What I'm Reading

What I’m Reading – May 2015

My Favorite Teachers Use Social Media: A Student Perspective by Katie Benmar (Education Week, April 21, 2015)

Student voice is so often missing in conversations about education, that it is almost a surprise when we hear it above the din of educators. Katie Benmar, a high school student in Seattle, shares both the benefits and the struggles of being a connected learner. While she laments about the internal pressure students feels regarding their profiles and updates on Instagram and Facebook, Katie also believes that teachers who leverage these technologies can increase their impact on student learning. She provides helpful suggestions for educators on connecting with their students using social media.

What Research Says About Text Complexity and Learning to Read by Richard L. Allington, Kimberly McCuiston, Monica Billen (The Reading Teacher, April 2015)

Discussions continue in education regarding whether students should be tackling more challenging texts in order to make greater gains in reading and meet the increased demands of the Common Core State Standards. Allington and colleagues search through the literature of what research says about this issue. Their findings: Students need to be reading books that are at their level, and of their choice and interest the majority of the time.

We contend that in order for students to become proficient readers who are engaged in text while self-regulating and building vocabulary knowledge, the text must appropriately match the student’s reading level. We fear that the push from the CCSS to promote the use of more complex texts will result in decreased reading engagement and less time spent reading, with a potential decline in reading achievement the ultimate outcome. We recommend that elementary-grade teachers continue to adhere to the traditional oral reading accuracy criteria of instructional texts that can be read at 95% accuracy or higher until the outcomes of research on both issues is available.

Their conclusion is consistent with what Allington has long preached on the topic. Complex texts can be useful, but only when lots of scaffolding, small groups, and a highly trained instructor are present. There are also implications for classrooms at the secondary level, which are rife with textbooks written at only one reading level.

Practiced Avoidance by Lori Sabo (The Daily Cafe, May 22, 2015)

In this Tip of the Week from The Two Sister’s website, Sabo uses the analogy of avoiding physical therapy due to a recent shoulder surgery to motivating reluctant readers. She laments the absence of a friend or another person to push her to participate in her required daily band stretches. Sabo finds parallels in working with her students, who demand regular check ins about what they are reading and specific strategies taught to them that address their needs.

Planning for the Planning by Elizabeth Moore (Two Writing Teachers, May 11, 2015)

June is a popular time for teachers to get together, reflect on their school year, and start preparing for instruction that starts in September. Through the lens of putting together units of study for writing, Moore offers five suggestions when planning for this professional time:

  1. Use technology when developing units.
  2. Minimize interruptions.
  3. Bring student data.
  4. Bring resources about planning and read them ahead of time.
  5. Set publishing dates for when units of instruction should be completed.

For this last suggestion, Moore recommends having “publishing parties”. Students take their writing to final draft for an authentic audience and celebration.

Connecting the dots…

The common thread I have found through these four articles and posts is voice and choice. In the first article, we hear from a high school student expressing her desire for her teachers to start using social media with purpose, such as posting daily assignments. “Meet us where we are at,” seems to be the message conveyed by Benmar.

Allington would most likely concur, at least related to the texts that teachers provide for their students. Reading should also be an enjoyable experience, not something that is made needlessly complicated by poor interpretations of literacy standards that have little to no research to support the rationale. In fact, I was surprised Sabo didn’t list “choice in what to read” and “providing access to lots of interesting books to read” as necessary strategies for reaching reluctant readers.

Voice and choice should also be applied when school leaders are allocating resources for their teachers’ professional learning opportunities. I think the joy that Moore exudes in her post is largely related to the autonomy and support provided to her by her principal in their instructional preparations. This concept of voice and choice is a practice all educators can apply in their contexts.

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A website is not a blog (and neither is a journal)

On Friday, I started putting together my weekly round up of article summaries and analysis. This project began in November of last year, as a way to separate my more erudite posts from my regular ramblings on my blog, Reading by Example. This site would also give me a more appropriate platform to promote my formal work. About halfway through the summary writing process, I stopped and asked myself, “Am I enjoying this?” The answer: Not exactly. 6454543031_ea9e13068c

 photo credit: bis zur antwort via photopin (license)

I do like reading widely and responding to what I have read. It has been an effective method of forcing me to read the many journals that sit on my desk at school and home. Also, I believe the process of reading, summarizing, and reflecting has helped me improve as a writer. However, this process was not serving readers. When I stopped in April to work on my upcoming book, I took a look at the statistics. Views had dropped from November on with each subsequent post. I gained perspective by creating distance between this site and my life. Something to consider as you assess your own level of connectedness.

So that is the thing about blogging. It’s not a listserv, like an RSS feed or SmartBrief, where readers come to expect a regular issue of relevant articles and resources. Blogs are more personal. They have a voice behind them, hopefully a powerful and passionate one. If the writer has a fairly specific focus, they usually speak to you. For example, my blog Reading by Example is focused primarily on three things: Literacy, technology, and leadership. Readers and subscribers come to expect posts that relate in someway to one or more of these areas.

On the other end of the spectrum, blogs are not daily journals or diaries. I don’t post highly personal reflections. My belief is these issues are best kept private. As a blogger, you have an audience. It is not about just you. You can and should be personal in the writing. But if all it amounts to is regular rants that have little relevance for others, then what we share has little chance of making a difference in the lives of others. So why post it online? I have seen fairly prolific bloggers lose sight of this. My theory is they become so involved in the outward experience of writing online, that they feel this need to up the ante on behalf of viewership and publicly share information that is best left private. Just my opinion.

Blogging in education is somewhere in the middle between journaling and publishing, probably a little closer to the journaling side of things. It is an inward and reflective experience to write about what’s on our minds professionally. What pulls the craft of blogging toward the publishing end is your audience. That is why the best blogs are the best: The bloggers consider both audience and purpose as they write. They understand that their site doesn’t live unless someone else reads and responds to what they have to share. At the same time, these bloggers understand why they have regular readers in the first place.

Now back to my original purpose for writing this post. Through this experiment in distance, I have realized that this site is better served as a contact page for me as an educator and professional. Promoting my work here means I can find separation from my ongoing reflections at Reading by Example. Presentation materials and more formal writings will be shared on this site. I plan on continuing to periodically summarize and reflect on what I read on my blog. Sign up to receive a notification anytime I post something. I will do my best to make it meaningful for both you and me.