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.
This meeting was as informative as ever. We heard from neuroscientists, psychologists, directors of interdisciplinary research centers, researchers in language acquisition, experienced clinicians, education advocates, teacher educators, public school literacy leaders, and families affected by learning difficulties. Through diverse perspectives, one theme stood out for me: We will serve students and families better if we are informed by the facts. Romantic ideas, though appealing, will not serve the needs of students or teachers. Let’s examine a few beliefs that we’re better off without.
What is "Deep Reading"?
Consider a simple insight with large implications: Human beings were never born to read. Reading or written language is a cultural invention that necessitated totally new connections among structures in the human brain underlying language, perception, cognition, and, in time, our emotions. The reading brain circuit emerged, which became a vehicle like no other for ever more elaborate connections, which gave literate humans an evolving platform for the development of new thought. Reading represents one of the most important epigenetic breakthroughs in the history of the species; our very history was made possible by it.
The reason for this blog’s title will become clear in the next two paragraphs.
It is, as you undoubtedly remember, a phrase uttered by Alice during her adventures in Wonderland. This fantastic work of Charles Dodgson—pen name Lewis Carroll—is well worth reading, if you haven't done so, or re-reading, if you have. The first two paragraphs alone are so short and elegant as to warrant memorization, and they include the thoughtful observation, “...and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’”
When we think of the growth mindset, the two characteristics most often mentioned are intelligence and effort. What is just as relevant, but often overlooked, is intellectual curiosity. Sophie von Stumm and her colleagues have described it as “the hungry mind” and “the third pillar of academic success,” which are perfectly appropriate. You might want to take the time to read their scholarly work, or considerably less time to read a commentary on their study.
Motivation, according to a recent textbook on adolescent literacy*, is “a feeling of interest or enthusiasm that makes a student want to complete a task or improve his or her skills.” Teachers of adolescent poor readers, however, often find that their students are willing to do anything BUT read and write. Getting students to believe that they can make meaningful progress—when all prior experience suggests they will not—and to work at something that has never been rewarding is a major challenge.
When close reading gained prominence a few years ago, I was a little insulted that as a professional developer in the area of literacy, anyone could think the instructional strategies I shared with teachers did not help students to read “closely.” Then, I learned more about close reading and saw that it truly did push teachers and students to a whole new level of rigor. In time, I’ve also learned there are a few principles and practices that when applied well will make teaching the process of close reading achievable for teachers and the outcomes of close reading meaningful for students.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part blog discussing context and its use in interpreting assessment data. The first part of this blog was published here on Oct. 19.
In last week's blog, I wrote about the importance of context in situations from reading to deciphering vocabulary words to interpreting assessment data.
Although context has many applications for helping to understand unclear situations, it also can be an important guide for educators seeking to compare and evaluate student progress.
The Importance of Context when Interpreting Assessment Data, Part 1 of 2
Often, “context” is referred to in terms of reading texts or passages. Context is so important that we teach students how to use clues to understand new vocabulary words when reading. Context makes a difference when understanding ambiguous situations that might be easily misunderstood if you don’t understand what happened most recently in the passage or you don't have the culturally relevant information that helps us understand what we are reading.
Context is important in many situations, not just reading, and I am going to make the case for context being important when interpreting assessment data.
I am more than a teacher. I am an activator. I'm tasked with lighting thousands upon thousands of little ‘aha’ moments in little minds each year. Not each spark takes hold, but others explode! Sometimes, I get to see the magic take hold in the most powerful of ways. Part 2 of 2.
Carmen came to me a reading-shy freshman. She was ever so polite, with a smile that melts my heart daily.
She'd forget her glasses. She'd quietly chat with her friend. She'd wait for someone to notice she was lost.
In the past, I would give her a heads up before calling on her and be met with panicked eyes. While another student read aloud, I'd go over to her and softly let her know I'd help her. When she started to shut down, I'd smile and let her know that ladies let people know what they need and move forward. I'd remind her that she was still moving ahead.
I am more than a teacher. I am an activator. I'm tasked with lighting thousands upon thousands of little ‘aha’ moments in little minds each year. Not each spark takes hold, but others explode! Sometimes, I get to see the magic take hold in the most powerful of ways. Part 1 of 2.
Periodically, I stop class for a five-minute life lesson. I teach transferable skills, as many of them as I can, on and off curriculum. As these teachable moments crop up, I seize them. I'm preparing my kiddos for life. I'd be shirking my responsibilities if I didn't teach them the soft skills that subtly support us as we move through the world. My pupils needed to be well read, analytical, adept at critical thinking, and savvy. Most of all, they needed to find their voice. They live in a world that doesn't always tell them their “value.” They are told constantly what they are “worth.”
March is Music in Our Schools Month. Since ancient Greece, music has been an important area of study. The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 lists music as a core academic subject. So allow me to step on my music advocacy soapbox (we call them conducting podiums) and illuminate both why and how you can support music in our schools.
Advocacy for music in public education is important because it seems that in today’s society, where quality education is summarily evaluated by data from test scores, arts education is constantly threatened.