What I'm Reading

What I’m Reading: September 2015

Always the beautiful answer

Who asks a more beautiful question.

-E.E. Cummings

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photo credit: What is this key for? via photopin (license)

Early Literacy Research: Findings Primary-Grade Teachers Will Want to Know by D. Ray Reutzal (The Reading Teacher, July/August 2015)

The Dean of the College of Education at the University of Wyoming addresses the most commonly asked questions in his experience with teacher colleagues. Here are a few of those questions, along with what research is telling us in response.

  • Handwriting: Who needs it these days?

Apparently, everyone. Reutzal found several studies that confirm the many benefits from teaching this traditional practice: Writing fluency, better note-taking skills, the quality of texts students produce, creativity of thought, organization and coherence of ideas, and even improved keyboarding speed. “The takeaway message is clear: Handwriting needs to be returned to the elementary language arts curriculum” (p 15).

  • Do students need to be taught concepts about print beyond kindergarten?

Defined as text awareness and concepts, such as knowing that words are to be read from left to right, concepts about print (CAP) is expected of every student before they enter 1st grade. But that doesn’t mean it happens. Elementary teachers would be wise to continue using shared reading experiences, such as interactive read alouds, to ensure that all students have a deep understanding of text structure. CAP is foundational information before students become independent readers themselves.

  • Should we be teaching reading and writing strategies before kids know how to read and write?

Unequivocally, yes! Understanding text structure and how we pull meaning from various forms of texts should be a focus of school from early on. Students’ listening (and thinking) skills are at a much higher level than their reading or writing abilities. For example, if a student cannot read a picture book, they are often capable of understanding character, setting, problem, and solution found in narrative texts. Teachers can help students build a deeper understanding of text structures by giving them time for purposeful talk around a story read aloud.

Making Questions Flow by Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana and Andrew P. Mulligan (Educational Leadership, September 2015)

The authors of Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions join Mulligan in explaining the keystone of their text, the Question Formulation Technique (p 70).

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Don’t stop to judge, discuss, or answer any question.
  3. Write down every question exactly as stated.
  4. Change any statements into questions.

The authors apply this technique within real classroom contexts, such as increasing student engagement for a unit on African history and formatively assessing students after a mathematics lesson on volume. Their framework provides the necessary structure to help students become better inquirers and deeper thinkers.

Multi-generational digital literacy approach offers hope for the future by Kevin Rocap (SmartBrief, September 9, 2015)

Rocap, the Executive Director of Strategy & Development for the San Francisco Unified School District, joined colleagues to explore how providing students of low-income families with greater access to books via mobile devices might improve their literacy skills. First grade classrooms were assigned a set of iPad minis and access to thousands of digital books with built-in scaffolding and supports. Families had to attend several workshops in order to learn how to use the tablets (they received an iPad for completing the training course). This program is funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s Time to Get Rid of Education’s Sacred Cows by Angela Minnici (Education Week, September 8, 2015)

Minnici, the director of the Education Policy Center at the American Institutes for Research, calls into question three traditionally accepted beliefs that she feels needs a closer look:

  • Education is local.
  • Almost anyone can become a good teacher.
  • American schools have traditionally done a great job of educating all kids.

The writer provides brief rationale supported by compelling evidence to suggest these “truths” should no longer be held in such high regard. In order to make gains across all schools, Minnici suggests that “we in the field have to budge first, questioning what has too long gone unquestioned and dispelling what we know to be untrue” (p 22).

Why Curious People Are Destined for the C-Suite by Warren Berger (Harvard Business Review, September 11, 2015)

Berger, author of the excellent book A More Beautiful Question (the title derives from the quote listed at the beginning of this post), explains why leaders who ask questions are often the most successful.

They continually examine and re-examine their own assumptions and practices, asking deep, penetrating ‘Why’ questions, as well as speculative ‘What if’ and ‘How’ questions.”

He provides clear examples of well-known leaders asking questions that lead to better products and service. For instance, Jack Dorsey, one of the founders of Twitter, wondered why a friend of his (an artist) could not make a big sale because he didn’t have the capacity to process a credit card. This question led to the creation of Square, a credit card mobile application + reader often used by smaller businesses.

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In Summary

I’ve had parents and community members ask me about the Common Core State Standards. When they bring this topic up, they are almost always “against” these standards. When I offer to share Common Core documents that clearly show what they entail, they always refuse. “I know what they’re about. I’ve researched them.”

If politicians and pundits had not helped to create this controversy, most parents and community members would not even be aware of the standards. By creating a frame in which people think they understand the Common Core, people view the standards as an either/or proposition. Nevermind that schools have almost always had standards, or that having consistent expectations across the nation regarding quality student work might help to provide equity for all students.

Teaching students to question their current reality, formulate inquiries, and pursue knowledge that would confirm or refute their beliefs is an essential skill in the 21st century. Given the amount of information available online, plus how easy it is to follow the digital crowd, it is hard to disagree.