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    Examining and Changing Our Reading Habits

    By Gravity Goldberg
     | Nov 02, 2016

    cue routine reward1Reading in the same ways day after day can become a habit. Habits are not choices, and by nature we tend to lack awareness of what we are doing when we are involved in them. As a result, we become stagnant and often unaware of the other choices and possibilities that exist. If I always tie my shoes in the same way, I no longer even think about it and I forget there are other ways. If I always read a book in the same way, I miss other dimensions and may end up skimming the surface. As more and more focus is placed on reading with rigor we can think about what rigor really means. It is likely not reading by habit and instead involves reading deeply with choices in mind.

    The habit loop

    The best-selling, influential book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (2014) brought attention to habits and began to clarify the difference between habits and choices. Duhigg explains the habit loop, which consists of a three-step process. First, there is a cue or trigger. When the cue happens, our brains begin to identify the routine we should follow on the basis of previous experiences. The loop ends when there is a reward. After a while of following this loop, our routines become automatic and we no longer have awareness of what we are doing and it no longer feels like a choice. Duhigg explains:

    When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in the decision-making. It stops working so hard, or diverts attention to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the habit will unfold automatically.

    When we read by habit, our brains are not working very hard and we might not be making decisions that help us more deeply understand our books.

    Consider Tim, a third grader, who reads in the same way every day, no matter what the text. He reads and follows the character’s actions, not noticing the character’s motivations, emotions, or relationships. As he reads, Tim asks himself the question, “What did the character do?” over and over. It was not until Tim began talking to his reading partner, Michele, about her books that he realized there were other elements to pay attention to—he was stuck in a habit loop. Michele is a reader who tends to think about why the characters are making the choices they do. She tends to ask herself the questions, “Why did she do that?” and “What is motivating her now?” As Michele and Tim had conversations, they began to realize there were multiple ways to read a book and they had choices concerning what they wanted to think about. They might not have consciously chosen their reading habits, but they still had them.

    To help students become aware of their reading habits you might do the following:

    • Model how you, the teacher, reflect on the habits you tend to follow as a reader.
    • Create a class habit chart and invite students to share their habits so they can begin to change them.
    • Offer students a few minutes before independent reading time to jot down a plan for what they are going to think about as they read. Students can look back at their plans and see patterns they might want to change.
    • Pair up students to discuss how their reading habits might be not only helping them as readers but also limiting their thinking too.

    Turning a habit into a choice

    “Once you can break a habit into its components, you can fiddle with the gears,” Duhigg said. Perhaps we always sit in the same seat at lunch. Maybe we always tie the left shoe before our right one. The small repetitive acts add up to living a lot of our lives without awareness, on “autopilot.” The clearest example for me is driving home after a long day. It is scary to arrive home and realize I was not paying attention at all, that my mind was on autopilot, and I somehow made it home and don’t remember the drive. Best-selling author Don Miguel Ruiz teaches something called “non-doing.” Non-doing is when you consciously choose to break the pattern you always do. That could mean tying the right shoe first or sitting in a different seat at lunch. When we practice non-doing, we are giving ourselves new perspectives and bringing awareness back into our lives. From awareness we can make choices. As a reader this might mean choosing to focus more on the characters’ motivation rather than reading by habit and paying attention only to the plot. Readers can choose their own “non-doing” strategy.

    To help students change a habit into a choice you might do the following:

    • Connect the strategies you teach to when a reader would choose them. This helps readers view strategies as choices.
    • Give students a few minutes at the end of independent reading time to reflect with a partner about what habit they broke and how it had an impact on their thinking.
    • Read aloud and discuss books showing a character that broke a habit. A few of my favorites are The Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers, The Old Woman Who Named Things, by Cynthia Rylant, and Naked Mole Rats Get Dressed, by Mo Willems.
    • Use a visual to show the habit loop and explain it to students. Let them know that the way to change a habit is to replace the old routine with a new one.

    Remember that sharing our habits is not about judging them or beating ourselves up for having them. We all have habits, and they all help us in some way. The key is to realize when we are stuck in a reading habit and turn it back into a choice.

    Gravity Goldberg headshot-2Gravity Goldberg is author of Mindsets and Moves: Strategies that Help Readers Take Charge(Corwin 2016) and coauthor of Conferring with Readers(Heinemann, 2007). She leads a team of literacy consultants in the NY/NJ area and presents to teachers across the United States. At the heart of Gravity's teaching is the belief that everyone deserves to be admired and supported. She can be reached viae-mailand onTwitter.


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    Adding Students and Teachers Back Into “Data-Driven Schools”

    By Ilce Perot
     | Oct 27, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-105697271_x300As teachers, we work alongside students, witnessing their thinking and learning process. We see students as writers, readers, listeners, speakers, and viewers.

    However, in many “data-driven” schools, the “data” dominating meetings and students’ narratives do not have student or teacher voice but mostly reflect standardized, multiple choice tests.

    Data analysis companies are thriving while schools purchase subscriptions for access to online software to analyze state and local standardized test scores. The information from the analysis—spreadsheets cross-referencing students with standards, demographics, teachers, other students—is not bad, especially because it provides teachers with multilevel reports.

    In Texas, lead4ward (including staar4ward) is cited in nearly 700 school budgets as part of schools’ improvement plans, professional development plans, and district improvement plans, sometimes allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to one company.

    This phenomenon is not limited to Texas. Schools across the United States are using “data-driven” to communicate sound decision making to stakeholders. However, two major stakeholders are being left out: students and teachers.

    Data help us make informed decisions, but we must be aware of what the data assess, what we are valuing, and what the data’s limitations are.

    Some leading education websites and books romanticize the idea that “data” help educators “determine essential standards” students will be retaught and retested for mastery. This means standardized tests determine what is taught and standards with low passing rates are taught more. Sometimes “data” also determine what standards and vocabulary are not taught because they are not tested.

    Some schools systematically allocate “standards” to grade levels, omitting them from others. Standards are sometimes segregated when schools “determined essential standards” to teach students of low-performing demographics to help “guarantee” higher scores and show growth on the federal Annual Yearly Progress report. In some “data-driven schools,” standards are no longer a promise to every student but conditional to standardized test data.

    Standardized tests do not tell us why students do not understand something or how to help them. Yet some schools created local “high-quality interim assessments” to address the why and how. This approach validates more testing but continues to focus on test performance versus students’ actual thinking process.

    As educators, we can determine why students are struggling. During guided reading, we have the ability to determine what influenced students’ cues. Did the meaning, syntax, or visuals have an impact on the child’s reading? We can even dig deeper by noting the actual elements of the text the student used for each cue and the patterns in which students used them. A teacher can witness a student make a mistake and then determine the cause, not just determine the standard.

    When working in a small group with students or one-on-one, we have the opportunity to acquire qualitative data that reflect where understanding broke down. Sometimes we realize that a student is nothing like the standardized test data, whereas other times we see that the data were a small glimpse of a student’s true mastery of a standards.

    Without looking for root causes, we are missing essential teaching opportunities. As a student who was labeled an English learner, I valued every time a teacher recognized that I knew something and recognized that my mistake was oversight or error. Let’s not miss opportunities to validate students.

    Additionally, the data-driven phenomenon is often accompanied by interpreting standards solely within testing rigor, limiting the depth of concepts and standards to how they appear on tests. In Texas, some schools teach only first- or third-person point of view and not as perspective in order to “stay true” to the Texas standards.

    Even the formatting of material, with student materials looking exactly like the test, robs students of the opportunity to learn 21st-century computer literacy skills. We cannot rob students of learning about formatting and leveraging material for varying audiences out of fear students will “be so shocked” by the test looking different from daily work that they will perform badly. Students need authentic texts in authentic formats.

    Let’s add students and teachers back into data-driven schools by recognizing the limitations of standardized test data and empowering teachers to determine root cause of students’ struggle(s) in order to provide sound intervention. Let’s teach students more systematically versus teaching the test more systematically. We can know all students as writers, readers, listeners, speakers, and viewers.

    ilce perot headshotIlce Perot is currently an international literacy consultant and English learner specialist for LitLife, Inc. Ilce has traveled the United States and internationally supporting teachers of students across a range of settings including bilingual, ESL/ENL/ELL, Spanish education, and dual language programs. Ilce is currently pursuing her doctorate degree in education.


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    Teaching Means Having to Say You’re Sorry

    By Peg Grafwallner
     | Oct 25, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-86524642_x300With 24 years of teaching under my belt, I’ve apologized more than my fair share—to colleagues, to administrators, and to parents.

    But in those 24 years, I probably have apologized to my students the most.

    Teaching can make one humble very quickly. Some teachers may think they have all the answers, but good teachers know they don’t.

    As a high school English teacher, I learned that to work as an authentic classroom community, I needed to take responsibility when the lesson didn’t go well and show my students that I was willing to try again, even if they weren’t.

    It usually went something like this: I had a great idea for a lesson and created a plan that I thought was foolproof. As I look back to those early days of my career, I realize the lessons that didn’t go well were the ones that were poorly planned and tended to rely more on an activity I had briefly read about or on a three-minute video clip I had seen. But the activity seemed engaging and fun and my students would love it!

    Of course, I was sure I would get the same result that the author flaunted or the same result displayed in the video: students hunched over their desks, working with peers with such ferocity that lunchtime couldn’t wedge them out of their chairs, followed by a discussion that would be one for the ages, with students eager to raise their hand to share wisdom beyond their years. Yes, I knew exactly what this activity would look like in my classroom, and I was eager to share it with students.

    As an example, during Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, I decided to assign students Act I, scene IV to read at home. We had read the prior acts as a large group. I was confident that with the necessary scaffolding and background information I had given to them about Queen Mab, they could read it, interpret it, and come back the next day with incredibly insightful notes. I anticipated a discussion with perceptive analysis and keen awareness. I was ready to be mesmerized!

    They weren’t. Most students came back with what looked to be poorly copied SparkNotes. Some read the scene and gave me a three- to four-sentence “overview” (Internet based, I’m sure), and others didn’t bother to read at all.

    Then it hit me: The reason the lesson failed and the reason I owed students an apology was because I didn’t set a purpose for reading. I didn’t explain why the reading was important.

    I didn’t blame my students. My desire to send them on their way to see what they could do “on their own” was poorly thought through. The discussion I had hoped for became a brief lecture by me of the four most important “takeaways” from the scene.

    And so, I apologized. First, I apologized for not thoroughly explaining Mercutio’s chaotic personality and why the scene exemplified his personality. Second, I apologized for failing to highlight the value of the dream sequence and how that haunted Romeo later. Finally, I apologized for basically throwing them into the deep end without a net.

    I had given students the background knowledge they needed for the scene. But I didn’t tell them to offer evidence of Mercutio’s chaotic personality. I didn’t ask them how those examples of evidence demonstrated his personality. I had told them briefly about Queen Mab but didn’t ask students to explain the dream sequence or ask them to predict how Romeo’s dream haunted him later in the play. I didn’t bother telling the students what I wanted them to look for in their reading. I gave them what could be considered arguably the most difficult scene in Act I and threw them in, feet first without a life jacket. No wonder some of them struggled to stay afloat.

    That was 24 years ago. Now that I’m an instructional coach/reading specialist at a large, urban high school, I use “why” questions when I work with teachers on gathering resources, lesson planning, and assessment: Why are we using those resources, and what are we hoping students gain from them? Why are we using that standard to represent that skill? What do we want to assess, and why should students know that information?

    Yes, I’ve apologized many times to students throughout my 24-year career in the classroom. Although apologizing has never been easy, I always knew it was the right thing to do. Looking back, I wouldn’t have done it any other way and I know my students feel the same way.

    peg grafwallner headshotPeg Grafwallner is an instructional coach with Milwaukee Public Schools. Learn more about Peg on her website.


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    Learning From Luis

    By Robert Ward
     | Sep 29, 2016

    80402967_x300Luis was a particularly brilliant boy in my seventh-grade English class in South Los Angeles. But like particularly brilliant kids can sometimes be, Luis initially decided that on all accounts he knew better than I did and that his teacher was the enemy.

    He fought me often and openly, but one thing I absolutely knew that Luis did not was that he was fighting himself far more. Luis desperately wanted to be right—and he often was, and insightfully so—but he thought the only way he could truly be right was if he proved his teacher wrong. He petulantly questioned and countered my every decision, idea, or answer.

    Standing firm

    Of course, I stood up to Luis’s antics and outbursts, which I saw as thinly veiled attempts to antagonize and show me up. With supreme confidence and utter calm, I nipped in the bud contention for contention’s sake. Other times, I simply ignored his futile attempts to undermine my classroom culture of willingness, wisdom, wonder, and worth.

    Luis just could not get it through his hard head that my great pleasure was to give him all the glory, especially if he could politely explain why his answer was better than my own interpretation. He saw his classmates—many of whom were nowhere near as astute as he was—routinely earn praise, not only for their cooperation and courtesy but for their intelligence and effort. Why Luis chose to deny himself these same pleasures was beyond me.

    Still, I allowed him to make his own choices and to stew in his own juices. As Luis pouted, I could see he hated me and that in his own mind he was certain I felt the same about him.

    The transformation

    With time and a great deal of patience on my part, Luis eventually came around. Toward the end of the first semester, he finally decided it was better to earn my admiration than my curt rebuke or cold disregard. We butted heads so many times he eventually learned this was a battle he was never going to win with his contrary attitude.

    More to the point, Luis ultimately realized he was never going to win if he kept denying himself my heartfelt congratulation, the excitement of my engaging curriculum, and the rewards of rigorous academic success. Luis had been the oddball, not his teacher. He had made multiple attempts to get the other students to join in his cynicism of me, but his negativity was no match for the positivity the others were already reaping while in my class.

    Luis began respectfully raising his hand to earnestly ask me some profoundly relevant question or to add his keen point of view to the discussion. In the end, he cut his losses and joined us as a pleasant, productive participant of our class community. 

    A shared epiphany

    One day when we were well into reading The Outsiders, Luis called me over to his desk and asked me a question I could see deeply perplexed him.

    “Mr. Ward, I don’t get it. Soda and the other Greasers keep telling Ponyboy that his brother Darry loves him, but he can’t see it for himself. No matter what they say, Pony is convinced that Darry doesn’t want him around and hates him.”

    I was just about to give Luis some pat answer about Ponyboy’s character but found myself saying this instead: “Well, Luis, sometimes we can’t see what is right in front of us because we are too caught up in our own ideas and emotions.

    “Remember at the beginning of the year when you thought I was a jerk and you just assumed I didn’t care about you at all? None of that was ever true; but no matter how much I told you I was on your side or the other kids said I was cool, you wouldn’t believe it until you were ready. You drove me crazy for a while there, dude. But it was worth the wait, don’t you agree?”

    Luis simply grinned one of his rare grins.

    Persistence, patience, and a sound game plan pay off

    I assure you, when it comes to nurturing children, it is always worth the wait. Fortitude, persistence, and patience do pay off—but only when a teacher also steadily offers every student the things they need most.

    In the end, what I learned from Luis—and every single kid I have ever taught—was that the joys of mutual respect and familiar routines, supportive relationships and sincere recognition, profound relevance and inspiring recreation, and reassuring readiness and progressive refinement deeply resonate with all children. Ultimately, I wore down Luis’s resistance by making the entirety of his classroom experience irresistible.

    robert ward headshotRobert Ward has taught English at public middle schools in Los Angeles for over 20 years. He is the author of three books, including the upcoming, A Teacher’s Inside Advice to Parents: How Children Thrive With Leadership, Love, Laughter, and Learning. Visit Robert’s website and blog, or find him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

     

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    Making a Place for Literature in Reading Instruction

    By John R. McIntyre
     | Sep 20, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-484157832_x300In a study of over 8,000 primary and secondary students conducted in England and supported by the National Literacy Trust, one half of the participants reported not only liking to read but also believing themselves to be proficient readers. Researchers presented distinctions between confident readers and those who were dissatisfied and less confident. The research suggested that three overriding goals are vital to the cause of improved reading performance.

    First, create a culture that encourages enthusiastic readers. The study suggested matching the actual interests of readers with the menu of reading materials. Second, engage boys with reading by involving male role models and engaging boys in the creation of the school’s culture. Third, support parents’ efforts to encourage children’s reading at home through home–school practices to create a habit of student reading.

    Regardless of instructional methodology, consistent application of reading strategies is a prerequisite for reading proficiency. It has long been realized that the opportunity to individually choose reading material can be a source of motivation to continue to read. Curriculum experts warn us not to provide students with the option of not reading—some will always choose not to read. Ask students what book they will be reading today. Of course, this inquiry presumes that the opportunity to read literature as an integral component of the school program is available and acceptable. 

    As one accumulates years of teaching experience frequent feelings of déjà vu may occur. In his teaching experience, this writer initiated a new reading practice known as “individualized reading” into his classroom.

    This pedagogy continues in some contemporary classrooms as a vehicle for delivering a deeply rewarding reading experience for teacher and students. Some writers express a preference for a focus on literature rather than reading methodology during teacher preparation due to a conviction that children’s literature is the basis for effective reading instruction. Others also insist that we must convey to students it is not what they choose to read but that their commitment to read that matters. The more students read real books, the more opportunity they have to apply the skills we wish them to acquire. My fifth grade students consumed 1,354 books during one year of individual reading choice.

    Stories challenge the reader’s ability to reflect on his or her beliefs and assumptions about diverse and unique individual persons. This is the insight reading holds for all learners. Indeed the power of stories is insurmountable. All of the world’s great teachers employed the vehicle of stories—Gandhi, Confucius, Jesus, and Gilbran, to name a few—to reflect on life’s dilemmas, enabling us to confront them without having to actually live through them. Consider the dilemma in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as Huck confronts the choice of turning Jim, the slave, over to the slave traders as he weighs what’s “right” against what “don’t feel right” about turning over the man with whom he has become so empathic, but conflicted. In the wordless storybook Sing, Pierrot, Sing, we can engage children by asking them to create a story as we guide them through each page. Children may offer many different stories demonstrating that meaning can be constructed in the mind of the individual not solely from the words on a page. Why do stories help us to teach so effectively? They reveal who we are to ourselves.

    Another advantage of stories becomes evident when they serve as explicit models of human behavior. They tend to do so in a manner that is more vivid than any bland or logical entreaty. The most compelling representation of storytelling for children is found in literature written for them. Let’s not squeeze the bountiful stories of children’s literature into the classroom; rather, let’s proactively invite the lessons of children’s literature to form the basis of instruction in reading. Thus, we can create a classroom culture that engenders confidence and self-efficacy for all our students, while delineating the instrumental role of coreader with children for their parents.

    john mcintyre headshotJohn R. McIntyre is a professor in the Educational Administration and Supervision graduate program at Caldwell University in New Jersey. He began his educational career as a fifth-grade teacher and a reading specialist. He earned his doctorate at Rutgers University and held a number of positions in educational administration, including school superintendent.

     

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