Last week I posted a blog: "When You Know Better" in which I was vulnerable in sharing some bad educational practices that I did in the past. That post has had the most hits than any other of mine, over the last two years. I only share this because it tells me that it resonated with people. Besides that, it has created conversations- which was one of my goals. People connect to our stories. Some have shared their #KnowBetterDoBetter stories and some have asked questions to help shift their practice. This is AMAZING!! So let's keep it going...
Last week I went on an amazing trip, but I am trying to get used to the flying part. Take off and landing are the worst for me. So this time, I tried to use that nervous energy to create something based on those above conversations.
Here I will share some more of my bad past edu-practices- in reading:
Popcorn/Round Robin Reading:
In my first few years teaching second grade, I called on students randomly to read out loud- either whole group or small group. Why? Well that is what I did in school. How else do I make sure they are following along? I was also able to hear many of my students reading, which I knew I needed to do. Why wouldn't it be a positive thing to put students on the spot, in front of me and their peers? I didn't think about the students in this activity. I didn't think about what might actually be happening. It wasn't until my daughter came to me at second grade and expressed her deep anxiety over this practice in her class, that I actually stopped to consider the end user. WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Now I know better: She told me that during these activities, she could not pay attention to what anyone else was reading because she was so worried that she would be called on next. She "followed along" to make sure she knew where the last person stopped. And then it clicked! She had anxiety because she struggled in reading and didn't want to be humiliated in class. I had anxiety, as a student, during this same activity- but it wasn't because I struggled with reading...it was because I was painfully shy and lacked self confidence. So it didn't matter about reading level- during this activity, there was no learning for either of us. I can't imagine that we were the only ones. If students are worried about such things (or if they are not able to read at grade level)- they are not comprehending the content, they are not improving their own decoding or fluency because they are "reading" the words while listening to someone else read. It is highly unlikely that much is getting in.
*Fun (not fun) fact: My daughter is still participating in these practices in her middle school content classes. She has asked the teachers to not call on her because of the anxiety. One teacher obliged, one did not. My kid deserves better.
So let's do better: I am a huge believer that we should be listening to our students read (especially in elementary) on an ongoing basis. I do not believe Round Robin or Popcorn reading is an authentic snapshot into our students as readers. Instead, we should spend time with students individually-listen to them read, talk to them about their reading and use that information to move them forward. HOW do we do that with X number of students? We need to create the time. If we have students working on engaging and empowering collaborative activities, it frees us up to sit with kids. To talk with kids. This doesn't need to be long: 3-5 minutes can make all the difference!
If we add tech into the mix, there are even more opportunities to hear kids read. They can use Flipgrid, (for a 45-day Flipgrid Classroom Trial use password: CORLANDO), Seesaw and now Padlet (new video feature and audio feature) to read. You can pick 5 a day to listen to, gather amazing information and give almost immediate feedback.
When I first began using small groups in reading, it was called "Guided Reading" and these groups were leveled by reading levels. People labeled these groups in different ways: some used colors, some used animals and some even labeled them "High, medium and low". No matter which way you sliced it- the students were being labeled. They would try to figure out our system and regardless if they were correct or not, their perception was their truth. "I'm in the red group, that means I'm dumb". OUCH. Was that my purpose- to label and track kids? NEVER. But I didn't know any better...
Now I know better: Labeling students is not conducive to a positive learning environment. Those labels stick well beyond the time they get slapped onto them. I have also realized the power in bringing all levels together to create rich discussions and learning experiences. Students are not a number and they are not a reading level. Most of my struggling decoders turned out to be my best critical thinkers. I would never have known this if they were always in the "purple" group and worked only on phonics day, in and day out for a year. The door to reading comprehension shouldn't be closed to them because they struggle to decode. The same goes for students who can read somewhat fluently, but struggle to understand what they are reading- if we only focus on making them more fluent- they miss out on the comprehension.
So let's do better: Midway through my career, I had a switch flip moment. I began using read alouds to introduce new skill in reading. These were not passive read alouds, but interactive (this will probably be a blog in and of itself). By doing this, ALL students could access the new learning. When I pulled small groups, they were based on skills needed. These were flexible and students could be in more than one group depending on their need. In these groups, we would work on a particular skill- first together- then they would practice it in their own independent reading book or text at their "level". I would have 5-6 students with me, reading 5-6 different books. As they would practice, I was able to tune in to each one at a time because of the close proximity. They were also able to "buddy up" and learn from each other- this also helped students to access different content and build up a desire to read along with their confidence as readers.
I could go on about each of these for pages, but I hope that I was able to explain enough to get you thinking. That's what I want...I want us thinking and willing to do different for our kids. They deserve it.
My call to action: If you currently use either of these in your practice, examine the goal, purpose and learning. If you decide that you want to "do better", we have many resources at our fingertips to do so. If you have an example that you would like to share, please do so in the comments. Share your stories- "This truth telling unlocks us."- Glennon Doyle
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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