Teaching Reading: Sold a Story

soldastoryI have been teaching reading and writing for many years, mostly to 4th-8th graders.  By the time they get to me, in reading we work on developing vocabulary, understanding the text and text structures, and deepening comprehension.  Somewhere along the line, my students’ previous teachers taught them to decode the sounds, understand the words, and make sense of the text at their grade levels.  Apparently, in many places that hasn’t been happening.

The podcast series, Sold a Story, is a game changer, unless you already knew or have been changed.  The way many schools have been teaching reading has been mistaken, misguided, incomplete, because that’s how teachers were instructed to teach reading. In many places students were not taught to decode the words, to sound it out.  While the comprehension strategies such as predicting and understanding the theme are great, first students have to be able to read the words.

Please listen to the series, Sold a Story.  You won’t be disappointed.

Learning from Everyone

Do you read The Marginalian?  If not, I would highly recommend that you do.  There are always ideas that make me say, “Hmmm…wow…interesting, I had not thought about that in that way.”  Here is a tidbit that was posted and sent to me (yes, you should sign up for the free newsletter and donate, too):

From a child you can learn

1) to always to be happy;
2) never to sit idle;
3) to cry for everything you want.

From a thief you can learn

1) to work at night;
2) that if you cannot gain what you want in one night to try again the next night;
3) to love your co-workers just as thieves love each other;
4) to be willing to risk your life even for a little thing;
5) not to attach too much value to things even though you have risked your life for them — just as a thief will resell a stolen article for a fraction of its real value;
6) to withstand all kinds of beatings and tortures but to remain what you are;
7) to believe that your work is worthwhile and not be willing to change it.

Hope for Humanity

A few days ago, a new student arrived in my EAL class in Peru ( EAL- English as an additional language.). The new student speaks Korean and Japanese, and has studied a bit of English; all of the classes, though, are taught in English, except the Spanish class.  So, picture yourself in that situation: You are new to an English speaking school in a Spanish speaking country; you are about 12 years old; you speak two languages that have little to do with where you are now.  Difficult, to say the least.

To begin the class, I asked students to introduce themselves to the new student.  My students are very welcoming so this was easy for them.  They clearly tried to make connections with him as they mentioned music, games, and other cultural ideas that he might be interested in.  Then, one of the newer students introduced himself saying something like, “I am also new here, not quite as new as you, and I found it easy to make friends here.  I hope you also are able to make friends.  I will be your friend.”

I will be your friend.

Imagine the world if this is how everyone received new people, immigrants, refugees, the stranger, the unknown.  It could happen.

I will be your friend.  This gives me hope.

Reading-of

Sitting down for the reading-of challenged my sense of balance.  The wobbly table in front of me offered no support for my arthritic hands. And I feared that any movement of the table would knock over the seven wax candles that flickered atop.  The high-backed wicker chair where I was to rest seemed to be held together with strings and rags.  Still, I sat.  Slowly.  Carefully.

Marcia entered cat-like, brushed her flowing robes aside and sat in front of me on a stool that I had not seen.  Her long white hair covered her eyes, but with her back to the candles I couldn’t have seen them anyway.

Without saying a word she reached forward and took my cold hands in hers.  They were warm.  The room was warm.  The room lit up, transformed, no, I was in a big city, on a busy corner.  Was this New York? I looked down at my hands and they were young again.  The pain was gone. I looked up at the kiosk and newspapers held a date years into the future.  

I reached my right hand up to inspect a magazine from the kiosk.  A stab of agony.  I was cold.  As suddenly as I had left the room, I returned to the age and the pain and the darkness and the flickering candles.

And Marcia. 

Slowly she whispered, “I have read-of youYou have seen.”

As she rather floated out of the room the candles extinguished.  I slowly stood, in the dark, but I had seen a light.

St. Francis of Assisi

IMG_4723October 4th is the day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology.  People the world over admire St. Francis for his simplicity and humility, along with his dedication to peace and the natural world.  Yes, the world would be a better place with more focus on of all of those virtues: simplicity, humility, peace, and ecology.  (The picture to the left is of the town of Assisi in Italy.)

A Franciscan once told me a story about Francis that I had not heard.  A young monk asked Francis if he could have a prayer book.  Francis thought for a moment and said, “The idea of prayer is important, and having a resource to help you pray sounds helpful. Having a book, though, means that you need a place to put the book or a way to carry the book.  Where then, will you put that shelf or bag that holds your book?  Will you be afraid of losing the book, or of the book getting stolen? Where do you want to focus your attention?”  I am sure you can guess the response of the young monk.

If you are interested in learning more about St. Francis of Assisi you could start with the Prayer of St. Francis, or watch Franco Zeffireelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  While the movie looks a bit dated, it is a classic.  There are also many books about St. Francis, such as St. Francis and the Foolishness of God.

Oral Rehearsal for Writing

Do your students say what they want to write before they write it?  Whether it is a short exit ticket, the resolution of the conflict in a narrative, a lab report, or something else, there is a lot of power in oral rehearsal at every age. 

An easy way to do an oral rehearsal with your students is to do a think-pair-share.  You may have heard of this strategy where students take a moment to think about the answer to your question, and then turn to a partner who is near them to share the answer. To complete the cycle, have students write what they shared.

Another way to set up oral rehearsal is for students to have writing partners.  Before writing, partners can share what they will write about based on the instructions for the day.  After they write, they can share their writing and get some feedback from the partner.  I like to set up partners for the length of the unit so that students can build that friendship that good writing partners need.

Yes, all of this takes modeling and practice.

This week I did a small experiment with two of my students who are learning English.  I asked them first to write about a movie and I gave them five minutes to write.  Then, I had each one tell us about a book that they liked.  Here is a picture of their answers.  I added a word count to each text.Screen Shot 2021-08-25 at 3.39.47 PM

Screen Shot 2021-08-25 at 3.40.06 PM

Sure there is lots to work on with their English, but look at the difference in language production!  Oral rehearsal is definitely worth the effort.

Ask Some Questions…

…and then wait for the answers.

Screen Shot 2021-08-23 at 2.09.56 PMTeachers, at times, argue about silly things.  Years ago I walked into a classroom and into heated discussion that pitted Bloom’s Taxonomy against Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.  (Really, I did!) While there were teachers on either side of the discussion, they were all arguing for the same thing: Good Questions!  After listening for a while, our literacy coach wondered aloud, “How about using both to get the students think in lots of different ways about many different ideas?”

Screen Shot 2021-08-23 at 2.12.20 PMThat’s the ticket!  Let’s use the ideas of Bloom and Webb to motivate student thinking, speaking, and writing.  If you haven’t revisited Bloom and Webb in a while, now might be a good time to review the questions you ask, think about your wait time, and consider who does most of the talking in your class.  (Someone once told me that the person in class who is talking is the one who is doing the learning. It was probably that same literacy coach).

The resources (click on the pictures) are tools to get you thinking and to get your students thinking.  Have high expectations for your students and they will rise to the challenges that you scaffold for them.  All students can and do learn.  We can help them.

Three Quarts to a Gallon

The Congress in Peru recently approved a law saying that the internet companies have to provide at least 70% of the internet speed that they are selling.  This law was designed to improve what the companies provide, up from 40%.  My question all along has been, if I am paying 100%, why are they allowed to give me 40%?  Thankfully, now it is 70%, but I am still paying 100%.

Can someone explain to me why they don’t just say, “We can provide this level of service and will charge you this amount”?  It doesn’t change the internet speed; it just makes the transaction clear. Then, when they give me higher speeds, I will be thrilled!

What if other companies did that?  Can you imagine a dairy company selling you a gallon of milk and promising you that there will be at least three quarts?

Anyway, I wrote to La República and offered this commentary… that was not published.

Si Movistar te puede cobrar 100% y darte 70% (La República, 20 de mayo 2021), imagínate…

Después de confirmar la elevación de 40% a 70% la velocidad mínima de los servicios de internet por el Pleno del Congreso de la República, el vocero de Leches Gloria comentó, “Estamos muy de acuerdo.  De ahora en adelante vamos a rellenar nuestras cajas de un litro de leche con un mínimo de 700 ml.”  El coordinador del mercado de Santa Anita también apoyó la decisión del Congreso asegurando que pueden re-calibrar las balanzas para que cada casera reciba un mínimo de 700 gramos en cada kilo de fruta o verdura.  Toyota, por su parte, anunció que están considerando la posibilidad de poner 3 llantas en vez de 4 en cada auto vendido. Todavía tenían que conversarlo porque 3 llantas sería 75% y eso excede el 70% aprobado por el Congreso.

Imagínate.

I thought it was funny.  I also think that Peru has other priorities right now with the pandemic and the election.

Learnings from Distance Learning

Beginnings and endings are wonderful times for reflection.  Maybe you are starting a new job, making a new friend, or celebrating the birth of a child.  Perhaps, on the other hand, you are leaving a country, ending a relationship, or mourning the death of a loved one.  All of these events invite pause, reflection.

How has the last year and a half been for you?  For many, including me, the arrival of COVID-19 brought change: Change in schedules, possibilities, health, and even brought death closer.  I have been teaching from home since March 2020.  Never in my life did I anticipate learning so much about distance learning, Zoom, and Google Docs.  But learn I did!

In the hope of holding on to the good, the silver lining in a difficult situation, I offer the following related to online, distance education:

  1. Relationships are still key.  Building and maintaining relationships continues to be the cornerstone of teaching.  When I know who you are and you know who I am, we can work so much better together.  I love seeing your cats and dogs, siblings and parents wander in and out of Zoom classes.  I love that you notice my haircut or new glasses.  I especially like it when, in the middle of class, you ask, “Can I show you a picture that I drew?”  Maybe the timing isn’t the best, but you feel comfortable and that is worth gold.
  2. Distance learning tools are only tools.  The real learning comes in the doing, the reflecting, and doing again.  We can use all the wonderful apps and programs, but without the purposeful lesson design that gets students doing the work and open to new ways of seeing and doing, the apps and programs are worthless.
  3. Today is enough. Maybe I had plans for more or different, but student questions and interest and worries led us on a useful tangent.  That’s OK.  That’s where we needed to go today.  When I am present to who you are today, right now, to what you need, right now, we will always move forward.  I am not going to assign you the work we missed; I am going to adjust my teaching for the new learning that we will do tomorrow.
  4. There is no learning loss.  Students always learn.  They may learn what we teach, and they always learn who we are.  There are all sorts of unplanned learnings that happen, too.  Always we start from where the students are and move forward.  If they missed something from a previous lesson or year we can sneak it in around the edges, in a small group or one-on-one.  Anyone who tells you that the students learned less this past year and a half is mistaken.  They learned a lot more, just maybe not what the curriculum guide says they “should” learn.  There is always a variety of student learning in a class; there is always a variety of levels of understanding in every class.  This year is no different.  We move forward because students always learn.

Take a moment and think about what you want to take with you from this challenging year (and a half!), and what you want to leave behind.  Move forward knowing that learning moves forward.  We continue to become.  So do our students.