Have you ever wondered what it would be like to struggle with learning or attention tasks?
Often, as educators. we speak and/or meet with parents to review strengths, areas of concern, and instructional or intervention plans for their child. We show them graphic charts, graded papers, and grade level/skill level benchmarks that outline their child's academic and/or behavioral expectations. However, this is not something easy to explain. Here, resources to demonstrate the depth of these concerns - their child's true struggle (s) - are shared - so that parents, too, can experience the world of learning....through their child's eyes.
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This year I have had the pleasure of coteaching with one of the most influential, positive, and extraordinary teachers. Mrs. Lisa Willis and I have been collaboratively teaching language arts in her 2nd grade classroom on a daily basis. Our partnership enables us to reach heightened levels of instruction that encompasses our passions and students' individual strengths. We have collaborated lesson plans together, intervention and whole group strategies, and have incorporated a leadership initiative that is aligned with The Leader in Me and The Seven Habits of Happy Kids (S. Covey).
Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, and Williams (2000) state that "A collaborative teaching style does not necessarily come naturally. Visible leadership at the top levels is vital to the success of an inclusive/collaborative initiative. An atmosphere of trust is essential if teams are to work effectively". There are seven features that are fundamental to appropriate and effective inclusion programs (2000). They are the following:
7 Features of Effective Inclusion Programs • Collaborative culture • Shared leadership • Coherent vision • Comprehensive planning • Adequate resources • Sustained implementation • Continuous evaluation and improvement
Moreso, Friend and Cook (2004) note the significance and true benefits for coteaching:
Benefits of Co-teaching:
Students with disabilities are provided access to the general education curriculum and general education setting
Students with disabilities will still receive specialized instruction
Students will have the opportunity to be taught in an intense, individualized manner
Greater instructional intensity and differentiated instruction
Teachers will learn from each other’s expertise and expand the scope of their teaching capacity
Reduces negative stigma associated with pull-out programs
Students with disabilities may feel more connected with their peer group
I am thankful for this opportunity to work with a colleague where we emulate the energy of one another using a seamless reciprocated unchoreographed script. Thank you Mrs. Willis - you truly are powerful.
If you've ever played sports, you know that great coaches can help you change the way you play the game. It's not that they take over your spot and play for you, but they teach you how to be more aggressive, work smarter and harder, and get to a place where you know what to do when they are not around. Coaches provide an outside perspective and can see things that we may be doing wrong, or need to do better, which can help us perform at a higher level. When we are successful, coaches pat us on the back, but they refocus our efforts so we do not take too much time to rest on our laurels. That outside perspective can help us see our "Blind spots." We all have blind spots. Otto Scharmer says, "Why do our attempts to deal with the challenges of our time so often fail? Why are we stuck in so many quagmires today? The cause of our collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change." Change is something we all need to do from time to time, because our goal should be to improve in our profession. In that case, blind spots do not just take place in leadership, they can take place in the classroom as well. There is an old saying, "We don't know what we don't know." We need an outside perspective that can see the things that we don't even know exist in the classroom about our instruction or classroom management, because we are so busy teaching that we cannot see everything that is happening and read the minds of the students in our classes. Scharmer goes on to say, "This "blind spot" exists not only in our collective leadership but also in our everyday social interactions. We are blind to the source dimension from which effective leadership and social action come into being. We know a great deal about what leaders do and how they do it. But we know very little about the inner place, the source from which they operate. And it is this source that "Theory U" attempts to explore." This is where instructional coaches enter into our lives. They help us see our blind spots, and can help bring our instructional practices up to a new level. Why Instructional Coaches? Instructional coaching expert Jim Knight, someone I work closely with, often says, "Most people don't know what it looks like when they do what they do." They are teaching, and interacting with others, so they can't predict or acknowledge their blind spot because they do not know it exists. This is why instructional coaches can be so important for teachers, and ultimately for students. Although there are many reasons why instructional coaches are important, I believe that there are three major reasons. Those reasons are that they: Focus on Best Practices - Teachers need help understanding what will give them the biggest bang for their buck. They are busy, often dealing with initiative fatigue because of so many changes. Instructional coaches can help teachers focus on their individual needs in the classroom, find resources to help bring growth in teaching and learning, and they can help teachers get to a place where they are sharing best practices with one another. How great would faculty meetings be, if an instructional coaches could take the feedback of teachers and use it to find common themes across grade levels and among teachers, and then use the faculty meeting setting to discuss, debate and dissect practices. Connect Colleagues with one another - So many great examples of teaching and learning are happening in classrooms in the same school, but because time together often only happens at curriculum meetings or faculty meetings, teachers across multiple grade levels don't get a chance to learn from one another. Instructional coaches can help bridge that gap. They see what is going on in classrooms, and can help connect likeminded teachers who may be teaching in different grade levels. Provide an important & fresh outside perspective - As teachers and leaders, we simply do not see everything that we need to in the classroom. Through videoing our practices or having a critical friend like an instructional coach, our blind spots can be opened to us, which will help foster growth and make us better practioners. Provide Personal Learning - When teachers enter into the instructional coaching relationship, it is to focus on a goal they set for themselves. It's the best example of teacher voice, because teachers decide which goal they want to pursue and coaches help teachers meet that goal. Sure, coaches may also include goals to help teachers recognize their blind spot, but this relationship is not about one adult telling another what to do. It is about open, honest conversations where two adults work in partnership with each other. Non-Evaluative - Yes, believe it or not teachers can have observations that do not result in a point scale. Crazy, I know! This is about two adults working together on a goal, and the instructional coach providing effective feedback on how to meet that goal. It is not about a "gotcha" but it is about becoming a better teacher without the fear that the hammer is going to drop at any minute. In the End In my life, I was fortunate to have some coaches who had direct conversations when I needed them most, and helped set me on a path, to not only be better at a sport, but be better is many facets of my life. Instructional coaches can help meet that need. Recently, I worked in Worcester, Maryland with a group of teachers transitioning into the coaching role who want to do their best to help their colleagues become better at teaching. Coaches like those can have a huge impact on student learning. Instructional coaches are not evaluators. They are not a mole for administration, and the conversations they have with teachers are confidential. Their purpose is to help work with teachers and bring them to the next level. High quality instructional coaches enter into the partnership with teachers knowing that learning is a two-way street. Jim Knight (2007) says, "Instructional coaches who operate from the partnership principles enter relationships with teachers believing that the knowledge and expertise of teachers is as important as the knowledge and expertise of the coach." Learning is at the heart of what instructional coaches do. Connect with Peter on Twitter.
In recent years educators have explored links between classroom teaching and emerging theories about how people learn. Exciting discoveries in neuroscience and continued developments in cognitive psychology have presented new ways of thinking about the brain-the human neurological structure and the attendant perceptions and emotions that contribute to learning. Explanations of how the brain works have used metaphors that vary from the computer (an information processor, creating, storing, and manipulating data) to a jungle (a somewhat chaotic, layered world of interwoven, interdependent neurological connections). Scientists caution that the brain is complex and, while research has revealed some significant findings, there is no widespread agreement about their applicability to the general population or to education in particular. Nevertheless, brain research provides rich possibilities for education and reports of studies from this field have become popular topics in some educational journals. Enterprising organizations are translating these findings into professional development workshops and instructional programs to help teachers apply lessons from the research to classroom settings. References to several teaching models based on brain research are found below. Opportunities for Learning Most neuroscientists believe that at birth the human brain has all the neurons it will ever have. Some connections, those that control such automatic functions as breathing and heartbeat, are in place at birth, but most of the individual's mental circuitry results from experiences that greet the newborn and continue, probably, throughout his or her life. How and when neural connections are made is a topic of debate. Some researchers believe the circuits are completed by age five or six. Other studies extend the period of development from birth to the later elementary school years. Still others argue that nerve connections can be modified throughout life with new connections forming perhaps even late in life. For educators who subscribe to the first view, programs and activities aimed at preschoolers (e.g., Head Start or Sesame Street) increase in importance. The second perception supports offering complex subjects much earlier in the curriculum than has been traditional. The third encourages efforts for lifelong learning. The links between learning, the number of neural connections, or the time frame for development of those connections are not clearly understood. In the case of sight, evidence suggests that after a critical development period vision is severely stunted or fails altogether. For musical learning, some researchers have found that the longer someone plays an instrument the more cortex will be dedicated to controlling the finger movements needed to play it. Exposure to music and development of spatial reasoning (skills that can be transferred to mathematical understanding) seem to be connected. These and other findings encourage educators and parents to expose very young children to a variety of learning experiences-providing blocks and beads to handle and observe, talking to the child, playing peek-a-boo. The NCTM Curriculum and Evaluation Standards encourage teachers of kindergartners to let students work with patterns; sort, count, and classify objects; use numbers in games; and explore geometric shapes and figures. It is not too early to engage such young children in discussions about patterns, beginning data analysis, sequencing, and number sense. The introduction of a second language is best attempted in these early years as well. In fact, some researchers look to the first year of life as the best "window of opportunity" for accelerated learning.
Emotions and the Mind Educators may find the most useful information in research that focuses less on the physical and biochemical structure of the brain and more on the mind-a complex mix of thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and reasoning. Studies that explore the effects of attitudes and emotions on learning indicate that stress and constant fear, at any age, can circumvent the brain's normal circuits. A person's physical and emotional well-being are closely linked to the ability to think and to learn effectively. Emotionally stressful home or school environments are counterproductive to students' attempts to learn. While schools cannot control all the influences that impinge on a young person's sense of safety and well-being, classrooms and schools that build an atmosphere of trust and intellectual safety will enhance learning. Letting students talk about their feelings can help them build skills in listening to their classmates' comments. Finding ways to vent emotions productively can help students deal with inevitable instances of anger, fear, hurt, and tension in daily life.
Are you left brained? It is difficult to sort through all the information offered by brain and mind research and make wise choices for the classroom. One popularization of mind-based research, the hemisphericity theory, has attributed certain learning styles and preferences to dominance of the left or the right side of the brain. This dichotomy seems to explain observable differences among learners and designations of "left-brained" and "right-brained" have appeared in our popular culture. The original studies that supported the theory, however, involved severing (either through an accident or by surgery) the band of nerve fibers, the corpus callosum, that connects the two hemispheres. In a normal brain the two sides of the brain operate together, but with the connection severed, the two halves cannot communicate. The popular interpretation of the hemisphere explanation of personal learning styles ignored the complex, interactive reality of the two sides working together. While understanding the brain's hemispheres is undoubtedly relevant to education, children cannot be categorized as exclusively left-brained or right-brained learners.
Multiple Intelligences Another popular interpretation of research on human learning is based on Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. First published in 1983, Gardner's Frames of Mind presented a vision of seven intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal) that humans exhibit in unique and individual variations. An antidote to the narrow definition of intelligence as reflected in standardized test results, Gardner's theories have been embraced and transformed into curricular interpretations across the country. Many teachers instinctively respond to the notion that students learn and excel in a variety of ways, and believe that a classroom that offers an array of learning opportunities increases the likelihood of success for more students. Gardner himself, however, counsels against widespread application of his theory to every learning situation. All concepts do not lend themselves to every variation of Gardner's list and attempts to present every lesson in seven different modes pushes the theory beyond its practical usefulness. These profiles also should not be used as diagnostic indicators of a student's talents. Just as students are not fully right-brained or left-brained, they should not be defined by their predilection for one or more of Gardner's categories. The goal of education is to encourage the development of well-rounded individuals. Environments for Learning Recommended educational approaches, then, consist primarily of trying to maintain a relaxed, focused atmosphere that offers options for learning in individually satisfying ways. The old paradigm of students as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge has given way to the constructivist belief that students continuously build understandings based on their prior experiences and new information. The idea of a fixed intelligence has given way to a more flexible perception of gradual intellectual development dependent on external stimulation. Gerald Edelman, chairman of the Department of Neurobiology at Scripps Research Institute and 1972 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology, offers a view of the brain that could influence the future classroom. Edelman's vision of the brain as a jungle in which systems interact continuously in a chaotic fashion suggests that learners would thrive in an environment that provides many sensory, cultural, and problem layers. These ideas suggest that students have a natural inclination to learn, understand, and grow. Surround students with a variety of instructional opportunities and they will make the connections for learning.
For More Information Caine, R. N., and G. Caine (1991). Making connections: Teaching and the human brain. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. In addition to addressing several assumptions that teachers hold about education and citing facts and theories about the human brain, the authors discuss twelve principles of brain-based learning and the implications of those principles for educators. They directly challenge the simplification of learning into left- and right-brained modes. Edelman, G.M. (1992). Bright air, brilliant fire: On the matter of the mind. New York: Basic. Gerald M. Edelman, a Nobel Prize recipient, uses the metaphor of the jungle to describe the workings of the brain and explicitly rejects the metaphor of the brain as a computer. Using the ideas of evolutionary morphology and selection, he portrays the brain as a multilayered representation full of loops and layers. Eisner, E. W. (1997). Cognition and representation; A way to pursue the American dream. Phi Delta Kappan 78, 5: 348-353. An introduction to a special section on cognition and representation, this article sets out some of the ideas that will follow in the articles in the section and emphasizes the role of culture in processing representation and forming minds. Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic. Gardner describes natural learners, normal children who develop a vast array of intuitive understandings about their world even before they enter school. Sylwester, R. (1997, Oct.). How emotions affect learning. Educational Leadership:60-65. Emotion plays an important part in learning and schools need to focus on metacognitive activities that allow students to identify and deal with their own emotions and those of others. Emotionally stressful environments can inhibit learning.
Programs Based on Research on Learning and the Brain Fennema, E., T. Carpenter, and M. Loef Franke (1992). CGI: Cognitively guided instruction. University of Wisconsin-Madison: Wisconsin Center for Education Research. (1025 West Johnson Street, Madison, WI 53706/1-608-263-4200) Kovalik, S., Olsen, K. D. (1997). Integrated thematic instruction: The model.Kent, WA: Susan Kovalik, & Associates. McCarthy, B. (1987). The 4Mat system: Teaching to learning styles with right/left mode techniques. Barrington IL: EXCEL. Marzano, R. (1992). A different kind of classroom: Teaching with dimensions of learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Hyperlexia is a syndrome that is characterized by a child's precocious ability to read (far above what would be expected at their age), significant difficulty in understanding and using verbal language (or a profound nonverbal learning disability) and significant problems during social interactions. What do we know about it's diagnosis?
Although hyperlexia may be the key symptom in describing the learning difference in a child, it is not a stand-alone diagnosis. Rather, it exists on a continuum with other disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders, language disorders and nonverbal learning disabilities. Children with hyperlexia may also exhibit other conditions, such as sensory integration dysfunction, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, motor dyspraxia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and/or seizure disorder. We have often been asked why we identify children with hyperlexia if they have other diagnoses or conditions. The most important reason is that these children learn primarily through reading, so the therapeutic and educational programs that we devise for them must take their reading skills into account. The reading skills of these children are their strength, and we use this strength to develop their weaker skills.
Children with hyperlexia are delightful, interesting and challenging. They have taught us about learning, language and life. We have found that there are new concerns at each stage of development, and our work with these children is never done. The children we worked with in the early days were a capable group. Most of them did well academically, thanks to a lot of hard work by their parents; however, their social skills remained an issue and needed continued intervention. As we treated many more children over the years, we realized that there is a spectrum of outcomes depending on the severity of the cognitive, language learning and/or social disorder associated with the hyperlexia.
Identification of hyperlexia is most important when children are young, because early intervention increases children's chances for success, and since reading is a powerful tool for learning language and social skills, Once a child begins to understand verbal language, written language call be gradually decreased and used only in certain situations when something new or confusing is introduced. Although symptoms tend to decrease over time, the characteristic learning style remains through adulthood.
What is observed in a child with hyperlexia?Hyperlexia is a syndrome observed in children who have the following characteristics:
Precocious ability to read words-far above what would be expected at the chronological age-or an intense fascination with numbers or letters.
Abnormal social skills; difficulty socializing and interacting appropriately with people.
What have we learned?After identifying, working with and following several hundred children with hyperlexia over the past 21 years, we have learned the following:
Children with hyperlexia have a difficult time processing what is said to them, but they are lucky because their language learning can be supported by written language. Once a child begins to understand verbal language, written language can be used less frequently, such as when something new or confusing is introduced.
English is a difficult and confusing language. Wh-questions (who, what, where, when and wh.v) need to be specifically taught using written and verbal prompts and scripts. Ask the question and give the answer. Teach how to create a narrative or tell a story. Frame experiences or behavioral patterns using written words.
Rote learning is okay. Routine is good. Computers, videos and books are great teaching tools, since they are predictable.
Although rote leal1ling is good, a child with hyperlexia also needs to be taught about the flexibility of routine and language.
Incorporate what each child is interested in into lessons (for example, maps, dinosaurs, cars, plumbing, cartoon characters).
Punishment does not work. What does work is setting up a positive reinforcement system that will support the behavior you desire to teach.
Children with hyperlexia have benefited from a variety of educational settings and therapeutic approaches as long as their reading abilities are recognized and used to help them learn. Educational programs need to be adapted to fit their language leal1ling differences.
Each year is different. Parents and professionals need to evaluate programs and interventions based on the child's needs that year.
Medications, diets and nutritional supplements are not cures, but they may help particular symptoms, such as anxiety, obsessive/compulsive symptoms and attention deficits.
It is important to script coping language for the child in an effort to decrease negative physical behavior.
Occupational therapists have lots of good ideas. Consult an occupational therapist trained in sensory integration techniques.
Social skills are important and need to be specifically taught and practiced. Boys and girls need different kinds of social language groups until the teen years, at which time transgender communication is the issue.
Some people will never understand, and that is okay. Appreciate those who make the effort.
"Write, write, write, because the child with hyperlexia will read, read, read."Susan Martins Miller
"When in doubt, write it out. (If it isn't written, it may not exist.)" Canadian Hyperlexia Association
The images that form in your mind as you read -- we call them "brain movies" -- can be more exciting and memorable than a Hollywood film. More to the point for teachers, guiding your students to visualize as they read is an engaging and enjoyable way to boost comprehension and retention.
Learning to create brain movies can help students make sense of complex nonfiction subject matter and "see" the characters, setting, and action in stories. Teachers who use our strategy tell us their students seem to have more fun -- and success -- as they read. These anecdotes are supported by research showing that students who are taught to develop mental imagery of text do better than control groups on tests of comprehension and recall.
The research basis for the usefulness of transforming text into mental images can be found in Allan Paivio's dual coding theory, which holds that cognition consists of both a verbal system for language and a nonverbal, visual-spatial one for images. By creating mental images from the words on a page or screen, we tap into both the verbal and visual-spatial representational systems, making abstract concepts more concrete and thus more meaningful and memorable.
From Text to Brain MoviesVisualizing while reading is a strategy that should be explicitly taught. The assumption that children are naturally imaginative may not be true for all students, and even those with vivid imaginations may need guidance in applying the active process of making brain movies to improve their understanding of what they read. Follow these steps to introduce brain movies to your students:
Select a book, poem, or reading passage with vivid, sensory-rich language to read aloud.
Introduce words or concepts that may be new to students before reading, and share photographs, websites, and other images to help set the stage.
Ask students to share examples of movies based on books they've read, and lead a discussion about the difference between reading the book and watching the movie. Emphasize that as we read or are read to, our imagination creates its own brain movie.
Recommend that as you read the selected passage, students create their own brain movies based on the text by imagining the characters, setting, and action. Suggest that some students may find it easier to visualize if they watch you as you read, close their eyes, or gaze out the window.
Read with inflection and emphasis on striking language.
When you are done reading, pause to let students finish translating the text into brain movies. Then ask for volunteers to share their favorite imagery or scene.
Discuss how students' experiences helped them relate to the story and create their brain movies. How are the characters like them or people they know? How are they different? How is the setting of the story similar to and different from their neighborhoods and places they have visited?
Note how many people find that visualizing what they read helps them to understand and remember the subject matter.
Encourage students to continue conjuring movies in their minds as they read. Emphasize that creating brain movies requires reading carefully and attentively. And suggest that if they have a hard time visualizing a passage, they should reread it and look up any unfamiliar words.
Examples of Brain Movies in ActionTeachers who've used this strategy in their classrooms share these examples and tips for enhancing its effectiveness:
Share Brain Movies to Extend the LearningFlorida teacher Kelly Rose introduced brain movies to a literature circle of fifth graders, beginning with the powerful language of poetry. After guiding students to picture the images in their minds as they read and reread the poems, Ms. Rose then asked them to share what they visualized. "We found that our brain movies were all different, and by sharing our movies, we were able to remember even more details from the poem," she says.
Emphasize Vivid Language for Young WritersWorking with elementary students learning English as a second language, Georgia teacher Melissa Smith shares reading passages that demonstrate how writers choose their words carefully to help readers create brain movies. She then guides students to picture their own stories in their minds as they write, which helps identify the details and striking language that will tell their stories most effectively.
Let Students Choose Their Own MaterialGiving students a choice in what they read can make it easier to teach how to create mental imagery. They are more likely to be engaged in and derive meaning from reading they enjoy.
For Further ReadingFor more details and examples on using brain movies in your classroom, see author Donna Wilson's 2012 article (doi: 10.1002.TRTR01091) in The Reading Teacher (available by subscription, perhaps through your school or district). Mark Sadosky's article Mental Imagery in Reading summarizes some of the research supporting this strategy. For more visual strategies to support meaning making and retention, see our book BrainSMART: 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning.
How might brain movies support other reading comprehension strategies for your students?
In first and second grade, most children learn to read. Beginning in third grade, they're expected to read to learn. They may be assigned to find facts on the Internet for a project on aquatic mammals, for instance, or asked to identify plot points in a work of fiction. The ability to extract meaning from written sources — to learn independently — becomes increasingly important with each new grade.
Reading comprehension depends on the ability to quickly sound out and recognize words, which can be hard for students with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) or learning disabilities like dyslexia.
Even after the mechanics of reading have been mastered, many children with ADHD have trouble understanding the text, making connections within the story, and relating what they're reading to what they already know. Fortunately, reading comprehension skills and strategies can be learned. Children who are taught multiple strategies, and guided in their use, eventually choose some to use on their own.
Read to your child .Even if your child can read on his own, there is value inreading aloud to him. A child's listening skills are usually stronger than his reading skills, so your child can comprehend more if he reads along silently as you read the book out loud. Begin with short passages, and extend the time if your child maintains focus. Books on tape, with accompanying texts, provide another way to pair reading and listening.
Engage the imagination. While your child reads or listens, encourage her to visualize the events in the story, creating a picture or movie in her mind. After a few pages, ask her to describe it.
Show how books are organized. Textbooks are often structured in a way that highlights and summarizes important material. Show your child how paying attention to captions, charts, section headings, and sample study questions can organize his thinking and provide valuable facts. When your child reads fiction, train him to look for the five W's: Who are the main characters, where and when does the story take place, what conflicts do the characters face, and why do they act as they do. Although newspaper and magazine articles don't always contain a narrative, information about the five W's typically appears in the first paragraph or two.
Ask for predictions. When reading a book with your child, stop occasionally to ask what she thinks might happen next. This requires her to integrate what she has learned so far about the characters and storyline—and about the way stories are typically organized—to anticipate the rest of the plot. If she's reading a Harry Potter novel, for example, asks what she thinks will happen the next time Harry and Draco Malfoy face each other in a Quidditch match. Or get her opinion on what she thinks author J.K. Rowling will write about in the next book. It doesn't matter if her hunches are correct: Asking for predictions encourages her to pay very close attention to what she reads. What's more, it helps you gauge just how much she's comprehending.
Show interest in what your child is reading .Ask her to tell you about the book or chapter she just finished. What was the main idea? Who was her favorite character? Why did she like or dislike the book? Did it remind her of other stories she's read or of experiences she has had? If it was a textbook chapter, what did she learn, and how does it apply to what she's learning in school? Having to verbalize what she has read requires her to make sense of it. f your child is unable to provide a coherent summary, read the book yourself. Engage her in a discussion of your favorite parts and characters, and talk about how you connected parts of the story so that it all came together.
Encourage note-taking .Have your child keep a notepad or index cards nearby to jot down important information as he reads. Note-taking pushes a reader to make sense of the material, and the cards become terrific tools when studying for a test later on. If a book belongs to your child, permit her to mark relevant details with a pencil or highlighter. Do this together the first few times—it's an opportunity to demonstrate how to pick out important facts. Does your child learn best visually? Help him create a chart with boxes for the story's setting, characters' names, and major themes and events. Or show her how to make a mind map—a diagram that uses key words, colors, and symbols to represent ideas and information.
Increase word power. The stronger your child's vocabulary, the better his comprehension—and the less frequently he'll put down a book to ask about a word. If you know that a passage contains unfamiliar words, define them—or have him look them up in a dictionary—before he begins to read.
Translate figures of speech. A child with a language-based learning disorder can be overly literal: Reading that a character "took the bull by the horns" or "looked like he'd seen a ghost" can stop him cold. Help your child understand that a phrase that seems out of context may be a figure of speech. Together, compile a list of expressions and what they mean.
Teach your child to read between the lines. Point out sentences in which information is implied, and ask her to fill in what's missing. She should understand that the statement, "George was excited about winning top prize at his school's science fair for the second time," means that George has won the science award once before.
Build on background knowledge .It's easier to understand subject matter that you know something about. Help your child select reading materials that reflect his interests, and encourage him to bring his own experiences to his understanding of a book.
Form a book group. If your child has friends who enjoy similar books, get them together to discuss what they've read or to collaborate on a project, such as a mural or a skit about the story.
Once you've introduced your child to this array of reading comprehension strategies, have him write each of his favorites on a separate bookmark. He can use these in schoolbooks—choosing the strategy best-suited to each text—and have a handy reminder to hold his place.
March 2012 | Volume 69 | Number 6 Reading: The Core Skill Pages 10-15 http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar12/vol69/num06/Every-Child,-Every-Day.aspx
Every Child, Every Day Richard L. Allington and Rachael E. Gabriel
The six elements of effective reading instruction don't require much time or money—just educators' decision to put them in place. "Every child a reader" has been the goal of instruction, education research, and reform for at least three decades. We now know more than ever about how to accomplish this goal. Yet few students in the United States regularly receive the best reading instruction we know how to give.
Instead, despite good intentions, educators often make decisions about instruction that compromise or supplant the kind of experiences all children need to become engaged, successful readers. This is especially true for struggling readers, who are much less likely than their peers to participate in the kinds of high-quality instructional activities that would ensure that they learn to read. Six Elements for Every Child
Here, we outline six elements of instruction that every child should experience every day. Each of these elements can be implemented in any district and any school, with any curriculum or set of materials, and without additional funds. All that's necessary is for adults to make the decision to do it.
1. Every child reads something he or she chooses. The research base on student-selected reading is robust and conclusive: Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have the opportunity to choose what they read. In a 2004 meta-analysis, Guthrie and Humenick found that the two most powerful instructional design factors for improving reading motivation and comprehension were (1) student access to many books and (2) personal choice of what to read. We're not saying that students should never read teacher- or district-selected texts. But at some time every day, they should be able to choose what they read.
The experience of choosing in itself boosts motivation. In addition, offering choice makes it more likely that every reader will be matched to a text that he or she can read well. If students initially have trouble choosing texts that match their ability level and interest, teachers can provide limited choices to guide them toward successful reading experiences. By giving students these opportunities, we help them develop the ability to choose appropriate texts for themselves—a skill that dramatically increases the likelihood they will read outside school (Ivey & Broaddus, 2001, Reis et al., 2007). Some teachers say they find it difficult to provide a wide selection of texts because of budget constraints. Strangely, there is always money available for workbooks, photocopying, and computers; yet many schools claim that they have no budget for large, multileveled classroom libraries. This is interesting because research has demonstrated that access to self-selected texts improves students' reading performance (Krashen, 2011), whereas no evidence indicates that workbooks, photocopies, or computer tutorial programs have ever done so (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Dynarski, 2007).
There is, in fact, no way they ever could. When we consider that the typical 4th grade classroom has students reading anywhere from the 2nd to the 9th grade reading levels (and that later grades have an even wider range), the idea that one workbook or textbook could meet the needs of every reader is absurd (Hargis, 2006). So, too, is the idea that skills developed through isolated, worksheet-based skills practice and fill-in-the-blank vocabulary quizzes will transfer to real reading in the absence of any evidence that they ever have. If school principals eliminated the budget for workbooks and worksheets and instead spent the money on real books for classroom libraries, this decision could dramatically improve students' opportunities to become better readers.
2. Every child reads accurately.
Good readers read with accuracy almost all the time. The last 60 years of research on optimal text difficulty—a body of research that began with Betts (1949)—consistently demonstrates the importance of having students read texts they can read accurately and understand. In fact, research shows that reading at 98 percent or higher accuracy is essential for reading acceleration. Anything less slows the rate of improvement, and anything below 90 percent accuracy doesn't improve reading ability at all (Allington, 2012; Ehri, Dreyer, Flugman, & Gross, 2007).
Although the idea that students read better when they read more has been supported by studies for the last 70 years, policies that simply increase the amount of time allocated for students to read often find mixed results (National Reading Panel, 2000). The reason is simple: It's not just the time spent with a book in hand, but rather the intensity and volume of high-success reading, that determines a student's progress in learning to read (Allington, 2009; Kuhn et al., 2006). When students read accurately, they solidify their word-recognition, decoding, and word-analysis skills. Perhaps more important, they are likely to understand what they read—and, as a result, to enjoy reading.
In contrast, struggling students who spend the same amount of time reading texts that they can't read accurately are at a disadvantage in several important ways. First, they read less text; it's slow going when you encounter many words you don't recognize instantly. Second, struggling readers are less likely to understand (and therefore enjoy) what they read. They are likely to become frustrated when reading these difficult texts and therefore to lose confidence in their word-attack, decoding, or word-recognition skills. Thus, a struggling reader and a successful reader who engage in the same 15-minute independent reading session do not necessarily receive equivalent practice, and they are likely to experience different outcomes. Sadly, struggling readers typically encounter a steady diet of too-challenging texts throughout the school day as they make their way through classes that present grade-level material hour after hour. In essence, traditional instructional practices widen the gap between readers.
3. Every child reads something he or she understands.
Understanding what you've read is the goal of reading. But too often, struggling readers get interventions that focus on basic skills in isolation, rather than on reading connected text for meaning. This common misuse of intervention time often arises from a grave misinterpretation of what we know about reading difficulties.
The findings of neurological research are sometimes used to reinforce the notion that some students who struggle to learn to read are simply "wired differently" (Zambo, 2003) and thus require large amounts of isolated basic skills practice. In fact, this same research shows that remediation that emphasizes comprehension can change the structure of struggling students' brains. Keller and Just (2009) used imaging to examine the brains of struggling readers before and after they received 100 hours of remediation—including lots of reading and rereading of real texts. The white matter of the struggling readers was of lower structural quality than that of good readers before the intervention, but it improved following the intervention. And these changes in the structure of the brain's white matter consistently predicted increases in reading ability.
Numerous other studies (Aylward et al., 2003; Krafnick, Flowers, Napoliello, & Eden, 2011; Shaywitz et al., 2004) have supported Keller and Just's findings that comprehensive reading instruction is associated with changed activation patterns that mirror those of typical readers. These studies show that it doesn't take neurosurgery or banging away at basic skills to enable the brain to develop the ability to read: It takes lots of reading and rereading of text that students find engaging and comprehensible. The findings from brain research align well with what we've learned from studies of reading interventions. Regardless of their focus, target population, or publisher, interventions that accelerate reading development routinely devote at least two-thirds of their time to reading and rereading rather than isolated or contrived skill practice (Allington, 2011). These findings have been consistent for the last 50 years—yet the typical reading intervention used in schools today has struggling readers spending the bulk of their time on tasks other than reading and rereading actual texts.
Studies of exemplary elementary teachers further support the finding that more authentic reading develops better readers (Allington, 2002; Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, & Rodriguez, 2003). In these large-scale national studies, researchers found that students in more-effective teachers' classrooms spent a larger percentage of reading instructional time actually reading; students in less-effective teachers' classrooms spent more time using worksheets, answering low-level, literal questions, or completing before-and-after reading activities. In addition, exemplary teachers were more likely to differentiate instruction so that all readers had books they could actually read accurately, fluently, and with understanding.
4. Every child writes about something personally meaningful.
In our observations in schools across several states, we rarely see students writing anything more than fill-in-the-blank or short-answer responses during their reading block. Those who do have the opportunity to compose something longer than a few sentences are either responding to a teacher-selected prompt or writing within a strict structural formula that turns even paragraphs and essays into fill-in-the-blank exercises.
As adults, we rarely if ever write to a prompt, and we almost never write about something we don't know about. Writing is called composition for a good reason: We actually compose (construct something unique) when we write. The opportunity to compose continuous text about something meaningful is not just something nice to have when there's free time after a test or at the end of the school year. Writing provides a different modality within which to practice the skills and strategies of reading for an authentic purpose.
When students write about something they care about, they use conventions of spelling and grammar because it matters to them that their ideas are communicated, not because they will lose points or see red ink if they don't (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2010). They have to think about what words will best convey their ideas to their readers. They have to encode these words using letter patterns others will recognize. They have to make sure they use punctuation in a way that will help their readers understand which words go together, where a thought starts and ends, and what emotion goes with it. They have to think about what they know about the structure of similar texts to set up their page and organize their ideas. This process is especially important for struggling readers because it produces a comprehensible text that the student can read, reread, and analyze.
5. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.
Research has demonstrated that conversation with peers improves comprehension and engagement with texts in a variety of settings (Cazden, 1988). Such literary conversation does not focus on recalling or retelling what students read. Rather, it asks students to analyze, comment, and compare—in short, to think about what they've read. Fall, Webb, and Chudowsky (2000) found better outcomes when kids simply talked with a peer about what they read than when they spent the same amount of class time highlighting important information after reading.
Similarly, Nystrand (2006) reviewed the research on engaging students in literate conversations and noted that even small amounts of such conversation (10 minutes a day) improved standardized test scores, regardless of students' family background or reading level. Yet struggling readers were the least likely to discuss daily what they read with peers. This was often because they were doing extra basic-skills practice instead. In class discussions, struggling readers were more likely to be asked literal questions about what they had read, to prove they "got it," rather than to be engaged in a conversation about the text. Time for students to talk about their reading and writing is perhaps one of the most underused, yet easy-to-implement, elements of instruction. It doesn't require any special materials, special training, or even large amounts of time. Yet it provides measurable benefits in comprehension, motivation, and even language competence. The task of switching between writing, speaking, reading, and listening helps students make connections between, and thus solidify, the skills they use in each. This makes peer conversation especially important for English language learners, another population that we rarely ask to talk about what they read.
6. Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud
Listening to an adult model fluent reading increases students' own fluency and comprehension skills (Trelease, 2001), as well as expanding their vocabulary, background knowledge, sense of story, awareness of genre and text structure, and comprehension of the texts read (Wu & Samuels, 2004).
Yet few teachers above 1st grade read aloud to their students every day (Jacobs, Morrison, & Swinyard, 2000). This high-impact, low-input strategy is another underused component of the kind of instruction that supports readers. We categorize it as low-input because, once again, it does not require special materials or training; it simply requires a decision to use class time more effectively. Rather than conducting whole-class reading of a single text that fits few readers, teachers should choose to spend a few minutes a day reading to their students.
Things That Really MatterMost of the classroom instruction we have observed lacks these six research-based elements. Yet it's not difficult to find the time and resources to implement them. Here are a few suggestions. First, eliminate almost all worksheets and workbooks. Use the money saved to purchase books for classroom libraries; use the time saved for self-selected reading, self-selected writing, literary conversations, and read-alouds. Second, ban test-preparation activities and materials from the school day. Although sales of test preparation materials provide almost two-thirds of the profit that testing companies earn (Glovin & Evans, 2006), there are no studies demonstrating that engaging students in test prep ever improved their reading proficiency—or even their test performance (Guthrie, 2002). As with eliminating workbook completion, eliminating test preparation provides time and money to spend on the things that really matter in developing readers.
It's time for the elements of effective instruction described here to be offered more consistently to every child, in every school, every day. Remember, adults have the power to make these decisions; kids don't. Let's decide to give them the kind of instruction they need. ReferencesAllington, R. L. (2002). What I've learned about effective reading instruction from a decade of studying exemplary elementary classroom teachers. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 740–747. Allington, R. L. (2009). If they don't read much … 30 years later. In E. H. Hiebert (Ed.), Reading more, reading better (pp. 30–54). New York: Guilford. Allington, R. L. (2011). Research on reading/ learning disability interventions. In S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (4th ed., pp. 236–265). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Allington, R. L. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs (3rd ed.). 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