I read a very thought provoking book over my break called Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo.
This book made me very angry at times. I had a hard time trusting the author at first. She won me over with her honesty however. Questions the authors intentions and honesty is something we want our students to do. I find myself doing just that more and more when I read. If I cannot do it, I should not expect my students to or ask them to. The author discusses her experience as a Teach For America teacher, teaching in Arkansas for 2 years. It really brings to the forefront the cycle of poverty that exists today in America even in more rural areas. As an educator who has worked with elementary age students in title 1 schools for my whole career it really drove home the need to be a focused, passionate, and reflective teacher. If we can bridge the achievement at the elementary level, then students like Patrick should be able to better grow their skills and start to excel as learners in middle school and high school. I do not want my middle school and high school partners in education to have to try and play catch up with students like Patrick. It brought to light the need for some schools in America to go year-round, and pay teachers well to do so. I am fortunate enough to work in a district that has 2 elementary schools going year-round. I work at one of them. We are not using the traditional year-round method where the days of the school year are spread out more evenly, without actually increasing student minutes or # of days in school. My district actually adds 30-31 more student days each year to the regular school calendar year. This has been very beneficial for our students in many ways.
The author mentions how much regression Patrick seemed to show in his reading ability after he dropped out of school. I feel with Patrick, it was more a lack of necessity than regression because of the cycle of poverty his community was stuck in. His skills were still there, but he had just not used them in a while. This is true for some of the kids I work with as well. When they are not in school, reading is not a necessity in there family unit. Year-round schooling can defiantly help with this problem.
As an educator, I have taught in 2 very unique places where learning still happened. I started my career teaching in a charter school that was located in a high-rise apartment building in downtown Minneapolis. The students were 95% immigrant kids from Africa. I then moved to Kansas City and taught at a school in Kansas City, Kansas located by the Strawberry Hill neighborhood. This was a neighbor again full of immigrant populations. It had a high Spanish speaking population mixed with families from Europe and the Middle East. I saw best friends torn apart because of their family religious beliefs and cultural differences because their families were from neighboring countries that had had conflicts. Poverty was high. Yet we had students excel there. A classroom can be anywhere, even in a jail as it was for Patrick for a while. As a teacher you create the magic, and help bring out the magic in the literature your students are reading. I wonder former students as high schoolers and adults now, and I hope I made a difference in their lives! I worked my butt off trying to do so, and have gotten smarter and more efficient with my teaching every year and will continue to do so, never stopping my own learning. I wonder what I could do with them now!
I love how the author really reflected on her experiences with Patrick in this book and adapted her teaching to meet his needs. She didn’t follow a script, but thought, reflected and taught Patrick what he and other kids needed. This book brought back so many memories. It is worth the read. It drove home many things, from the importance of mentor texts, for your students and yourself, to how students need to be able to make their own meaning as they read without over scaffolding taking place. It really shows how the legal system and society in general does make it hard for someone to make it out of a neighborhood like Patrick’s. It can happen though, and as a teacher you have to believe that or you are wasting the students time and your own. Aways teach with passion and high expectations or get out of the profession like the author did.
This is a book recommendation site I created a few years ago. I am trying to find some ways to reinvent it, so to speak and put some new life into it. Our district is now 1 to 1 with iPads at the elementary level, so I need to do something to peak their interest more. So stay tuned! I am always open to suggestions as well!
A few more points to reflect on from Sunday Cummins. My thought are in italics.
- Keep your hand out of the book, make the student do the work!
This is very simple, but sometimes very hard to do. You have to hold yourself back at times when you want to jump in. I think it would be Ok to pull out a white board and try using an analogy to help students solve a word after they have tried their own suggestions. For example, if a student was stuck on the word bound, write the word out on a white board and ask them what the word is, and what is saying the “ou” sound and apply it to the word bound. I would probably follow up with an analogy chart using ow and ou very soon!
- When a child looks up at you, or asks is that right after reading a word, don’t answer yes or no. Respond with “What do you think?”
If you respond, yes or no, then you are doing the part of the monitoring for the student. Students have to monitor and cross-check independently as readers. Remember this was with a group of transitional readers, levels J- around P. The support you give should be helpful but not take monitoring and cross-checking out of their hands. You should not be doing the thinking of reading for them when they are reading.
- Sunday says the support you give should have generative value and cause a ripple effect.
Students should be able to transfer the strategy across texts and writing.
Here’s my first post. You should probably check out my Why I Reflect page. I gave a few reasons for wanting to do this blog. Reflecting is something I have read that Bill Gates and others make part of their daily routine. They take time to sit in a quiet place and just reflect without distractions. You also hear out of struggle comes great things, even beautiful things. I would add reflection to that statement. You keep struggling if you don’t reflect and make the right changes. When it comes to education is struggle a good thing? Must students struggle before they succeed. I think yes and no is the answer. It depends on many factors and upon what they are learning. Each student is different. The struggle must be productive and reflection must be part of the process. Perseverance must be taught also. In what area of education is struggle most productive? How do you scaffold your instruction if you want to see some struggle?
I ask about student struggle because I have been reading Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: A Shift to a Problem-Based Approach by Vicki Vinton. She answers some of my questions above in terms of comprehension instruction. I have loved reading this book, and agree with a great deal in it, but not all of it. Vinton discusses how she feels students need to struggle a little without a lot of scaffolding when practicing thinking through a text. Students need to experience the internal thinking of reading, forming opinions as they read to make meaning without teachers giving them to much.
As I reflect I know I need to let the kids show me the best way they learn. I agree we cannot always scaffold the difficult thinking for them, just to say they are reading challenging text. Students have to learn that as we read a text, we have to constantly reevaluated our thinking. Our thinking will evolve from the beginning to end as we read. We have to reflect on what we read. So maybe struggle is not the right word, to use here. Anyway this is a must read the book for exploring comprehension instruction. It is about helping students read for meaning using a problem based approach. I am exploring this book further leading a book study on it, in my district. I look forward to learning and growing with other teachers as we dig through it.
I caution however going overboard with implementing her ideas or anyones. Reflect on what your students need right now. You have to decide when your students will be ready for this approach, or need it. There is no one way to teach something. Though there are more efficient ways to teach something or solve a problem. I think that is key to keep in mind. I believe you have to give students what they need, when they need it, and no program or curriculum can do that alone, it takes teachers making informed decisions after assessment & reflection. That being said, you have to know your curriculum, and the programs that best compliment it. When it comes to teaching reading that includes readers workshop and guided reading when the kids them. I will probably talk a lot about how I feel these 2 big ideas for teaching reading should implemented in this blog, and I hope those views will continue to grow and evolve as I go. I also hope some things stick however, things I know work, for some kids at particular times. I hope someone choses to reflect with me as I go.