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Category Archive for 'Theory'

Untitled-2 : Page 1 @ 100%*Reading comprehension tends to be an area in need of improvement in many schools with high concentrations of English Language Learners, Standard English Learners, and even some “high performing” schools admit that students can read but they don’t know what they’re reading. We tend to teach the same way we’ve been taught. However, there are new tools and research available today. If we’re still teaching how we were taught, it’s no wonder students are not understanding what they read. Here are four things I’ve been doing in a effort to increase reading comprehension…

  1. Fill in background knowledge with visuals. To borrow a film making adage, “Show, don’t tell.” Find something visual, auditory, or some realia that grabs students’ interest and helps them to understand the story. If you’re reading about Martin Luther King, don’t just tell them what a great speaker he was. Show them a video, play them the speech…it’s too easy to find these and download them now not to do it.

    Pictures work too. You don’t have to make a powerpoint, just print out a picture! Mount it to construction paper, label it, and hold it up. If you’re reading about the city of Parmele, show them pictures of Parmele and locate it on a map. Reading about a guinea fowl?…show them a picture of a guinea fowl (or present a feather).

    Where do you find these pictures? As long as you’re just using the pictures in your classroom, use Google Image Search. If you need to repost the pictures, then try these royalty free image sites. Don’t just open the book and start reading.

  2. Everybody reads, all the time. If you didn’t get the memo, popcorn reading is out (see: Goodbye Round Robin by Opitz and Rasinski). When one student reads, notice what the other students are doing. Most are probably not paying attention. If you have students read in a predictable group pattern, then they anticipate when they’re going to read, get ready, and then tune out again when their turn is finished You will see increased participation if everyone reads the story aloud at the same time.
  3. Have students discuss…not with you, with each other. Typical teaching involves a teacher asking questions to which the teacher already has an answer in mind. The teacher calls on the first student who raises their hand, hears the right answer, and then rephrases it further.Everyone who isn’t that one student answering is bored or not listening and all the students get the message that there is one right answer. Then we wonder why students aren’t capable of higher level thinking. We don’t expect it or even allow it in most classrooms.

    Instead, ask authentic questions…ones that have no right answer, questions that really ask for an opinion or something that you really want to know an answer to. Lower level thinking questions are fine to begin with but don’t stay there forever.

    Give students a chance to pair share or talk in groups. Sometimes they can share out to the whole group but they don’t have to. Resist the urge to rephrase everything students say as if we know more than they do. We don’t always.

    The goal of having them discuss is to involve more students in the conversation and to ask them to think on their own in a safe environment but without the safety net of the teacher stepping in with “right answers” when things get tough.While students are talking, you walk around and monitor. Sometimes encouraging students to share what they’ve said in small groups with the whole class, sometimes asking followup questions to stimulate further conversation.

    Note: If you’ve never done this before, the first few times you do it will be hard…pulling teeth hard. Don’t give up, it gets better.

  4. Explicitly teach comprehension strategies before and after beginning the lesson. Particularly if you are working from a reading anthology, the point of the reading is to practice using comprehension strategies, particularly ones which involve clarifying and lead to inference (these are the spots that tend to tie students up when they’re reading on their own).

    I teach students that they’re not going to like everything they’re going to be reading. Sometimes I even tell them (when we’re done reading and already discussed it) that I don’t like a particular selection. However, the point is that even a story we don’t like is an excuse to practice our reading strategies.

    By explicitly I mean you can’t just use the strategies and expect students to absorb them through osmosis. You need to emphasize the strategies you’re using by naming them and drawing attention to them.

Call me contrary…

Hey, a girls entitled to change her mind…

Earlier, I talked about why Larry Ferlazzo got it right when he said face to face relationships have a quality that can’t be replicated online. Now, I’ll bring some thoughts up to the contrary.

Here are some caveats to that point…Larry himself, has already had to eat his words (okay it wasn’t that extreme) when he said he didn’t get Second Life as an education platform, and then had a reader point out how great it was for people with disabilities. This is a significant population that is often ill-served by our current education and social institutions and the online community has been a welcome advent for many (although many participate in “regular” schools and society too, thank you very much).

I started thinking about non-face to face relationships in the past. Yes, these did exist in the days before computers. First, pen pals and correspondence relationships go back far in time. This was illustrated nicely in the fictional account 84 Charing Cross Road. And as for organizing, look at how well Paul did with a few letters in organizing the early Christian church! Okay, I overstate a bit, but this is part of an ongoing process of using communication to reach out to others. In pencil and paper days, we have pen pals and other correspondence relationships. Party lines (the larger modern ones, not the old ones that just had your neighbors) showed people were dying to talk to complete strangers. CB radio (and its more technical precursor the HAM) had strangers talking to each other and becoming acquaintances and sometimes friends.

The written relationships were the most widespread. I imagine that blogging, et. al. will be bigger than pen pals were because of the ease of entry. Whether it takes the place of face to face, or is a significant part of most adults’ social life I wouldn’t want to venture a guess.

There is one area where the relationships will be at a whole variety of different levels of physical distance and that will be in work, and being able to flexibly adapt to working with a variety of people who are in a variety of different countries will be a skill needed for a larger and larger number of workers. My example of this is my brother in law who works with a team literally on different continents. They trade off conference call times because there is no time that works for everyone. By moving it around, they all feel the pain sometime. They use IM chat, email, and teleconferencing extensively. This is not an intimate relationship, but there I think back, and my face to face relationships with my co-workers aren’t that intimate either. I mean I like them, and I respect them, and we work well together, but would my relationships be any “cooler” if I only meet them over a conference call? I don’t know.

The professional relationships I’ve built up online over the last year have been invaluable to me because there are so few doing what I do where I am. It’s also nice being able to see Larry. I loved meeting with Brian, and I look forward to meeting Glenn someday. There are some things about my relationship with Larry that are closer than say, with Brian. We have the shared experience of working for the same district. In some ways though, I have feel closer to other bloggers because they aren’t in my backyard. My working in the same “place” makes me cautious so as not to piss in my pond so to speak. This may be healthier for that relationship in the long run. Who knows?

I think it’s hard to see the future. It’s easy to overstate “change” but I sense things are changing and have been for a time now.

I was recently reading a post in the excellent blog The Tempered Radical, which was quoting another teacher as saying other teachers “…believe that you can’t truly know someone unless you have face-to-face opportunities to get to know them.”  The post questioned that belief, and wondered if that was primarily because online relationships were generally outside of the experience of many teachers and therefore they might just not understand.This isn’t the first time I’ve read this perspective in blogs. 

I, though, have a different point-of view.

I’m a firm believer that technology is used best as a tool to deepen and develop face-to-face relationships.  That perspective guides much of my use of technology in school – incentives in our home computer project encourage multiple family members to use the computer at the same time to read “talking ” books and discuss them afterwards;  students from different ethnic groups in our after-school ESL Computer Lab regularly connect with each other to share their favorite activities and have friendly competitions  in online games like “Verb Tense Basketball,”  and groups of students work together to successfully finish online video games. 

In addition, students create online games, make online comments about them, and, most importantly, discuss together what they’ve done in the following class discussions.   Students also leave online comments on other examples of work, including on blogs and online journals.   A key part of that is using sentence “stems” in their writing to model good communication – “I like _________ because_____________”; “I wonder why you ____________.  Can you tell me more?”; “What do you mean by __________?”   These phrases help prepare and reinforce the content and tone of subsequent face-to-face class conversations.  And many, if not most, of the projects students create are done in small groups, not individually.

That’s not to say I don’t also try to create opportunities for students to develop online relationships, too.  This semester my Government class will be working on joint projects with a class in Brazil to compare our respective governments and how people in each of our country go about organizing for social change.  I believe students in both classes will gain from the experience.  But, no, I don’t believe that my students will be developing “real” relationships with their Brazilian counterparts.

In fact, I believe that one of the things I want my students to learn is that virtual online relationships are not, in fact, anywhere near as substantial as the ones they can develop and deepen with the people in their lives now.   Focusing on these kinds of relationships are the ones where, I believe, they will gain the most emotional support, learn the most important life lessons, and identify the most opportunities in the future.  I don’t want them to get as seduced as they may be by the lure of virtual relationships where, among other things, they miss out on the 65% to 98% of non-verbal language that many researchers say are the most important aspects of communication.  And, yes, I know about webcams.  Even there, however, I know from my own experience in the classroom and out that there isn’t much that can compare to a genuine gentle touch on the shoulder or a hug.

My students do hundreds of face-to-face “individual meetings” each year with peers, family members and neighbors to learn about their lives, their visions for their future, and the problems that affect their families and neighborhoods.    This “methodology,” which I learned during my nineteen years as a community organizer,  helps them build a real connection with others that results in collective action to help solve those problems – whether it is bringing job training agencies to their neighborhood, meeting with Congresspeople about immigration issues, or developing bilingual education health education materials.  That is certainly a different type of relationship than having people they’ve never met leave comments online about their projects.

I want to emphasize, though, that I don’t believe it’s an either/or situation.  Both face-to-face and online relationships have their roles in education.  I just think we teachers need to be “real” about “real” relationships.


hound.jpg Okay, (now you know it’s Alice writing) since there was a mixup with authorship, I wanted to say that this post will be from both Michaele and me whatever the credits come up with…This starts from an email I got from Michaele today about phonics based instruction, and the absurdities it can lead to. Here is that note:

Jake is 5 and learning to read.

He points at a picture in a zoo book and says,
‘Look Mama! It’s a frickin’ Elephant!’

Deep breath … ‘What did you call it?’

‘It’s a frickin’ Elephant, Mama!
It says so on the picture!’

and so it does …

‘A f r i c a n Elephant ‘

Alice: Hey Michaele, ya know, jokes like this are easy to make. Many will recognize the photo above as the “H” sound/spelling card from Open Court (hey, you can buy a set of these flashcards for only $24.81 and the wall cards are a steal at ~$150). Look at the picture on the card (you’re wondering what is that…a hyena?), it’s a hound! A kindergarten co-worker in Oakland used to joke that the kids, recognizing it as a dog (or dawg) and never hearing the term hound, would label it the “hadawg” card. It’s easy for grown ups to make jokes about it, what has really happened? What’s your perspective on this?

Michaele: My kindergarten students come to school with a variety of prior experiences and life skills. A child who has never smelled an orange or tasted one will still recognize “orange” when examining a pumpkin, or learning to identify one crayon from another, but will only comprehend the many meanings and connections to “orange” for future reference after s/he experiences the concept in a multitude of ways.

Several years ago, the whole-language versus phonics debate was mostly over invented spelling, which no one seemed to understand wasn’t the rule, but was rather an exercise of not penalizing students as they tried to learn and use letter sounds in the first place. Whole language, in the hands of good teachers, integrated phonics, memorization, language usage and student interest (and others, I’m sure), while in the hands of the inexperienced, not-so-good teachers or critics, it ended up on the receiving end of the blame game when students “couldn’t spell.” The predictable result was that teachers, parents, and administrators were again on the look out for what I like to call the “magic pill program.”

In my opinion, language acquisition doesn’t occur in the isolation of specific skills, but rather when children are immersed into the whole world of language, literacy, expression, and communication. Their voices, questions, mistakes, and continued language development should all be valued equally, and given the time and ALL resources available for individual mastery. Teachers who focus only on phonics or who endorse strict memorization of sight words deprive students who may not learn best by those methods. Knowing the sounds that letters make is essential to developing language and literacy, but students are not likely to learn all the rules, and all the ways that they are broken in one sitting. Perfect pronunciation or spelling does not equal comprehension.

Yep, I’m a whole language advocate, which means I’m a phonics-integrated advocate too. In my mind, phonics materials need to be culturally relevant, which a singular magic pill phonics program, game, or set of cards will never be. I’ve been able to use one phonics program with many of my Caucasian students living in each state to which I’ve traveled, but have also utilized “Athabaskan ABC” lessons while teaching in Alaska . In New Mexico , it was necessary for me to modify the Harcourt Brace phonics activities because my Hispanic/Latino students would see the “A…Apple” card and immediately substitute “A…manzana.” Before advocating for a strong phonics base, consider all of the E.L.L. students whose primary languages don’t have sound equivalents to the English alphabet, then try locating a curriculum kit that will solve all of your district’s worries. You probably won’t find one.

The frickin’ elephant is a funny joke easily emailed, and especially enjoyed by teachers in-the-know, but it’s the type of humor that gets us thinking after we’re done laughing…side splitting to migraine-inducing.

Alice: Well, here are some of my observations. This is a great program for getting most kids to a Basic level of proficiency, but because it stresses delivery of instruction, not students thinking or teaching them to do that. Under my state standards, they will never reach grade level proficiency for third grade or later. Also, as a former upper grade teacher, students often learned more decoding skills than thinking skills. Unfortunately, there is no fluency test as part of state testing. They have to read, and comprehend, not race through a passage. In addition, my Spanish speaking students would sometimes turn out to be champion decoders, but they had no idea what they were reading. They needed language and vocabulary development to understand what the heck they were reading so fast.

Next up, we’ll have Matthew Needleman, who has done a lot with Open Court (and other scripted programs) to bring in that higher order thinking. This is one of my favorite posts that he wrote which basically tells a first grade teacher, forget the pacing guide timing for teaching decoding/phonics, your first priority in scheduling is independent work time (centers/workshop) so you get to both higher-level thinking, and small groups (not just you in front of the class). I like that thinking. His post will be on the topic of effective delivery of instruction for English language learners (trust me the post in more interesting than I just made it sound).

Oops, that didn’t work…

Well, the title was definitely my style in, Wonder If This Is Going to Work, a post that Larry Ferlazzo recently had me assist in adding to the blog. The problem was that although the original post was put up with me as the author for only a minute or two, it went out on RSS that way. Just to clarify, this post was written by and about a project Larry is doing. I was just the posting fairy when he was having trouble getting it out of Word and into a decent format on edublogs, but it’s got me thinking…

I told Larry at the time, there is NO way that anyone could mistake that for a post from me. It talks about zero periods, and government class (I teach periods, but only one subject, Computers). Also, my writing style is so different from his. Still, one  member of the In Practice team thought I had written it. Makes you wonder about voice. Although I am prone to using SAT vocabulary, as Larry does, I love to throw in colloquialisms, and my sentences really do abuse commas and punctuation–what do you expect from a girl who grew up in the San Fernando Valley with too many intellectual pretensions? Also, Larry has done studies on his practice whereas I, the lazy intellectual, have limited myself to criticizing educational research.

But, maybe it’s the time for change? I recently received an email from Jeff Felix with his dissertation study on blogging, and surprise, surprise, I was one of the subjects. It got me thinking about maybe doing some research of my own. What to study though, hmmm…

This was just supposed to be a quick notice of the authorship mixup, and now I’ve gone and done a post!

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