recency effect is a recognized cognitive bias nowadays, and you see it everywhere. Your favorite sports team (and its coach) is judged by what they have done lately, regardless of how successful they’ve been in the past.  Investors make decisions based on how the stock market has done recently, instead of paying attention to historical trends. Companies use the recency effect in their marketing by making sure the product is as attractive as possible at the point of purchase. You get angry with your spouse over some trivial matter and forget all about the wonderful things they did just last week. Recency matters, and the classroom is no exception.

The recency effect explains why the last hour of school has the potential to ruin your (and your students’) perception of an entire day.

Earlier this year, my class was really struggling during the last 45 minutes of most days. I’d shoehorned science into this time slot and was attempting to include a lot of hands-on group work into my units. Students were not handling it well. Many were off-task. Patience was thin. Kids argued and fought over everything from who got to use what, to how long they used it, to whose idea was good and whose wasn’t. There were more than a few blowups from students whose frustrations reached the boiling point. And of course, my own willpower was at its nadir. I had little tolerance for nonsense and that just made the whole thing even more volatile. It wasn’t a good situation.

When I got home and my wife asked me how my day had gone, I told her it was horrible. I replayed what had happened at the end of the day and lamented how poorly I’d taught procedures and expectations. I complained that I wouldn’t be able to do hands-on, fun science experiments because the kids just couldn’t handle it. I was mentally drained, physically exhausted, and I didn’t even want to think about going back the next day.

This was the recency effect at work. But the truth was quite different.

For most of the day, my class was great. Mornings almost always went well. The students listened, worked hard, got along, and had positive attitudes. Most of the afternoon was productive, too. More students were on-task during independent reading than I’d had in years. They worked well with partners. Even recess was good. We had very few behavior problems on the playground.

When I really thought about it, the only time my students had trouble was during the last 45 minutes of the day. The problem was that when I went home for the day, it was this 45 minutes that I remembered. It left a terrible taste in my mouth, and since the recency effect also works on children, it was a horrible way for students to end the day, too. I imagine that after those chaotic science lessons, many students went home with few good feelings about being in my class. They likely shared those opinions with their parents, just as I had with my wife.

Ending your day poorly is a really good way to destroy your classroom culture, as well as your own enthusiasm for the job.

I had to find a way to combat the recency effect. So here is what I did. Try these strategies if you are finding that your last hour is spoiling the whole day.

Awareness

First, be aware of this cognitive bias we all have and give the end of the day the same weight you give the rest of it. At the end of my difficult days, I took a few minutes to just sit at my desk and replay each subject in my head. This way, I could remember how students had done during different periods of the day and remember that although we might have ended on a sour note, most of the day was actually pretty productive. Acknowledge the recency effect, and don’t judge your whole day based on how it ended.

Focus on the Majority

We teachers have a tendency to focus on the negative outliers, and I’m no different. 20 students can be doing their jobs, but if three are arguing and one of them throws a fit and goes storming out of the room, the whole lesson feels like a debacle, I feel like a failure, and I worry what students think about my classroom management. Instead of focusing on the problematic few, I try to force myself to think about the majority. I’ve written more about this in my article, How to Feel Like Less of a Failure.

Understand Why It Happens

While doing research for my book Exhausted, I learned a lot about willpower. We start each day with a given amount. As the day goes on, we use it up. By the end of the day, our stores of willpower are exhausted and we have a much harder time regulating our emotions. Glucose is the fuel we need for self-control. By 3:00, we’re pretty low on it, so students have a harder time using willpower to do the right thing. It takes energy to resist temptation and have patience with others, and by the end of the day, many students, especially those who have to use the most willpower to do the right thing the rest of the day, just don’t have any left. I explained all of this to my students, but while understanding helps, it doesn’t make it any less infuriating when you feel like the class is going off the rails.

Teach Expected Behaviors

Since I knew the last hour was going to be a challenge, I committed to being much more intentional and detailed about expectations. Before we got out the science materials and split off into groups, I taught and modeled exactly what students needed to do. We also made If/Then plans for handling predictable obstacles. “If Tony isn’t sharing the magnet, then I will remind him that everyone needs a turn before time is up.”

Prevent

Frankly, all the modeling and careful attention to detail annoyed me. I’d spend 15 minutes going over all this stuff, which meant students were pinched for time to perform the science activity, which led to some of the problems I was trying to prevent. In my book Exhausted, I write about how researchers have discovered that people with the most self-control actually use very little of it in the way we normally think about exercising willpower. They don’t will themselves to do the right thing by staring temptation in the face. Instead, people with a lot of self-control use it preemptively to avoid temptations and distractions. College students with exceptional self-control use it to sit in the front row instead of using it to avoid daydreaming or playing on their laptops in the back of the lecture hall. Dieters don’t use willpower to stop themselves from eating a bowl of ice cream at night. They use it to not buy the ice cream in the first place. Knowing this, I finally figured out that the best way to set my class up to be more successful — and the best way to go home feeling good about my days — were to rearrange my schedule so that students wouldn’t have to use so much willpower at a time of day when they had very little of it. I moved science class to the morning and put writing–a much quieter, more independent subject–at the end of the day. That solved more problems than anything.

Flip the Script

The recency effect doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be used to your and your students’ advantage by ending every day with something positive. Brainstorm a list of things you could do with the last ten minutes that will linger in your and your students’ memories. You might have students share something good that happened to them, either aloud or in writing. You could end the day with music and dancing. You can end with a game that builds the classroom culture. You could have your class meeting at the end of the day and share positives and goals for the next day. At the very least, you could do as Michael Linsin recommends in this post and end each day with calm, predictable procedures and high-fives all around. Send them home smiling and excited to come back tomorrow. Send yourself home the same way.

And now, since you’re at the end of this article, do you remember any of the nonsense words at the start of it?

Wait, let me guess….

Moobin?

 

__________________________________

Have you joined the Teacher Habits Club yet? If not, click here to subscribe and start receiving new content in your inbox.

Top Tips for Teaching Kids With Dyslexia To Read

Guest post by Laura Buckler

Top Tips for Teaching Kids with Dyslexia to Read

 

Dyslexia is a learning disability, but it is not a disease.

Kids with dyslexia simply process language differently from those without the condition. They have a problem with turning heard words and sounds into written form, and have a hard time remembering and reading words in isolation, such as on flash cards, or in sequence, such as the days of the week. Most people with dyslexia are of normal to high intelligence, and cope with their difficulties by accessing higher language learning skills.

Many kids with dyslexia reach adulthood without a proper diagnosis, and this can lead them to think they are not as intelligent as they actually are, simply because reading is a basic skill they have failed to master. They are scared that something is wrong with their brain, when in fact they simply learn differently.

While no one really knows what causes dyslexia, researchers believe it is hereditary. Because they learn differently from others, traditional methods for teaching them to read are not very effective. In many cases, the undiagnosed dyslexic child will use context to “read” without actually recognizing individual words to keep up with other children.

People with dyslexia can learn to read just as well as other people with the proper attention, methods, and tools. It is therefore important to diagnose the problem as early as possible to help them now and in the future. Here are the top tips for teaching kids with dyslexia.

Show and Tell (and Feel and Smell and Taste)

Kids with dyslexia learn to read best by engaging all their senses in the process.  This helps the brain create more associations with a particular word. This is the basis for the MSL, or Multisensory Structural Language, approach, and it works well with all language learners, not only people with dyslexia. Learners are encouraged to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste a word using various tools. Here are some ways to use the MSL approach with your child:

  • Use flash cards with a picture and the word printed together on it, and have the child hold it as they read the word. This gives them something to hold and look at as they say the word. Have them trace each letter with their finger as they read the word.
  • Use actual objects. Whenever possible, have the student hold the physical object of the word being taught. For example, if you are teaching the word apple, have them hold one, and encourage them to smell, feel, and eventually, taste it!
  • Use sand trays. Fill a flat, shallow tray with sand or beans in which the child can spell a word repeatedly. This engages their sense of touch and sight.
  • Use music. Songs, rhymes, and chants can help the child remember spelling rules and sequences.  For example, you can teach the child to spell “Mississippi” by chanting MIS-SIS-SIPPI!
  • Use color to classify different types of words and numbers. Use different colors for nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech. Use a different color to distinguish whole numbers from decimal numbers, and so on.
  • Use reading games. Games are always a good way to teach anything. Check out these links for some MSL games and activities to help your dyslexic child.

Start big

Some people with dyslexia see letters all jumbled up, and they have a hard time seeing subtle differences. Lower case p and q, for example, look the same to them. The same is true for b and d. To help them distinguish similar letters, write them big and bold, and put plenty of space between words. As they learn to recognize the letters, you can gradually make them smaller and closer together.

Just to be clear

Kids with dyslexia need a lot of reinforcement when learning to read. Do not assume that the student has any familiarity with the lesson. When introducing the letter B, for example, you should tell the student that it is letter of the day. You then clearly sound the letter out and ask the student to repeat it several times before introducing words beginning with the letter B.  Make the student say each word aloud several times before moving on to the next one. You can also use other strategies such as games and songs related to the letter or word.  

Repetition is the Key

Make it a habit to repeat everything several times to help kids struggling with short-term memory, which is common among those with dyslexia. Instructions, concepts, sequences, and words have a habit of slipping off into forgetful land. Encourage the student to write them down to help them remember, and make sure to correct any spelling mistakes.

An important aspect of teaching kids with dyslexia is connecting concepts when building new skills. Whenever you introduce a new lesson, make sure to connect it to an old one. If you must, refresh his or her memory by reviewing old lessons. A kid with dyslexia will learn something new better if they can associate it with something they already know or experienced.

Conclusion

Teaching kids with dyslexia to read is not hard if you accept and understand that they learn differently from other kids. Accommodate their learning styles and difficulties and give them practical coping skills using these tips and other teaching strategies. You will soon have them reading with the best of them.

 

BIO: Laura Buckler is a great writer, always making the best out of her articles. Her belief in life is that anything can be done with an amount of perseverance, so she puts an effort into all her duties. She teaches people to be aware of their potential. Check out her twitter.