Year after year, I struggled with students who claimed to hate reading. They didn’t like to read. They told me so, over and over again. I have a stock response: “You know, every time you say that an English teacher cries.”
Handing out reading assignment packets or calling for volunteers to read aloud was consistently met with gut-wrenching groans. I am an unusually peppy person, but I was deflating. Must I hear this every time? We hadn’t even started the reading yet.
I had to end this cycle of abuse on innocent texts. They weren’t to blame. The curriculum, teachers’ interests, accessibility, and availability were all factors in killing reading for our students. Alas, poor little packets of photocopied words take the bulk of the wrath for students being told over and over again “Reading is FUN!” as they gaze down, bracing themselves for one more double-sided, black-and-white chore.
A Better Approach for Struggling Readers
At the end of October, I attended and spoke at the annual International Dyslexia Association (IDA) meeting in Dallas. IDA remains the best interdisciplinary conference for all professionals, advocates, and families concerned with reading, writing, and language difficulties. IDA meetings, over the past three decades, are where I’ve obtained my real education.
As an educator, you may never know exactly what impact your influence will have on their lives, but know that you have made a difference.
It takes time for research to be translated into practice, particularly when it comes to textbooks. For example, it was nearly 20 years ago when U.S. math educators examined the textbooks and instructional practices of highly successful countries around the world, only to determine what we already knew. American math textbooks were “a mile wide and an inch deep.” In contrast, international curricula typically contained fewer topics that were addressed in greater depth.1
The traditional structure of math textbooks as you move across the grade levels has been unfortunately predictable. James Flanders’ analysis of elementary and middle school texts in the late 1980s characterized the typical text as bloated with all kinds of review and extra content.2 Almost 30 years later, we still have the same problem in many of our math textbooks.3 This problem remains in spite of the fact that efforts like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards to infuse more conceptual understanding and problem solving in textbooks occurred in the intervening years.
It’s a catch-22. Because reading is difficult for them, older struggling readers don’t like to read, and therefore they don’t read. As a result and over time, vocabulary, sentence structure, comprehension, and academic language become less familiar, and these students begin to fall further and further behind.
In Carver, Massachusetts, 11th grader Noah Pina explained to a group of educators, including myself, how an intervention program changed his life. Noah started the curriculum last year reading at approximately a fifth grade level and is now reading at a 10th grade level!
As we quickly approach the holidays, if you’re still going strong with your classroom management, well done! The first part of the semester was critical to classroom management success, and now the goal is to maintain that momentum throughout the year.
The student teacher I mentored last year has her own classroom now, and she worked hard to start the year off right. We talked recently about how to keep her classes running smoothly.
I’ve been blessed with so many great mentors and some great professional development over the years, so I’m borrowing from that wealth of experience to identify three central practices that I’m confident will see her through. I call them my smooth-sailing standards.
No matter our experiences or background growing up, most of us can remember at least one or two occasions during childhood where we were picked on, made fun of in front of peers, humiliated in some way, threatened, intimidated, or perhaps even beaten up.
I was a tall boy (and “smart”) in my school and clearly recall the students who did these things to me, as well as details and circumstances surrounding these terrible incidents. Mostly I was picked on by older (and larger) students, and I recall particularly one of my classmates who seemed bent on making me suffer daily. Adults in the school didn’t seem to notice or care—at least it certainly felt that way. No adult ever talked to us about bullying, how to report it, or what to do about it. Maybe they just thought it was “normal.”
Henry Ward Beecher once said, a word is a “peg to hang ideas on.” A single word can conjure a host of meanings and associations. “Dyslexia” is such a word.
In the last couple of years, the well-known and respected researchers Julian Elliott and Elena Grigorenko have been arguing that it is time to do away with the “D word.” In The Dyslexia Debate (Cambridge University Press, 2014), they object to the word because many misunderstandings, false claims, and myths are associated with it.
Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to teach mathematics and why it is so difficult for students to grasp the meaning of the words we use in mathematics? If you pause and think about it, mathematics is a very technical subject, and it has a set of vocabulary words that have very precise meanings and sometimes multiple uses within mathematics. Outside of the math class, those same words take on a whole different meaning—oops, there is one of those words: “whole.” Get it?
Well, there are lots of them, and I would like for you to take the seat of the students for a few minutes as you read this and filter the conversation through their ears.
One of the biggest impacts of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation has been the infusion of the word “research” into the language and thinking about education. Teachers are encouraged to ask, “Is my classroom curriculum research based?” “What about specialized interventions for students with disabilities?” It is a short step to asking the same question about today’s mathematics standards, and prominent researchers at Vanderbilt University have done just this in a series of randomized control studies.1
What the researchers described as “very low achieving” fourth grade students were randomly assigned to either inclusive or specialized intensive classrooms. Instruction in both conditions was guided by grade-level standards for fractions. It wasn’t a major surprise that the students in the inclusive classrooms performed poorly over the three years of the study as teachers fully implemented the Common Core State Standards. Researchers, however, were dismayed to find that the performance of students in specialized intensive settings also decreased over time, despite the use of their intervention curriculum in these studies.