Make It Match!

Many of us are being challenged with the idea to reembrace the words “sound it out” If you have been teaching reading for a while, you might have been taught to redirect kids to the print last, to use other cues first. Somehow it got misrepresented and turned into you should never say sound it out. Many of you probably found unique ways to say it instead.

           Look at the first letter. Now say the next sound.

           Say it sound by sound.

           Say each letter’s sounds.

In my training, I was asked to avoid only relying on the phrase but never to eliminate it. If you have taught reading, you know that focusing on other cues: meaning, syntax, and visual cues, does help readers solve words. We are finding out, however, that beginning readers need to make sounding out the word the first thing they try. Some of you might have been taught to use MSV or meaning, syntax, and visual cues in the order presented.

Therefore, direct students to use meaning first and visual cues (print) last. I was taught to use the cueing systems interchangeably. I present students with different strategies that use specific skills, and then when they are stuck on a word, I ask them what they can try. They would use MSV in varying orders. If they guess a word based on meaning or just the first letter, I would say things like:

  • Let’s check it and see if it matches or make it match.
  • Put your finger under the word and say the sounds
  • Check it with your eyes. You must make what your brain suggests match what your eyes see.

I may have been a step ahead of some, but not ultimately where I needed to be. Students need to practice attending to the print first and then checking the words using meaning. Using the cueing systems of MSV is not wrong. We just have to prioritize. Beginning readers must attend to print and then bring in other information to check the word. I will still be using my prompts, but I will be starting with something like

  • What word did you say that didn’t sound right? Go back and find it and sound it out.
  • Go back to the word had. (the word is really (has). Say had, how many sounds are in had? (3) What is the third sound in had? Check the word and see if it matches.
  • We have to make what our brain suggests match the letters in the word we see. Check to see if the letters match up with the sounds in had.

I had a student confusing the words on and no. They hesitated after saying “on” as “no”, and actually went back and read the sentence again incorrectly.

Here are the two sentences on the page from the book:

Is the cap on a mat?

No! It is not on the mat.

 I said to the student say no.

What is the first sound in no?

Now put your finger under that word.

Say the sounds. Can that word be no?

We do not want readers overly reliant on picture cues and unable to stretch out CVCC words or multiple-syllable words when they reach level D and up.  

We want students to be able to stretch whole words out. They need to be able to do this with words they will encounter when there is no picture support available. When we teach them to rely too much on the picture, their attention is more on the picture than the word. They need to attend to the print first.

So do, continue to use the cueing systems. Beginning readers must first look at the print, say the sounds of the letters represented, and then think about meaning and syntax. So do not stop using MSV but make adjustments using what we are learning about how we learn to read. When kids have strong oral language skills, have heard the word, and attempt to match the spelling to the sounds, they are more likely to figure it out using MSV. On the other hand, beginning readers often have a more limited vocabulary and have heard and seen fewer words. Therefore they need to rely more on the print(V) and pull in the M&S to help support. Maybe we should start thinking of it is VMS.

You might also have to adjust the text you use to help make this adjustment. I will take a look at some different texts in my next post.

Thinking about Word Study

I think there is a time and place for word sorts. When kids are sorting printed words, they look for differences in words. One issue with word sorts is that kiddos often sort without reading the words. Make sure to require kids to read the words as they sort them and after sorting.

When using word sorts, we often use them to teach a pattern or rime. However, we can also use them to help students recognize more words by sight. I will be doing more research on these two objectives for word sorts soon.

When completing Word Study activities, you need to understand your objective and know your students and how they learn. An alternative to word sorts is analogy charts. Here is a video showing how they work.

The objectives for analogy charts are to identify the vowel sound in a given word and use a word they already know to help them spell the word. This required encoding. Words sorts require decoding. Furthermore, Jan Richardson, the teacher in the video, has added a step to the analogy chart routine. At the end, the teacher, without saying the word, writes a challenging word (or two) that includes the targeted vowel concept on a dry-erase board. Students break the word up into chunks and read. For example, if you were doing an analogy chart for ow/ai from the video. A challenge word might be belowground, brainteaser, or arrowhead. There is value in doing word sorts and value in doing Analogy charts. Which one will have more of an impact on your objectives? Which one impacts a student’s ability to read (decode) and write (encode) words more?

One thing I am trying out is Word Mapping. The technical term would be Grapheme Phoneme Mapping. You can use a form similar to this.

I ask students to repeat the target word after I say it. Then I ask them to tap it out on their fingers. They tap out words with 3-4 sounds on one hand by tapping a finger to their thumb for each sound heard in a word.

I ask how many sounds the word has, and then they write it. This is very similar to using Elkonon Boxes, often called Sound Boxes. When two or three letters represent one sound, they go in one box together. The word “see” above is an example of this.

When mapping words, you do not need to include words that follow a single pattern. Know your focus for the activity. Mapping words is an excellent way to review words or several patterns already taught.

Sunday Cummins and Jan Richardson have created a Mapping activity for high-frequency words. It has been added to the steps Richardson wrote about in her Next Step books. Click this link to find those books. This additional step is not in these books. Find it below. It was placed as step one, replacing What’s Missing as step one and moving it down to step two. The routine now has 5 steps.

Burkins & Yates (2021)

As you consider words with patterns for mapping, analogy charts, sorts, or other activities, keep in mind the students’ level of alphabetic knowledge. They are just not ready for some words, even when using analogies.

Also, understand that the sequence does matter when studying words. Do not overlook this. When building words, it is essential. You must make sure students attend to the feature you are working on. Understand that when it comes to working with words, the part of the word that we change or move when building words is the part students focus on. Therefore sequence matters! If working with vowel sounds, many teachers start with a list of short vowels and then move to long vowels. For example, they may ask them to read, write, or build this list of words: kit, bit, sit, kite, bit, site. This will cause the students to focus on what is changed, the initial consonant. Not the vowels. Sequence the words this way instead: kit, kite, bit, bite, sit, site. This focuses the student’s attention on how the e changes the vowel sound. You can do similar sequences for digraphs. Order matters.


Words to build: kite, kit, bit, bite,hit, dim, dime, him

Words to read: dim, dime, time, tide, hid, hide

Words to write or map or use in an Analogy Chart: kite, kit, side, sit, site, dime, spit, spite

Children’s analysis of words is often very different than we realize. Don’t assume they notice, and note the same details in the words you expect them to. How they focus on words and what they see and hear depends on their current knowledge. We must observe and listen to them. When considering an activity, we must weigh its benefits against concerns. We cannot embrace an activity and assume it will work because it worked in a different setting with different students with their current level of knowledge. You can make those minor adjustments.

More to come on word sorts and analogy charts


Words Sorts

I am starting to use word sorts again. I used them as a classroom teacher. I have not traditionally used them as a Reading Specialist working with small groups for 30 minutes at a time. I am making them quick, but effective to get in the other components of my lesson. I have included a video of how I am organizing the sorts for quick access and clean up. I do not have a lot of time between groups. I am going to do a deep dive and try to find some research on word sorts. I will make that a post soon. I want to know if they are more effective than Analogy Charts.


I made a word sort book from a business card holder.

The Science of Reading includes all components of Reading

As of late, there has been much talk about the science of reading in the reading world.

When many discuss the science of reading, they really mean what scientific research has said about phonemic awareness and phonics. I agree that there has not been enough emphasis given to phonemic awareness and phonics instruction in many classrooms and districts across the United States. There is however scientific research in all areas of reading.

Awareness of the smallest speech units is a huge part of learning to read. Words in any language are made up of sounds. We must be aware of those sounds and make the connection that individual letters and letter combinations represent those sounds in print. We can hear and speak many words before reading them. Phonological processing is a crucial aspect of how our brains process language when we read. The more language we hear and speak ourselves, the easier it is for us as readers. The more automatic phonological awareness becomes, the better word recognition is for beginning readers. This leaves readers better able to attend to different aspects of a text.

Those different aspects of a text are essential, especially for readers in grades second on up. These other skills are learned in parallel with phonics skills for school-age kids. The science of reading goes well beyond phonemic awareness and phonics.

There is science-backed research in all aspects of reading instruction. Shanahan (2020) states, “I think our field has dropped the ball with regard to teaching phonic. I see too little of it in primary classrooms, and what is there is not necessarily consistent with research findings.” He adds that, in all fairness, those same gaps of thoroughness, explicitness, and quality are apparent in reading comprehension, writing, and oral reading fluency.

Duke, Ward, and Pearson(2021) share some of the science of reading comprehension instruction. They tackle this question: What have decades of research told us about the nature of comprehension and how to develop students’ comprehension in schools? They state that research has revealed a great deal about what goes on in the mind when readers comprehend oral and written text and how instruction and other experiences can affect that development. Researchers from many disciplines, such as developmental psychology, cognitive science, education, and linguists, have been working on the science of comprehension for years.

Please understand that the science of reading is not limited to phonemic awareness and phonics. It goes beyond the so-called reading wars, and gets to the heart of researched reading instruction, and does not limit itself. Scientific studies are being done in the areas of vocabulary learning, comprehension, and others areas of reading instruction as well.

When using research to inform your practice, be sure that the research will stand up. Shanahan (2020) suggests that you should think of educational research this way, “We tried this routine and managed to make it beneficial to students—not a small thing—and perhaps you too could make it work under your circumstances and with your students.”

When considering research, remember that it is not guaranteed to work with your student and circumstances.

Shanahan discusses the importance of looking for studies that have been replicated and have used Meta-Analysis.

Meta-Analysis refers to a method used to synthesize multiple studies into a new, more extensive analysis. When conducting Meta-analysis, it is expected that all relevant studies are included no matter the outcome. For example, the ILA journal Reading Research Quarterly publishes many meta-analysis studies. One such analysis is Effects of Expository Text Structure Interventions on Comprehension (Pyle et al., 2017).

Shanahan (2020) emphasizes that scientists try to consider all of the available data. He states, “they seek the weight of evidence, not the unusual outcomes when trying to determine what works.

Good research explains all outcomes of the research and how it was set up, and if it was a replication or not. It describes any variations from similar studies. It explains things out in detail, not leaving out information.

Shanahan suggests asking these questions when deciding to use research findings to influence what happens in your classroom.

  • Was the study Peer-Reviewed and Published in a Rigorously Reviewed Journal?
  • Was there a comparison group, and were the Groups Equal at the Beginning?
  • What other Differences may explain these outcomes?
  • Was the Instruction Really Delivered?
  • What were the control and comparison groups doing?
  • Who was delivering the teaching, and how were they prepared?
  • What were the students like? Did the program have different outcomes for different kinds of students?

Asking these questions should not get you to disqualify Action Research done by classroom teachers from consideration of a type of replication in your classroom. I would apply the same questions for Action Research. Remember, teachers do action research with their own students in mind, which is an enormous difference from implementing a program that was successful with an entirely different set of students, even if they might be minorities like students you might have.

Please take the time to read the references that are listed in any journal article or research study. It will help you out tremendously when trying to understand if something will work for your students.

Remember that there are sound scientific research studies done across the board by educators, linguists, and many types of scholars that go beyond phonemic awareness and phonics.   


Duke, N., Ward, A., Pearson, D. (2021). The science of reading comprehension instruction. The Reading Teacher, 74(6), 663-672.

Pyle, N., Vasques, A.C., Lignugaris/Kraft, B., Gillam, S.L..Reutzel, D.R., Olszewski, A., … Pyle, D. (2017). Effects of expository text structure interventions on comprehension: A meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 52 (4), 469-501. HTTP://

Shanahan, T. (2020). The science of reading: Making sense of research. The Reading Teacher, 74(2), 119-125.

What Does It Really Mean? Part 2

Hello everyone. I was able to ask Sunday Cummins a few follow-up questions after she read my last blog post, What Does it Really Mean? 

I reflected on using the STP strategy in conjunction with her strategy Explode & Explain in that post. Below are her answers to the questions. 

Question 1: What improvements have you seen over time with the use of this strategy? 

Sunday: That’s a good question. I guess your blog post reveals my best answer – the integration of other strategies into the Explode to Explain experience!

 Question 2: What are the biggest challenges you have noticed with students using this strategy and what suggestions do you have to overcome them? 

Sunday: Sometimes, students don’t know what to write in an annotation. They have a sense that a particular detail is important but they don’t know what to write. I’ve added a scaffold to support this – at the end of any shared annotating (whether it’s with Explode to Explain or for some other purpose), we analyze and name the types of annotations. Some examples include: 

  •  name a type of detail an author has used like “comparisonreal-lifeinition” or “real life example” 
  • create a quick sketch to help visualize, 
  • share a helpful connection, 
  • jot a question mark when you don’t understand and may need to come back to that detail. 

We list these annotations on an anchor chart students can reference as they annotate on their own. 

Question 3: Do you ever ask students to try and explain vocabulary words with this strategy? 

Sunday: Just like you have folded STP into Explode to Explain, I think you could fold in conversations about unfamiliar vocabulary and the types of context clues that authors use to help readers understand those words. This could help the students think about what to write in their annotations.

I think conversations are essential to learning new words. Think back to how we learned to read. We first learned to talk and communicate by hearing others use words. We had learned the sounds of the English language before we could talk. We heard words used by others before we used them ourselves. I know and use words today I have rarely seen in print or written. I struggle to spell some of these and automatically recognize them in print. It is the same way for our students when they are exposed to new language, even more so because they have limited experiences. Having conversation and building connections to new vocabulary is essential. 

Thanks for answering these questions and your insight Sunday.


What does it really mean?

I have been working with a group of 5th graders on using STP (Stop, Think, & Paraphrase) in combination with Sunday Cummins Explode & Explain strategy. Here is another article about it. Explode & Explain. A version of STP is really embedded into Explode & Explain when you think about it.

A common way I see STP being used is shown below.

I alter this method. I do not ask students to cover up the text. I think it is essential for students to see the words and their notes when talking them, to help them paraphrase. Also, students may be able to pull out and use keywords/phrases to intermix within their paraphrasing, but still not truly understand the writer’s intended meaning. I want students to be able to use STP to help them stop and focus on unknown vocabulary that is helpful for readers to figure out what the writer wants them to understand. We worked on figuring out the meaning of unfamiliar words, as we explode and explain. That is why STP alone is not enough for a lot of students.

Using Explode & Explain prepares students for the next step of paraphrasing. I want students to look at the text and to use their annotations and notes to refer back to. This is important for ELL students or any student who needs support with vocabulary. Students are very hesitant to express out loud what they are thinking a word might mean. However, when I ask them to slow down and explode and explain certain parts of the text it starts to happen naturally. Faces light up, I hear an “Oh, I get it”.

Another important component of STP is helping students understand that they need to self-monitoring for meaning as they read. With the striving readers I work with as a reading specialist, I have to really work hard to help students understand how to read with an intent to grow their intellect, academically and emotionally. They often want to read just to finish and want the act of finishing to be the accomplishment.

How often should students “stop, think & paraphrase”?” How often depends on the individual student/group, and the text. I do not always think set stopping point need to be required. Students have to learn to do the self-monitoring work for themselves. Self-monitoring brings authenticity to the strategy and helps the students gain some agency when they figure out when and where to pause and apply it when reading independently. They are not just following steps mindlessly.

For my lessons with this guided reading group, I chose the places we would stop and use a combination of the two strategies. This decision was more about saving time and limiting the cognitive load for this group, so we could focus on learning the strategies.

I started this journey by explaining and reiterating how these strategies can be done in our heads as we read, or in a written format, digitally, or on paper. I want them to know that my hope is for them to internalize the strategies and to be able to use them in their head after they become comfortable enough with them. I also try to keep in mind that students may be able to use these strategies in their heads with some texts and not with others. The content of the text and the student’s knowledge will affect this. I am the same way as an avid reader.

I am also using these strategies to help them carry on a conversation about their reading and apply what they are learning to other situations. We discuss using the notes we create when Exploding & Explaining to help us then paraphrase the information. I model paraphrasing using my notes and then ask them to do the same with a partner. I stress speaking in complete sentences that can easily be transferred into writing. I emphasize with older students that what and how we speak and write affects how others see us. We want what we say and write to make sense not only to ourselves but to others as well. We do a lot of oral rehearsing because of this and I provide sentence stems when I feel the group/student needs it.

Below is a sample of one student’s work that I gave some support with figuring out the meaning of some words. I took a few sentences from the article The Amazing Penguin Rescue by Lauran Tarshis that we had been reading, and used a note-taking app to project it. We worked on the first sets of sentences together. Students worked on the finals sentences on their own with me providing support when confering with them. They will use the notes to help them discuss and write about the article.

For this article I chose to have the students write about the challenges faced by the penguin and the humans trying to save them. When rehearsing for the writing I had planned to use a sentence frame like this one:

____________ was challenging for the humans/penguins because ______________

These students started planning without the need for it, however.

Hope this provides you with something to think about and reflect on.


Fluency is more than Rate

As we are getting closer to the start of the new school year for most educators, (I teach in a year-round building) I am thinking about the many types of Universal screeners that focus on the fluency component of rate. From Dibbles, and Aimsweb, to Fastbridge’s CBM’s. Fluency was once an unknown component of reading and has become a well-known component. Or has it? Maybe reading rate has become well known, not all the components of fluency. We are now experts with one-minute assessments. Some test nonsense words, decodable words, and others words correct per minute using a grade level text. As indicators they suggest that if decoding is going along somewhat automatically and effortlessly, then the possibility for cognitive attention to be placed on comprehension is more likely to occur. Anyone who has ever taught reading understands that good decoding makes comprehension more likely to occur. I do not dispute that.

We must remember however that these Universal screening assessments are progress monitoring assessments. They are not diagnostic assessments. They focus on one aspect of fluency instruction, designed to identify students who may need more testing and a reading intervention. This further testing and observing of the student should be the diagnostic piece. We should not place a student in an intervention based on them being a slower reader on a Universal screening tool where he reads a grade-level test for one minute. Yes, rate is a good indicator of whether a reader can decode with ease. It is also strongly influenced by vocabulary and comprehension of the text which is influenced by a student’s background knowledge.

As Jay Samuels once said, fluency without comprehension is not fluency. Our end goal for fluency should be comprehension and motivation. A more comprehensive view of a fluent reader is being obscured when too much attention is being placed on rate. S

I wonder what these one-minute reading sprints are teaching our students about stamina. Our young people are already being immersed in all kinds of small chunks, of this and that through many media sources. We cannot also get caught up in this type of reading sprint too heavily when our end game needs to be about stamina, comprehension, and motivation to read. Some vilify these types of tests. It is not the tests themselves that are at issue, however. It is how they are being chosen to be used. Used appropriately they have their place.

I wonder if oral reading rates decrease when reading texts for longer periods of time? I wonder how they fluctuate with different genres, types of texts, and difficulty levels?  I wonder if enough attention is being given to help readers transition from oral readers to silent readers who know how to process a text in their heads. Can they transition through multiple chapters of a book and through many characters and perspectives?

Remember these words from Richard Allington, “students need to understand that they can and must take active, intentional control of the elements of fluency-accuracy, rate, and expression-to the end of comprehending what they read to become truly fluent readers.”

I would add cognitive processes and their motivation to that list, wouldn’t you?

Remember fluency is more than rate.


To Graphic Organize or Not?

One of my ultimate goals for my students is for them to process a text efficiently in their heads. I have seen the skillification of reading as Vicki Vinton refers to it in her book Dynamic Thinking for Deeper Reading hurt striving readers. All readers, really. Skillification happens when teachers break down reading so much that students never get a chance to gather their thoughts and put together a complete picture of their thinking. I emphasize “their thinking.” Not a teachers’ modeled and scaffolded thinking.

Our students must get to experience doing the, in the head work of reading that readers do. This work is messy and not readily displayed for others to replicate. This type of work does not fit nicely onto a slide or graphic organizer. You cannot make it look pretty on social media. It is chaotic but purposeful. It is often slightly different for different students.
Using a graphic organizer of some sort is one way to build a bridge to help access some of that thinking and to discuss/describe the reading processes the brain has to execute for students to make connections and inferences, draw conclusions, and put details together by bundling them into meaningful realizations. Not all readers need them, however. They can slow down some readers and turn the reading process into a broken-down mess.

I constantly juggle with the decision to have students use a graphic organizer. With the striving readers I work with, one more step can lead to the shutting down of thinking and to just going through the motions and doing what the teacher asks without much thought. When they can, I usually ask students to code a text by underlining or using various symbols to identify their thinking. I prefer this to sticky notes for many reasons. Then I ask myself do I have them transfer the information they accessed from the author onto a graphic organizer. Will this process help support them through their thinking or slow it down or make it disjointed?

Should I instead be focusing on using meaningful talk as a strategy to help students access their thoughts and go through that inside of the head, meaning-making work? It depends on the students and the type of reading lesson I am asking them to complete. Is it a guided reading group, student-led literature circle, students working individually or with partners. All of this weighs into my decision. I have seen students go through the work of transferring their notes and the writers underlined details onto a graphic organizer and not make critical realizations until they can discuss it with the group. This often includes bantering the importance of and meaning of different details from the text. Was the use of the graphic organizer helpful? I often ask the students themselves and take notes as I confer with them as they fill them out. If they just copy information from the text into another sheet of paper, it is not helpful. The thinking process readers go through to evaluate and synthesize information the writer shares is most valuable. I ask them to put what they have underlined into their own words when using a graphic organizer.

Do not ask students to create a graphic organizer just to have something to display on social media that looks great! Or to have evidence for one reason or another to prove you are teaching the curriculum or to share in PD. Those reasons alone are not what is best for students. Some need the challenge of working through their own thinking first to make their own meaning. Students do not necessarily need to watch someone else do the work. Bend and stretch the curriculum when you need to.

Two quotes come to mind as I think through how and when to use graphic organizers or even explicit modeling when teaching students to think.

When you figure something out for yourself, there is a certain thrill in the figuring. After a few successful experiences, you might start to think that figuring things out is something that you can do. Maybe you are even a figuring out kind of person……..

Peter Johnston

This is what true agency is all about! Give students the space to work on becoming figuring out kind of people. When they are not motivated to do this consider incorporating some of Ellin Kneene’s ideas on engagement into your teaching. I wrote a post a while back about some of her ideas. Check it out here.

“In too many places, we ask kids to read and write so we can give them a grade that shows they learned some skills someone has decided they need to learn. Skills are important. But if we aren’t reading and writing so that we can grow, so that we can discover, so that we can change–change our thinking, change ourselves, perhaps change the world–then those skills will be for naught.”

Kylene Beers & Robert Probst

I want to give kids opportunities to think and learn by trying things out on their own as much as possible. I want to capture what they are doing naturally and strategically on their own. Then notice and name what kids are doing and look for opportunities to understand what strengths they already have as readers and thinkers. You must consider what skills and strategies they are using already that are a byproduct. A byproduct of giving them time and space and jumping in with support as needed.

So back to my question. When are graphic organizers useful? I only use them when they provide students some form of generative value. They have to find value in them for themselves, not simply be filing one out because the teacher said to. I think they come in quite handy when kids are reading/viewing multiple texts over the same or similar topics. They can help students bundle their thinking and carry it over from one source to the next. You can create a graphic organizer to support kids in this effort where they can synthesize what the writer wants readers to understand from several sources on one form. A chart similar to the one below could be utilized.

This is a form I created for a group of 4th and 5th grade readers reading several articles on Invasive Species. I want them to carry over the information they learned from one article to the next to grow their thinking and understanding on the topic. The charts I ask students to use usually include a leading question they are reading to find answer to.

We will have to work on writing about how we feel about what we read. This reader was just not into the topic of Invasive Species that much.

They underlined information dealing with the problems, and solutions and took some notes to help them process the information they were reading on the articles themselves before completing graphic organizer.

One student came up with the idea of using P for problem and S for solution to help him make meaning. I was trying to lead Ss to make a choice like this, but come to it on their own.

It is not essential that students underline the exact same things on every article or write a note to themselves saying the exact same thing. For each student to get what they need out of this process, they need to do the work for themselves. If they are reading and rereading parts of the text when they need to and thinking about it on a deeper level using some questions to help them focus their thinking, it will have more generative value. I had two students discussing if a group of pelicans eating the goldfish in the above article was a problem or solution. Students had it marked differently. They were doing the work and the thinking. They are not just copying what I have done or what another student has done. To me, it did not really matter what conclusion they came to because they were deepening their level of understanding in the process. Graphic organizers do not need to look the same for every student. I am not always focused on answers themselves, but answers as a byproduct of thinking and talking about our reading. I work with striving readers, by the way, and we are a constant work in progress. 🙂

Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Making Black Lives Matter in Classrooms: The Power of Teachers to Change the World

This blog post reminds me of how we grow, and learn so much about life through reading. We change the world by opening minds through reading every day in our classrooms. All readers need to see themselves within texts as well as others. I always ask readers now, what can you learn from this text about life that might be able to help you in your own life. This way of thinking came into focus for me by way of Vicki Vinton.

A Will to Love

Race, Rights, and Responsibility Image

On Saturday, May 16, 2015, NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools held a conference titled, Race, Rights, and Responsibility: What Educators Can Do to Help Our Students Think Critically about Protest, Law Enforcement, and Civil Liberty.

This conference was not for everyone. And while it was a conference for teachers presented by teachers, it was designed mainly for teachers who care deeply about racial justice and tenets of teaching for change. It was for those teachers struggling to find pragmatic classroom solutions that might interrupt dangerous patterns of policing that brutalize Black and Brown bodies and terrorize communities of color.

As we’ve come to realize in recent months, police overreach–even to the point of murder–is not an isolated incident. It is not coincidental. It happens daily in settings such as New York and Baltimore, where the students we teach are striving and struggling to…

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Listening is a thought.

I shared these two sentences today with some of my readers.

I then asked, “What ideas do you have about what they mean?”
They looked at me kind of confused. One boy blurts out they mean the same thing.” I responded with, “that is one idea, are there others?” It was just crickets. Then one girl raises her hand and adds, I agree, it means the same thing.
These words come from Michael Opitz and his book Listen Hear! 25 Effective Listening Comprehension Strategies(2004). I was wanting to help my readers focus in on the in-the-head work of listening. This requires putting aside your own thoughts for a moment and focusing on someone else’s. This is hard for our children to do. Heck, it is hard for adults to do. Children are often playing around with their thoughts and piecing together what we want to say. They might even hear what another says and be able to repeat most of it back but have not given any thought to it. We purposefully have to pause our thoughts and take in another’s and then have an actual thought about what they are saying. The simple repetition of statements differs from taking them in, reflecting on them, and responding to them.
Towards the end of our conversation, one girl states that “listening is like thinking.” Then another student added, “having a thought is thinking.”

These students started the process of “uptake.” Martin Nystrand coined the term “uptake.” Uptake is the process of taking in, responding to, and growing someone else’s thinking (1997). I believe this includes the growth of an idea as a byproduct of disagreement and an extension of thought by adding onto it. We have to be able to grow from each other’s thinking and ideas. There has to be an intent and openness for that to happen. There has to be a belief that it matters when we engage in talk. We can grow our thinking beyond what we can do alone. We can learn and adapt from listening to each other. We can change and think for ourselves with the help of others beyond what we can do alone. This is a powerful process in the classroom. It should be a process that takes place in Washington DC and all across America with working adults.
I will dig into the work of really listening and having thoughts about others thinking with my readers. This thinking work is very abstract and hard to grasp. It is messy to teach and grade. However, it is essential to make sure we have literate, well-spoken students who can think for themselves and form opinions based on facts. We have to get out of our heads, and listen to what we hear, reflect on it.

More to come on this topic.



Kansas City Literacy Association


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Crawling Out of the Classroom

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