What’s RIGHT with education?

Lately there has been a lot of talk about education in the news. Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot of talk about what’s wrong with education and how we can fix it. We’d like to take a minute to share our list of what’s right with education. What does it look like when things are going well? What are the signs that a school or a classroom doesn’t need to be “fixed?”

Here are a few of our thoughts.

1.  Teachers are smiling.

We’re not just talking about the “nice to meet you smiles,” but the genuine “I love my job” smiles. Those authentic smiles to kids, parents and colleagues in the hallways, classrooms and teacher’s lounges are signs that teachers love what they do. Teachers smile a lot more when they are respected, trusted, encouraged and celebrated.  A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when the teachers are happy.

2.  Kids are smiling.

We want our kids to love learning, love school, enjoy what they are doing, and feel valued as contributing members of the classroom community. It’s our job as teachers to make sure we’ve created the environment for this to happen.  Kids smile when they have choice in what they read and write, when they are listened to and respected, and when they are encouraged to do their best. A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when the kids are happy.

3.  Kids are reading and writing daily and growing as literate beings.

A school that is working well has kids engaged in daily, meaningful literacy work. Kids have ownership of their reading and writing and are given sufficient time each day to practice.  Kids aren’t doing mindless worksheets or isolated activities just to have something to turn in to the teacher.  Rather, they are being treated as real readers and writers in the world.  Their teachers are supporting them and helping them grow into proficient readers and writers.  That growth is measured in multiple ways, not just with test scores. A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when kids are engaged in meaningful literacy work.

4.  It is noisy.

We’re not talking about just random noise, but purposeful, meaningful literacy talk. Kids should be talking about their reading and writing daily. Literacy is social and kids (and adults) need time to talk in order to construct meaning and see the purpose that literacy has in their lives. A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when kids are talking about their thinking, their learning and their literate lives.

5 .  More teaching than testing is going on.

Teachers need to be interacting with and responding to the students in their classrooms.  Time is spent constructing the curriculum, choosing the read alouds, planning instruction, meeting with children to talk about their reading and writing, and assessing students based on their specific needs as learners.  A school most likely doesn’t need to be fixed when teachers are teaching and not just testing.

What else is happening in schools and classrooms that don’t need to be fixed?  We look forward to your thoughts!

Getting to know your readers

Most primary teachers early in the school year are busy trying to figure out what kind of readers they have in their classroom.  Some schools use standardized benchmark tests to level the students early in August or September, others use the data from the end of the last school year.  We’ve worked in schools where teachers are trained to use the DRA to assess all their students or they use parts of Clay’s Observation Survey tests to gather information.  We’ve also worked in other schools that use their own benchmark leveling system and others still that use only computer tests, spelling inventories, and word reading lists.

Whatever assessment system your school or district uses, we suggest that you also take time to just listen to your students read to you.  There is so much more than can be learned about a student by hearing him/her read in a comfortable setting.  You can hear how he attacks unknown words, how fluent he sounds, whether he rereads to check and confirm what he is reading, and so on.  By chatting with the student about the text, you can discover a lot about his comprehension. You are trying to discover what the child is able to do as a reader, what he can almost do, and some indications of what he still needs to learn how to do. Below is a list of tips of what to listen or watch for as each student shares a book with you.

  1. Watch for students who are reading to you in beginning pattern texts (levels 1-4) and seem to have memorized the book, but are not looking at the print.  Some may even be inventing the text based on the pictures and show no evidence of voice/print match. Encouraging one-to-one matching of text is your starting point with these students.
  2. Listen for all aspects of fluency.  Does the student read in groups of words or does it sound choppy like robot reading?  Does the child seem to attend to the punctuation to help her decide how the sentence should sound?  Is she reading in a monotone rather than making the dialogue parts sound like a character talking? Fluency (pacing, phrasing, intonation, and attention to punctuation) can be taught; it’s more than just a child’s speed and accuracy.
  3. Be on the alert for the student who shows no evidence of self-monitoring.  Is he skipping words he doesn’t know or just making garbled sounds when he doesn’t recognize the word instantly? Does he read phrases that make no sense, but doesn’t stop or reread to try and fix his error?  Teaching for self-monitoring behaviors needs to start with the earliest readers.
  4. Watch for students who seem to be able to read texts that they are familiar with, but then get stumped with a new book on similar levels.  These children don’t appear to have any strategies for solving words.  (It is possible for some students to slip by us, having memorized early level texts).  They need to learn beginning strategies for solving words and understanding texts.
  5. Watch for English language learners who read words with no meaning.  Some seem to “sound OK” when they are reading aloud to us, but we notice their comprehension is lacking.  Work to discover what is getting in the way.  Often a word in English that has multiple meanings, an unknown vocabulary word, an awkward phrase, or an idiomatic expression is what is tricky for the ELL.
  6. Make note of a student who only uses visual information (sounding out letters) for solving words.  He needs to learn how to integrate all the sources of information for figuring out new words.
  7. Notice those students who tested beyond level 10 and yet are not starting to take words apart.  They are still sounding letter-by-letter and are not looking for parts they know.  They will need to learn more about how words work.

For further reading about some of these topics see the following pages/chapters in Catching Readers Before They Fall:

Assessment: Chapter 10

Fluency: 37-39, 56-57, 124-127

Self-monitoring: 36-37, 123-124

Sources of information and/or word solving strategies: Chapter 4

Beginning reading strategies and behaviors:  Chapter 7

Working with ELLS: Chapters 6 and 7

Additional information in One Child at a Time: Fluency, chapter 4; Self-monitoring, chapter 5; ELLS, chapter 7.

Enjoy getting to know your readers this school year.  What are some of the things you are discovering?

Katie & Pat