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3rd grade reading laws are harmful

Earlier this spring I sent this letter to my state legislators.  Feel free to use as a template for your legislators.

Dear Senator XXXXX OR Representative XXXXX,

As a constituent, I urge you to repeal Read Well by 3rd Grade legislation. This law is forcing children to read in kindergarten and to be tested on some arbitrary level using inappropriate and even false reading assessments. This is hurting the children who are our future leaders. Everyone can recognize the absurdity of expecting all children to crawl at a certain age. Likewise, experts tell us that labeling children as deficient before they are developmentally ready to read is extremely harmful. Experts tell us that the average age a child learns to read is 7. Some read earlier and some read later. Please look at this research:

In Finland, where teens score at the top of international reading tests, children don’t start school until age 7 because lawmakers, drawing on the wisdom of experts, understand that many younger kids have not reached the developmental maturity for the more focused structure that we in Minnesota are imposing on younger and younger children. Forcing our children to read before they are developmentally ready is causing them be falsely labeled as deficient.

Finland also knows that education is local. They respect the expertise and knowledge of local teachers.

National Education Policy Center and Education Deans for Justice recently posted this policy statement, “The Science of Reading,” which provides legislators with proven policies:

I ask you to look to such proven policies instead of legislation that promotes a narrowed and top down mandated programs that will force the dyslexia label on our children.

It is critical that you read the full report but here are two important points

NEPC calls on legislators to:

*Support the professionalism of K-12 teachers and teacher educators, acknowledging the teacher as the reading expert in the care of unique populations of students.

*Fund low student/teacher ratios

*Guarantee that all students are served based on their identifiable needs in the highest quality teaching and learning conditions possible across all schools:

My own children were late readers. I refused the mandated flawed assessments that would have labeled them as deficient. I know, had I allowed it, my children would have been labeled deficient and even dyslexic and would not be readers now.  Instead, I refused to be pressured to force them to read before they were developmentally ready. Fortunately, I am a certified teacher with a wealth of knowledge around literacy acquisition and instead used proven strategies to support them on their reading journeys. I am happy to say that they are all now able, independent readers.

For the future of our Minnesota children repeal the “Read Well by 3rd grade” legislation and reverse policy mandates that have done great harm to our children. I echo NEPC in this conclusion:

At the very least, federal and state legislation should not continue to do the same things over and over while expecting different outcomes. The disheartening era of NCLB provides an

Important lesson and overarching guiding principle: Education legislation should address guiding concepts while avoiding prescriptions that will tie the hands of professional educators. All students deserve equitable access to high-quality literacy and reading instruction and opportunities in their schools. This will only be accomplished when policymakers pay heed to an overall body of high-quality research evidence and then make available the resources necessary for schools to provide our children with the needed supports and opportunities to learn”



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Great Expectations! Brought to you by libraries and play

  • A huge thank you to Carole Edelsky for her work in revising my pieces.

“Expectation—Set realistic expectations for language and literacy development. Become familiar with the developmental stages of emergent literacy, and support children in appropriate tasks. Expect that they will become accomplished readers and writers in their own time.”

My elementary school librarian was extremely instrumental in my love for literacy. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone. It was a community where our elders genuinely cared about the next generation, and our school librarian was no different. Mrs. Stelton lived 4 houses down from my grandparents and we’d exchange greetings as I rode my bike past her house.

During the school year every week when we visited the library, Mrs. Stelton would greet me and wonder what I was interested in reading about this week, I’d tell her and off we went searching for a book that fit that description. Or she’d have a book she thought I’d like and do a little book talk to help me determine if it was a checker outer. I’d either accept the invitation, or we’d continue our search. And of course, she also just let me search on my own too.

I expect she did this for every child who entered her library, but she made me feel extremely special and she believed in me as a reader. Never did she ask me what my reading level was. (Fortunately, that wasn’t a thing back then.)

Her actions and her belief in me taught me a lot about what it is to be a reader because she believed that I was an actual reader.

Her actions may be part of the reason I chose to teach literacy the way I did. I knew that every student who entered my classroom was already an accomplished reader and writer. But I also knew that I needed to establish a relationship with each and every one of them. As explained in my previous blog, community and relationship building were essential for all learning expectations.

With over 1,000 books in my classroom library, students and I were constantly figuring out what book we wanted to read next. Thankfully we also had an amazing school library with a full time librarian if one of my books wasn’t a fit. Students did book talks to lure a peer into another world of reading.

Another very important lesson we covered numerous times was the idea that there was no such thing as a better reader. We were all readers but in different ways. All of us spent time talking with each other about our reading journeys. We talked about our understanding of the text we read and took it much deeper through connections, questions, inferences and evaluating how those words inform and change how we interact with life.

Reading instruction also involved a lot of writing as students were expected to reflect on the text they were reading. Because I know that everyone’s reading journey is different, our focus was on understanding the reader and the processes they now felt comfortable with as well as ones they wanted to work on.

Unfortunately, with my own children’s experiences today, the system expects deficiency; the system deems them deficient unless they can prove competency by jumping through a digitized test that cannot determine a child’s reading ability. The first days of school are busy with assessments, routines and rules. Nurturing relationships are hard to establish in such a sterile environment. They wanted my children to be readers before they were developmentally ready to read. They wanted to force this without even getting to know who my child was. Data walls have become more important than understanding each and every child. Today’s system is bent on standardizing them. Our children are not standard commodities and they are not deficient. The system is.

School systems across this country no longer allow our children to play even though play is the best way for children to learn. Schools are devoid of community building that develops through play and engaging activities. Children are expected to be reading at a certain “pseudo” level before they are even developmentally ready to be readers. The school system didn’t believe my own children were able to become readers and writers. That expectation alone sets our children up for failure. Fortunately, I knew better and didn’t let the school system determine their paths. Fortunately, my bond with my children is strong and they trusted me. So they could adopt my belief in their journeys as readers and writers. I refuse a lot of the current system practices of test, drill and kill and constant deficit-model instruction. Schools state they are working to meet each child’s needs. In reality schools are working to provide what the systems want. The empirical evidence is extremely clear that relationships and trust lead to high expectations.

Children need to play and discover. They need to be actively engaged in all aspects of learning. They come to school wanting to learn. But when control is taken from them, this desire disappears and they become passive.

Fortunately, I got to teach at a time when I could create a classroom environment devoted to active learning, an environment in which my expectations were higher than any standard. One of my last years in the classroom, I was allowed to take a few students to showcase our classroom’s work. As one student explained our work, an adult stated she must be the smartest kid in the class. She stated quite clearly and quickly that everyone in our class was smart. Just in different ways.

Unfortunately, due to top down standardized mandates, many children will never have opportunities to live up to high expectations.

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Community Centric

I have had the fortune of having Dr. Brian Cambourne read my blog before I make it public. I am truly humbled and honored for his comments on my most recent blog on Engagement.

“Over the years I’ve been privileged to correspond with many teachers from around the world who share with me how they interpret the Conditions of Learning and how they turn them into classroom practice. I’m continually surprised by the range and depth of these interpretations and the wide range classroom practices they generate. After reading and digesting Stef’s piece on Engagement I’ve realised that, just as she learns from her students’ responses, I continually learn more about my own theory from teachers’ many different descriptions of what it means to them.

This phrase from Stef’s piece is an example of what I mean:

“ . . , we started our work creating a community centric classroom with activities that showed concern for others and how our words and actions mattered”.

This is one of the most succinct and accurate summaries of my work I’ve ever read. The descriptor “community centred classroom” is a phrase which captures the essence of the kind of classroom culture that MUST be in place before the Conditions can be implemented as I envisage them being implemented. Furthermore her focus on how “concern for others” in the ways the members of such a classroom culture respond to each other’s approximations captures the critical core of such a classroom culture.

Thank you Stef for helping me understand more deeply how my own theory can “work”.’


“Engagement—Help children become active learners who see themselves as potential readers and writers. Set up a risk-free environment so they can experiment with language and literacy. Provide easy access to paper, pencils, crayons, markers, books, and other literacy materials.”


On the first day of 4th or 5th grade, I was ready for the community entering our classroom. I would have a fun game for students to randomly find where they would sit. Upbeat music would be playing in the background as our class came together to create their unique name tags, while I walked around the room working hard to get everyone’s names within those first 30 minutes of class.

Once our first assignment was done, we would work on creating a community centric classroom with activities that showed concern for others and how our words and actions mattered.

Our day would proceed with engaging reading and writing activities.  Out would come Judith Viorst’s “If I were in Charge of the World.”  We would chorus read it, standing up during certain stanzas and sitting down during others.  We would talk about the funny parts and the not so funny parts and then we’d dream!!  What would our world look like?  Mine always had a dog and we’d banter back and forth as our worlds always made work harder for the teacher or student depending on point of view. And of course there was a tropical island all over my world creation.  And then we would write. . . we wrote about our world and little did they know that while they wrote, I was assessing them.  I was looking to see who was reluctant to write, who was writing in their head before putting something on paper, and who was writing something, erasing and trying again.  Of course I always caught something I hadn’t thought to look for before.

Learners are so amazing; They constantly kept me engaged! They would provide me with valuable information that allowed me to know more about the writers in my class than any standardized assessment could ever tell me.  That information started coming with the first lesson—A lesson that let students know that they would be in charge of the writing they worked on during the year.  Writing that they could publish or writing that just needed to be written.  All in all that choice was what I knew would best keep them engaged in discovering the power of the written words they were creating.

And of course we read.  I started my read alouds with one of my favorites Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.

With over 1,000 books of all genres, interests and readability in our classroom library, we were able to look, browse, and talk.   We talked about why people read and how they choose the books they read, We talked about how we chose books–what we enjoyed and what we didn’t enjoy.  Never did we talk about what level we read at or what our reading score was.  I was real, raw and honest with them.  All of us were readers with different interests.  I shared stories of previous readers like the horse lover who had a solid understanding of a subject I knew little about; Her understanding showed in what she understood in her reading on horses verses my own understanding.  She could also pronounce names of horse breeds I couldn’t even sputter out.

And finally we picked our books and read.   Once again, I assessed by walking around and looking at who was avoiding, who couldn’t find a book to read, what choices they were making and who knew exactly what they wanted to read.  I assessed the kinds of books that caught their eye and chatted with each one to get an idea of what they thought of the choice they had made at that moment.  I listened to their responses so I knew where they were and where we could go next.

Not once during the first day or the second or any other day, did I label a student’s reading ability.  As a teacher who implemented a reading workshop model, I refused to assign a “reading ability” to a child. In our classroom we were all readers.  We were not advanced, proficient, or below proficient.  Instead we talked about various skills, strategies, and thinking processes that would enhance our reading processes.  Artificial labels restrict literacy achievement and very seldom empower a reader to reflect and grow.  But when we’re all readers, the possibilities are limitless.   And I still wonder how and who determines what questions are asked on these high stakes tests that determine a person’s reading ability.

I write these memories with such fondness.  Like Brian Cambourne has said, all of the Conditions of Learning are interconnected.  Students need to be immersed, responsible and constantly using real life opportunities to learn.  I needed to model, confer with each student to determine where to nudge them next.  I needed to understand who they were as learners and respond to them in encouraging and expectant ways.  More important was how they responded to our questions, ideas and new understandings.  Kids often asked me a question to which I’d respond that I didn’t know the answer. They were shocked as teachers are supposed to know everything.  I, in turn, stated that I didn’t know everything but I knew how to work towards understanding and that is what I could help them with.

A few years back as I was waiting for my oldest to come out of her kindergarten classroom, I spotted a student in an upper grade. I asked her about her first few days of school.  She informed me that the first days consisted of MAPS testing, and other beginning of the year tests used to gather baseline data.  She stated it was the way for teachers to get it all out of the way.  I cringed inwardly as I knew that this was not a solo experience.  Instead, I knew this was the kind of first day many kids were getting across our country.  I expect the Conditions of Learning are rare in our schools today as policy mandates force teachers to break down learning into minute standards that can be assessed in order to collect data for the powers-that-be.  Data that means absolutely nothing.  I, for one, am so tired of my child being a data point and would love for all three of my children, on the first day of school and every day after that, to enter into a classroom that is community-driven and engaging.  A community-driven classroom that allows the teacher to create ways for all learners to think, understand, explore, fail, get back up, and to be inspired.  In that classroom the students, along with the teacher, engage with the world of the classroom as well as the world outside.

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Teaching by Example

Teaching by Example

“Demonstration— Model reading and writing for children. Let them see you writing notes, letters, stories, recipes, and lists. Make sure they notice you reading to yourself, for pleasure, for information, for directions, and for other purposes. Show them how to hold a book, turn the pages, and read aloud.”


My father always told me that you lead by example and not by words. I was fortunate to have great examples in my life. While my father wasn’t much of a reader, he definitely modeled wonder, generosity and curiosity. Our evening meals were filled with lively discussions and debates around current events and other topics. My dad did read the paper. My mother was the reader spending her evenings on the upstairs couch reading “Readers Digest” or an Agatha Christie novel.

I hope I have continued to model wonder, generosity and curiosity to my own children. I am constantly reading, writing and thinking out loud. I read chapter books to my children and of course, picture book after picture book after picture book.

Our computer is in the living room kitchen area so my children notice me writing emails to numerous people including legislators. They also see me writing and practicing the public comments I’ll read to the school board as well as my writing and revising this blog. Unfortunately, they also see me spending way too much time texting or reacting to social media posts. I have been working hard on reducing my use of texts and social media and increasing my face-to-face attention with my daughters and son.

I was fortunate to teach at a time when teachers were actively learning to understand critical authentic reading practices and making these central to the curriculum. I followed my father’s belief in being an example: I read the books my students were reading; and I did the assignments I asked them to do.

I also modeled and made explicit comments about what I was doing to better understand a text I was currently reading. I made a particular point of explaining my strategies in trying to understand science and social studies text. I remember my own science teacher telling us to read a passage in our science textbook. I read it, but didn’t understand it. I always felt not being taught how to actually read nonfiction texts hurt me at the college level. This memory encouraged me to demonstrate and comment to my own students how to interact with a variety of genres.

The beginning of the school year would start with inquiry lessons on why we read and how we choose the books we do. After a few weeks of helping students get comfortable with inquiring into their own reading practices, I would highlight the concept that would be the main focus for the whole year – understanding what was being read. I told my students the story of a contest my brother and I had had when we were younger. The winner was the person who read the words first, and I won! My brother, a few years older, suspected that I hadn’t really done it. He insisted I tell him what I read. I told him that I didn’t know. I had read the words and that’s what the contest was all about. I had won.

This seems to be the main message my own children are getting about what reading is. Memorizing word lists, reading a passage fast and accurately, answering multiple choice questions around learning targets like main idea, supporting details, compare and contrast. . . so many skills, if actually needed, that would be better taught through modeling and immersion as kids read for understanding. To break down reading into a subset of mini skills is malpractice in my opinion.

My modeling to focus on and improve my students’ comprehension was not linear but would happen throughout my own reading and processing during the year. As I read out loud to students if my mind drifted – I would stop, tell my students what had just happened and then go back to reread. We would then have conversations whether large group or one on one conferences around what they did as readers when they lost the meaning of what they were reading.

In remembering my science textbook experience, I made sure students had ample opportunities to read for understanding in content areas. I checked out books from the public library around the specific topic we were working on; e.g., the Revolutionary War or the solar system. To improve my own understanding, I read numerous professional books on reading comprehension in content area reading. We discovered and discussed the value of pictures, headings, table of contents, glossary and other nonfiction features that helped us understand what we were reading. I’d show students my own nonfiction texts and how I covered the pages with my own thinking process. I’d then model with sticky notes my thinking as I read nonfiction text. I made sure there was plenty of time to practice what I modeled. I’d partner students up to practice reading a nonfiction paragraph, cover it up and retell it to their partner. Students would cover their nonfiction text with sticky notes to help understand and interact with the information in front of them. And we’d always go back to what we did if it didn’t make sense.

I provided lots of time for students to model for all of us. I remember telling the students that I had little background knowledge on the solar system and that a particular passage totally didn’t make sense to me. I told them what I had done to try to understand but it just didn’t make sense. Fortunately, many of them did have more background knowledge and told me what they thought the passage was trying to tell us about the solar system and how they had come to that conclusion.

As I’m writing this blog, I stop with so many feelings of excitement and sadness. Excitement in the memories of a classroom filled with examples of wonder, generosity and curiosity. But also a profound sense of loss of the teaching we were able to do in the years before No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and now the Every Student Succeeds Act. We need to get back to the conditions that create the readers our world so desperately need.



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Who Would Win

Conditions of Learning

“Immersion—Children need to be surrounded by interesting, high-quality children’s books and different kinds of text (e.g., charts, labels, newspapers, magazines). Read aloud every day to children, sing to them, play word games, and use movement and dance to generate lively engagement in language, literacy, and stories.”


My 8 year old son and I spent an hour reading Who Would Win? Komodo Dragon Vs King Cobra by Jerry Pallotta. While he didn’t know all of the words, I was proud of his reading. You see I believe reading is more than decoding words or reading at certain artificial reading levels. It’s more than answering multiple choice questions at the end of the text. Reading is much more than passing a standardized test. I’m very fortunate that my son showed me, once again, what readers really do.  Reading is about understanding; in order to understand, he was immersed in text.

Twenty minutes of reading, took an hour as my son had to stop often to talk about our shared experience with that text. It was our curiosity and desire to learn more about Komodo Dragons and King Cobras that led us to spend that much time invested in the content of the book. The global map in the book assured both of us that we didn’t have to worry about either of these reptiles visiting us. We understood how the King Cobra uses its venom but couldn’t figure out how a Komodo Dragon uses its venom. The King Cobra has hollow teeth that shoot out venom when it bites. The Komodo Dragon does not have this kind of teeth but it does have venom. How does that work? My son’s curiosity will lead us to go to the library and learn more about Komodo Dragons. We could watch a Youtube video, but I know that the research we were doing from actual books would have a longer lasting impact on our learning. Our research process could be applied to various other issues we both deem important. And my understanding of why people read- to understand, wonder, think and learn-helped us make the most of this particular teachable moment.

That ‘moment’ continued: my son decided to send Jerry Pallotta a letter suggesting other animals to write about. To come up with his suggestions, my son skimmed approximately ten additional books.

My son doesn’t get this type of immersion in books in his school. Instead, his school would focus on testing him to find his “deficiencies”. His school’s reading instruction is not based on what a reader can do, but on what a reader can’t do. The point is to force a path onto the reader in order to prepare him/her for the next test. The path consists of interventions to work on these “deficiencies.” Instead of getting satisfaction from using a text to understand something, the reader must passively follow a one-size-fits-all program. That program consists of out-of-context computerized instruction and tests that reveal little about a reader and that create a false narrative about what reading actually is.

I choose not to let the system limit who my children are. I refuse to permit the school to determine my son’s reading skills based on false measurements and to put phony labels on him. I know that if I did allow them to label him, we would not have spent an enjoyable hour learning more about Komodo Dragons and King Cobras and wanting to know more.

I hate what our schools have become and how many entities continue to profit off misguided and down-right false literacy practices. Currently no child is winning in the current system.

When I taught 5th grade, my classroom was filled with words, and children were allowed to use these words as well as their own to discover, explore and experiment. My room had over 1,000 books from all different genres, including but not limited to poetry, realistic fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, graphic novels and books that defied any genre. Our classroom walls were filled with words. One section had “Wonderful Words” – words we found in books that deserved to be called “wonderful”. Another wall section had a “Writing on the Wall” space for quotes from books that we, as readers, thought were funny, scary, beautifully written or that we just liked. We were constantly talking about the books we were reading so others would get ideas about what to read next.

Our walls contained charts loaded with questions, or content on particular subjects being studied. When we ran out of wall space, we’d hang paper clips from the ceiling to post what we knew. And our notebooks were loaded with writing in response to various topics or books we were reading.   Our room was rich in print and conversation.

Children need to explore, experiment and discover.   Classrooms need to be filled with wonder and opportunities to follow passions. In response to policies today, reading is forced on children to pass tests –   not as an avenue to explore worlds beyond their backyards.   In order to create critical readers and writers we need to stop the push to have children read before they are ready and to use assessments that have nothing to do with what readers actually do.  We can force kids to decode, take tests, and pass learning targets, but until we give them multiple opportunities to thrive in an engaging language rich classroom, we will never create the readers our world needs and that they deserve to be.




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Higher standards and weight loss

I joined Weight Watchers because I know that at a lighter weight I will feel better, have more energy and of course, be all around healthier.  Weight Watchers is a great program that understands that everyday healthy eating that provides all the right nutrients along with exercise will get me to a healthier weight.

Now, if I had higher standards like our federal, state and district governments are mandating on public school children, I’d work on losing 5 – 10 pounds a week by walking 10 miles a day and eating only a leaf of lettuce every day.   But you see, I know that trying to lose this much weight that fast would actually be detrimental to my ultimate goals of feeling better, having more energy and actually being healthier.  I know that if anything I am putting myself in danger of some serious health related issues with this unhealthy, more rigorous diet.  And guess what. . there is NO evidence that higher education standards or a starvation type diet work.  I’m so tired of the words higher standards. . . so very tired as in the last 30 years, higher standards have not fixed our public schools.

And yet, this is exactly what we are doing to our children.  By setting these so called higher standards, we are ruining their natural curiosity, desire to learn, internal drive, and all around academic success by focusing on the wrong issue.  I joined Weight Watchers because they focus on healthy eating choices, portion control, and exercise – all of which create a healthy lifestyle that leads to a healthy weight loss.  It does not mean starvation, deprivation, and extreme rigor.  That wouldn’t work.  Even if I chose to starve myself and was able to lose weight, I know that the weight would come back on because I would go back to the unhealthy choices and probably even gain more weight than I started with.  I expect our current standards craze will cause some horrific damage to actual learning and probably make it even worse.

I want to have a healthy school environment.  I want them to play, discover, follow their curiosities, and grow into healthy, scholarly, democratically driven human beings.  We’ve emphasized standards far too long with no proof that they work.  Instead, let’s provide children with small class sizes, a rich curriculum, expert teachers that are allowed to teach and authentic meaningful educational practices that actually work.   Let’s stop labeling children but instead create a community public school that supports all children and not just a few.   This healthy approach is what will make our nation’s children successful!!

Alright, time to weigh in.  Have to go find the ruler!!

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Behavior Modification for teachers

I had the pleasure of attending the most propaganda laden school board meeting EVER.  When I got home, my daughter asked why I was gone so long.  I told her I actually left early to which she replied that I might miss the important stuff. . . I laughed as there is no way that our school board truthfully covers the important stuff. 

In fact, tonight I had the joy of listening to the revised version of probably the most elaborate behavior system set up for our teachers.  Douglas County has implemented a CITE evaluation system which relies on a rubric system that rates teachers as highly effective, effective or down right sucky.   But it needs to be called what it is: BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION for teachers.

According to the online definition behavior modification is the alteration of behavioral patterns through the use of such learning techniques as biofeedback and positive or negative reinforcement using rewards.  


Around 20 years ago this was the returning fad in education around how to manage the classroom.   You couldn’t expect kids to just behave or do what they were expected to do.  You had to reward them like dogs trained to do tricks.  That’s all there was to it. 

I had the joy of seeing behavior modification first hand when subbing in a 1st grade classroom.  Kids were running up to me stating they needed 3 more stars to get a coin and 4 more coins to get their  name in the rewards bucket.  I remember how involved the children were in the behavior program that this first year teacher had set up.  After morning recess, a little girl with sandy blond hair approached me to inform me that she got a star for not hitting anyone at recess.  Her friend confirmed this.  Throughout the day, kids were coming up explaining their behavior from sitting up straight to not interrupting . . . and in turn they were telling me the prize they expected due to their amazing behavior.  I was horrified at the dog like behavior we were expecting from our children.  I don’t remember a lot of learning going on that day, but I do remember feeling overwhelmed by implementing a system that had nothing to do with relationship building and actual old fashioned learning.  It had nothing to do with actual teaching . . . NOTHING!!

A few days later in the same school, I subbed for an experienced teacher and panicked when I didn’t see any discipline plans at all.  As kids entered the classroom, I quickly pulled one aside. . “What does  your teacher do if you talk when you shouldn’t?” 

The student looked at me like I was crazy. . . “She tells us to stop talking.”

And right then and there, I realized why deep down I knew that behavior modification was a fraud.  I spent the day actually teaching and responding to what the students in the class needed.  I needed no external training program to do this.

And that is exactly what is happening in Douglas County, Colorado.   After tonight’s board meeting,  I realize the biggest issue that is at the heart of all of our issues is this elaborate behavior modification for teachers who are so busy running around earning stars that can be turned into coins.  It makes me sick.

And for once, I am saying I want to go back to the old time tradition of just expecting  and respecting the teachers’ ability to teach. 


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Computerized reading programs

“If we expect the students in front of us to look to reading for pleasure and solace in their adult lives, we need to give them the gift of reading today. We need to create beautiful reading rooms with calm, uninterrupted reading hours. Above all we need to fill our bookcases with the best books available. I wouldn’t have attempted to read if my bedside didn’t boast the best novelists, journalists, historians, and poets. When we have the best books, and use them in thoughtful and well-informed ways, our children will need their favorite views out the window. Their reading will inspire them to pause and think deeply about their own lives and the lives of others. Isn’t that what reading is for?”

Writing through Childhood by Shelley Harwayne

This week my daughter is being introduced to a computerized reading program called “Raz Kids.” While I’m still waiting to see if it’s a choice and not mandatory, as a teacher who became familiar with reading programs like Accelerated Reader, I’m very concerned about the use of this program in creating life-long readers.

Reading in simplest terms is interaction with text. It is an understanding of the text read and taking it much deeper through connections, questions, inferences and evaluating how those words inform and change how we interact with life. You get much more out of it by participating than sitting on the sideline or in the audience. Reading involves action. But computerized programs, like Accelerated Reader, do not allow for kids to pause and think deeply. Instead it forces kids to sit on the sideline and watch.

Kids who are required to use programs like AR understand reading to be answering multiple-choice questions that someone else has deemed important. These simple recall questions are supposed to provide teachers with information about a reader’s understanding of the words on the page.

As I think about the desired conversation I want to have with student readers, I think of adult readers. Do they read a book and then go to take a multiple-choice quiz? Or do they sit and drill each other for short simple answers? I’ve never experienced this as an adult reader. As adults we read a variety of text and talk about what sticks out to us, or more importantly what a text means to our own lives.

Shelley Harwayne writes,

“I learned from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain what it was like to fight for survival during the Civil War. . . I learned from Virginia Hamilton Adair’s poetry collection, Ants on the Melon, to look at the world with new eyes and insights. I learned from Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, to be ever so grateful to have left the hospital and ready to appreciate each day awe. . “

So let’s get back to reading that will inspire readers to pause and think deeply about their own lives and the lives of others. Instead of spending all of that money of glorified technology quizzes, purchase books and text that kids will want to and need to read. Get back to the heart of reading. Let kids interact with text.


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Who are you again?

“The goal is not what you learn today; the goal is to expand on your capacity to learn every day.” Seeds of Tomorrow by Angela Engel

One of my favorite teacher/authors is Franki Sibberson. I have read two of her books and particularly like and used Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop as a guide in how to assess reading behaviors. I’ll talk about that assessment in another blog.
And if you have read my first blog and can agree that reading/learning is not linear like today’s market based reforms lead you to believe, I would like for us to explore that even more. In one of Franki’s blog entries she shares who she is as a reader.
I’m going to share 10 things about me.
1. I love to read certain types of literature like historical fiction, biographies, novels, and professional books around teaching pedagogy.
2. My favorite reading spot is on my bed, under my comforter after my kids have gone to bed. Our bed was specifically bought to cater to my reading needs.
3. I have many favorite authors. Most recently this list includes Kate Morton, Maeve Binchy, and Tracy Chevalier.
4. When I find an author I like, as the ones listed above, I choose other books to read by the same author.
5. After reading a lot of a certain genre, I get sick of it, and have to switch to a different genre.
6. I have at least 2 or 3 books and various articles spread all over my bed stand ready to read. Right now the books in waiting are Education for Life by J. Donald Walters, The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, Tested by Linda Perlstein, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
7. I have to read the endings of fiction books sometime during the story. I hate surprises and once I know how it will end, I can enjoy the book.
8. The librarian at my elementary school inspired my desire to read by always asking me about what I liked to read and then making a strong effort to find the perfect book stating, “I think I have a book you’ll love. Let me know what you think.”
9. If a person asks about what I’m reading, I have a hard time orally retelling it. It takes a few attempts for the person asking to get an idea about what I’m trying to say.
10. I wish I could figure out a way to enjoy poetry, but I just haven’t yet.
I could go on, but won’t. What do you know about you as a reader? Please share a few with all of us.

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What do you see?

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.” Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? By Bill Martin Jr.

Last night Sidney, my oldest daughter, read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? to her younger siblings and me. When she turned the page before she had read it, I told her of the forgotten page. She quickly told me that she was just looking to see what animal came next, and then she went back to the previous page and proceeded to read.
During a pause, I told her how impressed I was as I know one thing readers do is use pictures and other ways to help them understand what they’re reading. I told her that’s exactly what she did when she checked to see what animal came next. I didn’t make her rely on sounding out words, but I did state that I also know the word was red because it starts with the “r” sound. In fact right now, Sidney’s reading relies heavily on meaning, and I’m happy about this because I get the importance of meaning in reading.
You see, I read Dr. Brian Cambourne’s comments on my first blog, and it seems he also does what Sidney is doing. “I think I have a very strong need to make sense or construct meaning around symbol systems-when Nature selected meaning-making using symbols as a human survival attribute I think I must have gotten a triple dose.” So she’s in good company.
I love paying attention to what my young readers are doing. As I’m writing this, Bryson, my 1 ½ year old, is sitting on the floor with a book in his lap mumbling as he looks at the pictures. I have become an observer in this way because I began teaching before No Child Left Behind was implemented. During that time, teachers were paying attention to the research done by actual researchers. These researchers are people who have spent many hours watching and paying attention to readers. These people include Brian Cambourne, Marie Clay, Yetta and Ken Goodman, Richard Allington, and Peter Johnston. I was very fortunate to have teacher mentors who were Reading Recovery teachers, and their knowledge behind reading acquisition was mind boggling.
But No Child Left Behind forced the teaching profession to follow a corporate driven model instead. In my last few years of teaching, I felt like we were being indoctrinated into a data/number driven craze that was all about number crunching. Instead of following our scholarly experts, we have been following companies out to make a buck off of our children. These companies decide what “research” we pay attention to and what we teach. We have been forced to count how many words a student could get correct in a minute all in the name of data collection.
I can’t help but wonder if our literacy experts feel like Galileo must have felt when the powers that be squelched his findings in regards to astronomy. He was so controversial that he was placed under house arrest, and only later was his work recognized for the brilliance that it was. No doubt the brilliance in our field will be recognized in a much broader sense someday as their work around reading acquisition is just as important as Galileo’s work around astronomy. But unfortunately, my children need their expertise now.
Parents and teachers, what do you see?


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