survey says

So I asked a couple of my fifth grade students what exactly they like to read, or what kinds of things to they want to read.  These are struggling readers, and I fully expected blank stares from them.  But…here’s what they said:

  • Historical Fiction
  • Mysteries
  • Adventure
  • Scary
  • Magic Tree House Books (which one of my students said is “adventure and mystery all in one”)
  • Guinness World Record Stuff

Good to know.


all about the test?

I’m worried that I’m becoming one of those teachers, the ones who think only about test questions and test scores.   This year there’s a lot of emphasis in our building on data: benchmarks, proficiencies, ranges, goals, scores.  Our building did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) last year in the special education subgroup, and that’s put a bit of a microscope on what we do with students.  That alone is not a bad thing…it’s important to be a reflective teacher.   But for me it’s made me think more about the end goal, which seems to be an increase in the number of students that score proficient on the MCAs.  I’m starting to filter all my work with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students through that lens.

This afternoon as I was digging into the reading comprehension texts (again) and thinking about an individualized plan for one of my most struggling students, I kept thinking about what materials would most closely mimic what will be on the MCA reading test.  I debated where to start with strategy instruction thinking only about the testing situation and the final score.  Harvey and Goudis (Strategies That Work) emphasize that “school reading should more closely reflect the reading done outside of school” (p. 62).  The authors argue that much of the reading we do as adults is short: magazine and newspaper articles, recipes, manuals or newsletters for work.  Thus, using shorter texts in the school setting is just as important, if not more important, than using novels.  And so I kept thinking, “what kind of short texts will show up on the MCAs?” and how can I teach so that my students perform well with those texts.

But then the hair twirling and stomach swirling started.  Is it my job to make sure students score well on tests?  Maybe.  More and more that seems to be the case.  But I think my job is to teach students to read, which of course means teaching them to understand what they read.  And I want them to actually enjoy reading, so that reading brings them the same happiness outside of school that it has always offered me.   Why would students want to read if all I’m preparing them for is test after test after test?

I want students to WANT to read.  And instead of me figuring out what materials are going to give me the most bang for my testing buck, I think I should ask my students: what do you really want to read?  That’s my starting point.

drive by

Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by the many many things that are part of my work as a special education teacher…and I haven’t been able to really think and focus on reading comprehension strategy instruction.  It’s stressing me out.  Especially since a big part of my job is to teach reading comprehension.  Right now I’m alternating key strokes with hair twirling, a sure sign of stress and anxiety.  My goal for the week: think and plan.  Set aside time to think and plan.  Do not let other school priorities take over my think and plan time.  This too is important work.

note for later: read this article about value of using Index of Reading Awareness (as a way to measure students’ metacognition in reading)

the turnip reemerges

I love my turnip space so much that I just couldn’t leave it lingering on its own out in cyberland.  This post signals a small change in focus: I need a place to organize/think/ponder about the work I’m doing for my final project in Teaching Literacy and Critical Thinking.  Luckily my final project is closely linked to work I need to be doing in my classroom already, namely working on reading comprehension strategies and assessing their effects on my students’ performance on reading comprehension tasks.  It all sounds very exciting :)

Two summers ago I read Kylene Beers’ book When Kids Can’t Read, and all the thinking and reacting I did with that book forms the basis for where I want to start with my students.  I actually looked back at the wiki I created with my inquiry group and pulled some basic ideas from there.  Hooray for creating a tool that really does apply to my job!  I’ve also pulled out Mosaic of Thought and flipped through it a bit, but I need to spend a bit more time with that text.

What I’m really thinking about right now is the second edition of Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement (Harvey and Goudvis, 2007).  I just got it in the mail a couple weeks ago and this weekend I’ve finally had a chance to spend some quality time with it.  I already flagged many pages, and I’m just quickly listing the ideas here so I can come back and explore them more in-depth at a later date.

  • Four kinds of learner/readers: tacit, aware, strategic, and reflective (p.26)
  • Leaving tracks of thinking: “In the same way as animals leave tracks of their presence, we want readers to leave tracks of their thinking.” (p. 28)
  • Anchor lessons and anchor charts (p. 50): launch a strategy using our most effective mini-lessons, allowing us to easily reference them when talking to students later (“remember when we talked about _____ in the book _______?  Try to find some places in your book today where you connect in the same way.”)
  • Knowing when you know and knowing when you don’t know (p. 81). Teaching kids to monitor their comprehension should probably come before teaching other strategies.  Start with lesson about clarifying confusion…using post-it notes that say “Huh?” next to confusing parts of text.
  • Anecdotal recording of conversation with students is a form of assessment.

peek part two

I’m still tinkering, fiddling, thinking, and wondering…how is this all going to come together?  My voice thread is about our trip to the inauguration last January, and there are so many things I can share.  But too many themes/ideas in one project dilutes its impact, so I’m narrowing things a bit.  Plus I am not skilled enough to make a coherent project that lasts much more than our 3-minute suggested time frame.

A little known fact about me: I am not a big fan of picture-taking.  I like looking at other people’s pictures, but I personally do not like to spend time taking my own pictures when I could be absorbing and just being.  Most of my trips and life events are concisely documented…I try to get just a few images that will capture the experience.  Part of me feels that if I’m busy clicking away behind a camera that I’m distancing myself from life.  For the most part, I rarely regret this choice.  But the inauguration was a whole different deal…

While I was there, in the moment, I was glad to be watching and listening and taking it all in.  I think I would have missed a lot if I was trying to document it all.  But when I got home, I realized there was no way I could keep all of those memories in my head.  Things get lost in there.  And we had very few pictures to remind us of the day.  The voice thread is a way for me to document with both words and pictures.  I can record those thoughts and memories that I fear will eventually fade away with time.  But oh, how to tell the story?  And is it a story, or a collection of moments?  Is there a narrative arc?  And what about my husband’s input?  I want him to record his thoughts as well, but I’m certainly not going to script him like I’ve scripted my parts.  I’ve made progress since my last post, but I’m nowhere near resolved on what the final product will look like.  We shall see what happens.


I met with my writing group (from the MWP summer institute) today to get some preliminary feedback on my digital writing project.  I have missed them so!  And I have missed that collaborative aspect of writing.  Just a couple weeks ago in class we talked about collaborative writing in terms of a shared final product, but we forget that sharing our writing and soliciting feedback is yet another type of collaboration…Kelsey brought that point up in her post a few weeks ago.

I’ve been mulling things over with this final project, trying to decide how to tell my story, what parts of the story to tell, how to incorporate other voices.  And I’m kind of  stuck.  The marriage of words to visual images is a difficult new genre for me. But today my writing partners in crime (Brenda, Kelly, and Theresa!) offered so many great suggestions, and honestly, I never would have stumbled onto their ideas on my own.  My final project will be that much better because of them.  I ♥ my writing group.

happy birthday sesame street

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