Who Are We Teaching? Generation Z

We classify our “generations” to try to begin understanding their characteristics so we can better serve them as educators. Our current students are the “Generation Z” while the kindergarteners coming in begin “Generation Alpha.”  

 

Why does this matter you ask?  Students are changing and as educators we must change with them to maximize our effectiveness. What characteristics do these students possess?

 

Generation Z students are the children of the millennial generation. They are digital natives who have the world and endless information at their fingertips. Spending on average more than three hours a day on screen time. The written word (books) no longer have the value that something posted on the internet has to these children. These students are confident in technology and how to navigate but their ability to communicate in written and spoken word is lacking. Thanks to text message, Twitter and other quick social media sites that encourage quick thoughts, our students often struggle to spell, use punctuation and to see the need for formal written tasks.

 

Traditional schools provide a structured environment that many students do not have at home. Families are diverse and have complex relationships and situations which are often less bound to routine and structure of years past. This plays a strong role in a child’s ability to adapt in the classroom environment with rules, routines and procedures.

 

Some of the qualities that our young people possess are:

  • Less focused (they reach for a smart device every 7 minutes)
  • Absorb information in burst
  • Visual learners
  • Multitask (or try) across five or more screens where their parents used 2 or 3

 

Think of the implications of these!  As a teacher–can you see the need for engagement strategies and to allow student movement and collaboration?

 

One of the most interesting characteristics of our students is they are much more realistic than generations past. They do not know the world before 9/11, access to 24 hour news and the internet to confirm the details of violent acts. With this understanding that “government, systems and people fail, they have developed a harsh reality of the world.  Adding video games to the mix increases the visual stimulation to violence and understanding that distress that can happen. This increases the need for our students to feel safe. Despite this, they have a willingness to do “good things”and be helpful.

 

Our kindergarteners coming in are the start of the next generation who have been sitting in front of technology since birth.  They are children of more diverse parents who have faced more struggles financially or on the flip side have had more wealth. There will be a stronger divide of those who have and do not. Their parents are a bit older and more extended than ever.  The future changes are unknown but we will need to continue evolving our practices and ideals.

 

So What Do We Do?

 

A few strategies to begin:

 

  • Break up assignments and lessons to allow for short attention spans
  • MUST teach stamina and how to stick with hard tasks because they are used to quitting when it is hard
  • Use LOTS of visuals
  • Teach strategy to get through long texts without graphics because they do not know how to break up a text into manageable pieces
  • Use  instant feedback which they thrive on due to texting/social media
  • Start with WHY to show relevance (task oriented)
  • Must teach about work quality vs. completion

As educators, knowing WHO we are teaching–helps us know HOW we need to teach them. For me, I see the need for a safe school environment that is welcoming to all students. One that reminds students of the good things happening and how to make a difference. Teaching students that small acts of kindness do matter and that they are special.  Communication both written and verbal are so important for students to gain a strong sense of themselves and where they belong. Most importantly, to use technology as a tool to make their lives better but not to be controlled by it or hide behind it.

 

Articles read to inspire article:

New York Times online:  Meet Alpha:  The Next “Next Generation” by Alex Williams on September 19, 2015

Caylor Solutions online article:  5 Major Characteristics of Generation Z for Education Marketers by Bart Caylor on February 26, 2018.

 

Confidence Affects Neural Pathways

This week from Summer Reading Camp, I have heard students mutter in frustration, “I can’t! This is too hard!” I have watched teachers and assistants build students up and remind them of their strengths so they could tackle something hard. Watching this interaction has inspired me to review some information I have discussed in the past that centers around self esteem and how it affects learning.
Self-esteem or confidence actually resides in the frontostriatal section of the brain which is located between the ventral striatum and the prefrontal cortex (Decision making, personality and social parts of brain) according to Anna Almendrala (2014). The ventral striatum is associated with feelings of motivation and reward. Studies have shown that with continual positive or negative statements and emotions an increase or decrease can occur in the activity of this pathway of the brain. Therefore this affects the person’s self-esteem. Think about that statement and learning. When completing and activity that is difficult, such as reading, the student encounters negative emotions and therefore affects their neural pathway.
According to Susana Martinez-Conde from Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, our brain “makes use of two types of knowledge everyday: explicit knowledge (the “know what” type) and implicit knowledge (the “know how”). She uses the example of explicit knowledge is knowing your math facts which is something concrete but implicit knowledge is riding a bike which is something you know how to do. Implicit knowledge is not as easy to explain to someone because it uses many functions and actions to complete the action—you know how to do it.
Self-confidence is an element added to these two types of knowledge which affects our ability to share or retrieve this knowledge based on what she calls real memories or fake (subconscious). Our subconscious (fake memories) actually is the foundation for how our own confidence is ascertained. Our subconscious is much like a “recorder” because it is taking information from all of our senses and recording impressions. Our subconscious is different from other information taken in from our brain which is manipulated, organized and utilized in a purposeful way. The information from our subconscious is simply brought in and impressions recorded. When we are engaged in certain activities, these impressions will cause anxiety or enjoyment or lack of confidence based on previous information gathered by our subconscious.
Powerful Information!! Think about a student from a home where literacy is not celebrated. This could be for various reasons; parents uncomfortable reading, lack or unstructured time, unstable environment. The events are not necessarily remembered but an overall impression is being created in the brain as the subconscious records the events. These recordings are creating negative feelings that will be associated with literacy. In contrast, our children who grow up in literacy rich homes feel comfortable with reading and more willing to try because the subconscious has recorded positive attributes with the event.
The implications I have gathered through my research is that most likely our lowest performing students have developed a negative feeling or impression of the topic in which they struggle. When a negative thought is repeated many times it is actually being “recorded” and causes stress when the child engages in this activity. For example, speaking publicly is very difficult for me because I lack confidence in that area and I have over the years developed negative feelings about being in that situation. To combat this low self-confidence or negative feeling in our students, we must replace the negative connotation with positive repeatedly.
Positive affirmation can simply be a smile! Smiling, positive feedback, encouraging words and simply being patient can help a child begin to “record” positive subconscious thoughts as they engage in the activity such as reading. The more positive and comfortable the student feels, the more likely they are to try harder and build higher self-confidence. For students who are extremely shut down, a tangible reward paired with positive feedback can begin to create the connection between the task and a good experience.
Positive feedback and sometimes a tangible trip to the prize box will activate the ventral striatum (home of reward and motivation) which connects to the frontostriatal (home of self-confidence). When these two sections of the brain work together, you are increasing both self-confidence and motivation which increases the engagement and openness to learn.
I do caution here that over rewarding can have a negative affect as well because there is no clear understanding of why they are being rewarded and the connection to the task is not associated. It is important that rewards are clearly associated to the task or behavior you are wanting to change.
It is powerful to think that we can help change a person’s self-confidence and motivation. How often as teachers do we hear, “I can take a horse to water but I can’t make them drink.” I do not believe that old adage is true. With repetitive positive affirmation and helping a student feel success we can improve their motivation to try. This in turn will begin to build self-confidence. These factors together can increase the change of learning because the child becomes open to receive the information. We may not be able to “make them drink” but we can certainly motivate them to want to try!

Articles that were cited and helped inspire this Blog:
Article by Anna Almendrala for Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/16/self-esteem-brain_n_5500501.htmlaccessed on July 20, 2016.
Article by Susana Martinez-Conde and Richard J. Haier on June 2008 entitled Ask the Brains: What are ideas? Does confidence Affect Performance. Accessed on July 22, 2016: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-are-ideas/
Quote from values.com
This entry was tagged brain, brain and learning, growth mindset, self-esteem. Bookmark the

Compliance or Empowered?

Recently in a meeting, I made the statement, “Compliance is not “ok” with me.” When I made the statement, there were many responses both aloud and quietly.  I was surprised that my statement evoked such a response. The negative undertones were apparent and I did not make a connection until I read this quote from George Couros’ Blog.  I thought, “exactly.” Sometimes we are happy that someone is doing as we asked but compliance is a minimal expectation in my opinion.

From George Couros’ Blog:  #INNOVATORSMINDSET

 

In my mind, when I think of compliance–I see this graphic:

 

Compliance———–Engaged——–Successful——-Empowered

             

 

When you think of these words in this manner. Where do you want students to be?  Where do you as a teacher want to be?

 

When a new concept is taught, we look for compliance or can they do it.  This does not mean doing something well; it means–getting it done or checking it off a list. With practice things become comfortable, a learner becomes involved/engaged. This to me is the practice stage. Successful is simply being able to master a concept but what we truly want is empowered. This means they have the ability to do something and implies motivation to do.

 

Motivation paired with the ability to do—is true learning. How many students can we think of that have the ability but simply will not do?  How many of our students want to do but don’t have the skills?

 

Building a learner’s motivation is just as important as the automaticity of the skills.

 

How do we build this motivation?  A 3 Step Process.

 

  1. Repetition:  We must repetitively teach content and strategies. We sometimes think that is boring so we want to change up our teaching BUT the brain likes repetition and that is how it learns. Remember it takes 24 exposures for something to “stick” but can be up to 100 for students struggling with a concept.This repetition builds automaticity or what some people refer to as procedural fluency.
  2. Accountability and Expectations:  We must hold our students accountable to what we ask. This is the expectation and therefore, our students must work to meet our “challenge” even when it is hard. If it is hard a teacher can add scaffolding while learning a concept but our goal is to remove that help slowly so a student masters the concept or skill independently without support. When things get tough–accountability is key.
  3. Reflection and Feedback:  Students must have time to reflect on their performance and learn to know if they were successful. If they were successful–what is the next step?  If they are not successful–where can I improve? It is this reflection that is paired with the feedback of a teacher that helps a student set goals and meet them. The process of reflecting and making changes from feedback creates motivation for the learner and without it—they know how to do it but don’t.

 

Think about your classroom–are these steps in place?  If you want truly empowered learners–find the pieces that need to be strengthened and take action.

 

Teach Silent Readers to Use Strategies Effectively

Reading is comprised of many processes and components in the brain that must be mastered to be proficient for a MASTER reader.  Rosenblatt (2004), states, “It is a process of constructing meaning from a written text as a result of thinking with the guidance of the existing text.”  Reading components include phonemic awareness, phonics, oral fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Reading 3D helps us to pinpoint these skills to intervene and “fix” instruction for our students.  As a student gets older, it is harder for us to determine where our students need help because they are reading for longer periods of time silently and independently.

 

Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) is one integral part of the reading process. When a person is a fluent reader, they decode and recognize words quickly and efficiently which allows the brain to focus on the meaning rather than deciphering words.  Think of the acronym P.A.R.E., which stands for punctuation, accuracy, rate and expression. The rate is the speed in which the child decodes words and the accuracy measures the correctness.  Punctuation and expression (prosody) make up the final component, which is the child’s ability to understand the syntax (the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language), phrasing and intonation of a text.

 

In my experience, there is one missing skill to ensure proficiency in a reader which is Silent Fluency.  Beginning in second grade, students begin to transition to reading silently and are expected to be proficient at it by third grade for standardized testing.  However, how much ACTUAL instruction do we do to ensure students can transition from fluent oral readers to fluent silent readers?

 

When reading silently, students learn to accommodate for their weaknesses and apply strategies in different ways than when reading aloud. When you read silently, you no longer have to pronounce everything correctly; you can skip unknown words, skim descriptions and simply make individual changes in your reading patterns.  In a study by Dr. Kasim Yildirim, the findings were that silent reading fluency was a stronger predictor of comprehension than oral fluency especially in older students.  This makes sense because when our students are not proficient and reading silently, they often become “Fake Readers” who skim text rather than read. Others are able to get the “gist” out of the text but are missing the subtle inferences, clues and hints of mood changes, tone and character personalities that the author hides in figurative descriptions.

 

Skipping words is often taught as an “effective reading strategy” and though it can be—think of the habits we are creating.  What happens when “YOU are no longer in control” of the number of times this is applied and used as a strategy?  Skipping words is only effective when using it paired with context clues application. Skipping the word and looking to find meaning is much different than simply skipping the word.

Our silent readers are learning to compensate for missing skills and BECAUSE we are no longer in control—they can apply and pick and choose strategies as they want.  This is a bit scary considering many of these silent readers are not yet proficient readers.  As teachers, we are not seeing or hearing the breakdown in decoding, mispronunciations and patterns of mistakes.

 

 

I challenge you to ask students to read something difficult.  Walk around, ask questions and most of all—just observe. What you will notice is that some students will “pretend to take notes” but ask them what they are writing and why.  You will most likely see LOTS of fake reading. Stop them and ask questions such as:

  • How did you pronounce this word?
  • What is the meaning of this word? How do you know?
  • What did the author mean by ___________?
  • What happened when you did not understand ___________?
  • What did you do when you could not pronounce ______________?

 

Find out what strategies they are using and begin to model and reinforce the ones that the students are NOT using.  If you have time, conference with students which produces even more information.

  • Ask them about specific words—Can they decode?
  • Ask them questions that require inferences or interpreting figurative language—Did they read deeply enough?
  • Are they making sense of what they read?
  • Are they making connections?
  • Do they understand text structure and use it to navigate as they read?
  • Do they know how to chunk a word into syllables and apply understanding of phonetic knowledge?

 

It is important we find out what our students are doing as they silently read. It is even more important to give them the strategies they should be using AND holding them accountable for applying these strategies.

Make students SHOW you what they are thinking and take time to ask them what they meant by that or why they underlined something. If you do not pair silent reading with questioning—they will become fake readers who take fake notes.

TREASURE is a simple way to encourage students to begin thinking about their reading.  Nevertheless, do not forget that to get to the comprehension—we must ensure our students are really reading silently and able to decode fluently the text that we are giving them. As upper grade teachers, we often think that only comprehension matters but if a child does not have silent fluency—they are not able to fully read and apply the strategies you have taught to be able to comprehend the text in the depth and manner in which standardized tests will require.

However, hold them accountable to what they are doing by partnering them with a student who asks:

  • What notes did you take for this chunk of text? Why?
  • What was the main idea of this paragraph?
  • How did you pronounce _____________? How many syllables does it have?

When silent reading happens—don’t let the students become a mystery. Hold them to the same standards you would when they read aloud. Do we do that?  My challenge is for you to begin setting that tone with your students and opening conversations and questioning that not only makes them aware of what they are doing but thinking about what strategies they are applying and which ones are working or not.

Happy Investigating!

NCDPI’s 12 Instructional Practices for the ELA Classroom

I attended a workshop from the NC Department of Public Instruction on the upcoming new ELA Standards for 2018.  This supporting document was given and as I looked at it–a few stood out as thoughts to ponder in regards to how it affects our school.

From NCDPI. Published on their website and livebinder. See this link for the information found in this document.  Link to NCDPI Livebinder.

Numbers 1-3 were simply reminders of the things we do everyday.

  • informational and literary text (50-50) at heart of instruction
  • integration of listening, speaking, reading and writing
  • systematic vocabulary instruction

Number 4:  Texts are organized around conceptually-related topics (at a range of complexities) to build students’ knowledge and vocabulary.  The words “organized around conceptually related topics” made me think about how we choose our text. Are these related topics or our social studies and science?  Are these related texts both pairing informational and literature on the same topic?  I am not sure we are thinking through our units to this depth to ensure the ideas we are teaching cross a range of complexities and using vocabulary in different ways with different genres.

What can we do?  

Create text sets. I know we talked about this five years ago when Common Core came on the scene but did we understand it?  We need to create our units that use similar vocabulary across the different genres for students to see these words in different contexts.  In addition, we must increase and manipulate the complexities both through choice of Lexile AND the qualitative measures the text possesses.

Number 5 and 6 seem to pair nicely.

  • integration of technology
  • opportunities to communicate daily about what they are learning

Number 7:  Students think critically while reading, writing, speaking and listening to text.  Think critically does not simply mean answering questions. Think critically means to make decisions, create arguments and defend ideas.  Are we going this deep?

What can we do?

Ask meaningful questions that require students to synthesize information and to think using the text in various places as well as their schema to answer questions. Pose questions or statements for students to defend or disprove. Finding mistakes in other’s work or finding evidence for ideas helps students critically think about information and weigh the quality of this information. This type of thinking does go on occasionally but do we do this daily? An increase in this type of thinking will encourage deeper reading naturally.

Number 8 which is apply formative assessment practices to gauge student mastery and inform instruction. This practice directly correlates with our school Benchmark scores. Those teachers who use their data and drive instruction with it–yield the highest results.

Number 9 which is scaffolding as needed for all students. Please remember this means to provide it AS NEEDED!  AS A STAFF WE HAVE LEARNED TO CONTROL THIS–RIGHT???  Think on our PD and what you have learned about how to control rigor.  What scaffolding is in place– who is your learner?? What truly needs to be applied to stretch that student.

Number 10 and 11 are used daily and is probably our strength as a school.  Think text dependent questioning and making strong authentic examples and relevant connections.

  • students returning to text for evidence to support ideas
  • examples, lesson and tasks are relevant and authentic

Finally, Number 12, skills are developed in writing. NOT Usually!!!

What can we do?

Start small with student reflections and quick writes on topics you are discussing. These opportunities open up writing for students without worrying about punctuation, sentence structure and grammar. Sometimes these hold our students back from trying. Get the ideas down AND then start work on editing and improving their ideas.

This list is not earth shattering BUT is a good reminder of what our ELA classes should look like on a DAILY basis. We are solid with our instruction in some areas but need to really examine the ideas in the others. As a staff, I challenge you to think about which ones you feel need to be strengthened. Choose one to begin with and take small steps towards mastering it.

 

How Self Confidence Affects Learning

As the year progresses and things get tough–self confidence and self-esteem becomes a stronger predictor of success.  So many of our students begin to buckle as the work becomes more difficult.  Teachers can scaffold to make learning more attainable but there is still time that students MUST persevere through difficult tasks.

I was inspired to revisit some research that I completed about self confidence and how it affects learning.

Self-esteem or confidence actually resides in the frontostriatal section of the brain which is located between the ventral striatum and the prefrontal cortex (Decision making, personality and social parts of brain) according to Anna Almendrala (2014).   The ventral striatum is associated with feelings of motivation and reward.  Studies have shown that with continual positive or negative statements and emotions an increase or decrease can occur in the activity of this pathway of the brain. Therefore this affects the person’s self-esteem.

According to Susana Martinez-Conde from Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, our brain “makes use of two types of knowledge everyday:  explicit knowledge (the “know what” type) and implicit knowledge (the “know how”).   She uses the example of explicit knowledge is knowing your math facts which is something concrete but implicit knowledge is riding a bike which is something you know how to do. Implicit knowledge is not as easy to explain to someone because it uses many functions and actions to complete the action—you know how to do it.

Self-confidence is an element added to these two types of knowledge which affects our ability to share or retrieve this knowledge based on what she calls real memories or fake (subconscious).  Our subconscious (fake memories) actually is the foundation for how our own confidence is ascertained.  Our subconscious is much like a “recorder” because it is taking information from all of our senses and recording impressions.  Our subconscious is different from other information taken in from our brain which is manipulated, organized and utilized in a purposeful way.  The information from our subconscious is simply brought in and impressions recorded. When we are engaged in certain activities, these impressions will cause anxiety or enjoyment or lack of confidence based on previous information gathered by our subconscious.

Powerful Information!!  Think about a student from a home where literacy is not celebrated. This could be for various reasons; parents uncomfortable reading, lack or unstructured time, unstable environment.  The events are not necessarily remembered but an overall impression is being created in the brain as the subconscious records the events. These recordings are creating negative feelings that will be associated with literacy. In contrast, our children who grow up in literacy rich homes feel comfortable with reading and more willing to try because the subconscious has recorded positive attributes with the event.

This immediately made me think of this quote from Ghandi.

The implications I have gathered through my research is that most likely our lowest performing students have developed a negative feeling or impression of the topic in which they struggle.  When a negative thought is repeated many times it is actually being “recorded” and causes stress when the child engages in this activity. For example, speaking publicly is very difficult for me because I lack confidence in that area and I have over the years developed negative feelings about being in that situation.  To combat this low self-confidence or negative feeling in our students, we must replace the negative connotation with positive repeatedly.

Positive affirmation can simply be a smile!  Smiling, positive feedback, encouraging words and simply being patient can help a child begin to “record” positive subconscious thoughts as they engage in the activity such as reading.  The more positive and comfortable the student feels, the more likely they are to try harder and build higher self-confidence.  For students who are extremely shut down, a tangible reward paired with positive feedback can begin to create the connection between the task and a good experience.

Positive feedback and sometimes a tangible trip to the prize box will activate the ventral striatum (home of reward and motivation) which connects to the frontostriatal (home of self-confidence).  When these two sections of the brain work together, you are increasing both self-confidence and motivation which increases the engagement and openness to learn.

It is powerful to think that we can help change a person’s self-confidence and motivation. How often as teachers do we hear, “I can take a horse to water but I can’t make them drink.”  I do not believe that old adage is true. With repetitive positive affirmation and helping a student feel success we can improve their motivation to try. This in turn will begin to build self-confidence.  These factors together can increase the change of learning because the child becomes open to receive the information. We may not be able to “make them drink” but we can certainly motivate them to want to try!

For a related article, check out my April Blog entitled, “Too Much Stress= Impeded learning.”  It explains how the brain reacts to stress and how it affects learning. In today’s blog it shared how confidence affects learning and how the subconscious can put learners in a state of stress. The April article focuses on how the brain reacts to high amounts of stress. In a state of continual stress, the brain will respond by short circuiting that pathway and stop impulses. This results in the lack of input and messaging in the brain which makes it short circuit that pathway and stops learning. In addition, a constant state of stress causes inability to stay on task, inattention, and lack of self control. (Poor behavior–sound familiar??)

http://thiskelly.edublogs.org/2016/04/15/too-much-stress-impeded-learning/

Articles that were cited and helped inspire this Blog:

Article by Anna Almendrala for Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/16/self-esteem-brain_n_5500501.html accessed on July 20, 2016.

Article by Susana Martinez-Conde and Richard J. Haier on June 2008 entitled Ask the Brains: What are ideas? Does confidence Affect Performance.  Accessed on July 22, 2016:  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-are-ideas/

Quote from values.com

Summarizing = More Learned Content

Summarizing is a powerful learning strategy which research proves to yield high growth in student learning. Summarizing requires students to understand the material, determine the most relevant information or details and be able to paraphrase the information.

 

Teacher and students can use summarizing to monitor comprehension of text they are reading AND to monitor the content they are leanring. If teachers stop periodically while teaching and ask students to paraphrase learning with a partner, this can act as a formative assessment to determined whether the material has been grasped.  If students employ this technique as a reader (TREASURE), they know when the meaning of the text is lost and when rereading is deemed necessary.

 

As a school we are incorporating summarizing to encourage engagement within a lesson and to show learning of incremental skills within a unit, story or lesson progression. Turn and Talk is often used for quick summarization.

 

Here are a few ideas to “change it up” and still get the power of summarization.

 

5 Quotes

Have students choose 5 quotes that best show the author’s main idea or theme.  You could even have students do this with events. The choice of the 5 most important can then be a discussion to justify or defend the choices made by the student. Asking the student to then star or highlight the MOST important from the list and why.

 

Twitter Summary

Students must create a summary in one sentence or 30 words or less. This challenges students to choose the most relevant ideas to include. You could do this activity with Facebook , Instagram, etc.

Fake Twitter Generator

 

Caption-Connect-Illustrate (CCI)

Students are expected to write a caption for a section of text. To help them reflect on learning, ask them to make a connection to self, text, or world.  Finally, students illustrate the “caption” or main idea. For students who need to build vocbulary–they can label their illustration with important vocabulary from the text. This could be especially powerful for content learning such as science.

 

Keep students actively involved with constantly talking about what they are learning., Encouraging students to capture their ideas is important. Turn the normal “Think Pair Share” activity into a “WRITE Pair Share” which requires students to write down important ideas first and then discuss them–”WRITE–PAIR–WRITE–SHARE” would be even more powerful because students would write ideas independently, have time to discuss and then ADD new ideas before sharing. The idea of learning how to refine ideas and change, delete or refine them is the process of deep thinking.

4th Grade Slump

You have probably heard the term “4th grade slump” when referring to the decline in progress in our readers when they become 4th graders.  Pam Withers reports, a 12  percent drop in daily reading by students when they become 4th graders.  There are many theories as to why we have this decline including the following:

  • Video game distraction
  • Organized sports and afterschool activities
  • Lack of interest due to the high push in 3rd grade with Read to Achieve requirements
  • Stress put on students in lower grades to learn to read causing dislike or disinterest

 

My theory is that all of these factors are important and play into the decline mystery.  I believe one HUGE factor is forgotten, but crucial, to this puzzle.

As fourth graders, students are being stretched from learning to read (decoding) to reading to learn (gaining meaning) which is exposing them to both increasing rigor and vocabulary. Students are being immersed in text with more multisyllabic words and unknown vocabulary than in years past with little to no support. We expect our upper grade students to read longer periods of time with little support and lack of background building.     

 

With this “gap” our students often become fake readers who pretend to read and apply strategies or word callers that are unable to gain meaning from lack of comprehension.  Cris Tovani, author of “I Read it, But I Don’t Get it,” classifies our fake readers into two categories:  resistive readers and word callers. Resistive readers have the ability to read but make the choice not to read due to apathy.  Word callers can simply decode with little to no comprehension.

 

I believe there is a third classification of students.  Students who have just enough ability to read predictable and decodable text but when you take away scaffolding–crumble under the inability to apply strategies.  I believe these students become word callers or just plain rebellious to reading because it becomes too difficult for them to keep up. These students join in fake reading out of survival because they do not want to appear “stupid” by their peers but have a desire to understand when they attempt to read.

 

So, what can we do?

 

More short and complex text at early grades.  

Using more complex but short reads helps to immerse students into text that requires them to apply strategies they are learning in a structured way.  We think of the “Close Read” for students in upper grades but exposing students to rigorous text that makes them stretch at early ages helps them to learn “fix it” strategies when they are “reading over their heads.”

 

Spending time TEACHING students how to read silently.

Teaching silent reading does not happen in an explicit manner for most students. We ask them to read silently but do we show them what that means?  Teaching students to read aloud and then slowly weaning them to silent reading with frequent checks on comprehension and decoding helps students build stamina for reading difficult text. In addition, holding students accountable for silent reading ensures they are applying context clues to unknown words or paraphrasing text periodically for understanding. Without frequent discussions, modeling and questioning–do we really know what they are doing when reading silently?

 

Accountability with multisyllabic decoding and applying context clues.

Being able to decode 3 and 4 syllable words is crucial for reading fourth grade level text which is 800 lexile or above. Having students recognize when they do not know how to pronounce or define a word is crucial for their comprehension. Hold students accountable in guided reading by asking them to define certain words based on the text. Ask how they pronounced them. These mini lessons ensure that students know how to decode and how to use and apply context clues when needed.

 

The “4th grade slump” is a phenomenon that research continues to study. For me, I believe we must attack the problem from all angles. Increase volume reading and continue to motivate our students but most importantly to stop the fake reading.  Fake reading only compounds the problem because the student gap continues to get bigger the longer they sit back passively.  So, get students involved and making mistake so you can help them fix them–that is true LEARNING. Teach students and help them become comfortable with making mistakes, trying new things and being wrong. It is only in that environment–our fake readers will take the risk to try!

 

Resources used in this Blog:

Pam Withers article entitled The fourth grade slump syndrome published on the web on April 9, 2015

THANKFUL

The season is upon us of hustle and bustle, laughing memories and sometimes–STRESS!  I know that I am blessed to work with each of you everyday and have the opportunity to lift students up academically, socially and emotionally each day.

 

Today, a dear friend of mine and amazing educator had a heavy heart and was questioning her value. She reminded me that we are surrounded by LOTS of noise and “distractions” that keep us from seeing the most important events and people in our lives.

 

She, like all great educators, puts in 110% effort each day, long hours and juggling a never ending job with raising a family and because she is AMAZING–never feels she meets the mark.

 

So, today, for my friend and all other amazing teachers out there–remember YOU are amazing.  I am THANKFUL that you are here and the value you bring to my life AND the children in our school.

 

T is for THOUSANDS OF THINGS YOU JUGGLE.  You take on the world to ensure that everyone is taken care of and their needs met. Whether it is ensuring everyone has snack, planners have been signed and concepts learned–you take care of all of us and often forget to think of yourself. Each and every task and “thing” you juggle may seem to go unnoticed but each and every one of them is making the lives of others better and stronger. So, give yourself a break if you forget one small thing–it might be that someone needs to learn independence.  

 

H is for the HUGE HEART you share.  The extreme compassion you show to others and how you are always reaching out to help. Whether it is a student in your class, a person at church or simply a stranger–you reach out to meet their needs when you rarely take time for your own. When others think of tasks to complete–you see how others do without. When others engage in fun–you are ensuring others are having fun. Your huge heart is who you are and we are thankful you share it.

 

A is for ACADEMIC PLANS that are always made with care. Only and educator can appreciate this one. The hours and hours that are spent with care to create plans, generate ideas and prepare. Thank you for the time you put in because these carefully made plans that meet all needs are truly the reason our students succeed.

 

N is for NEVER Giving up on anyone. When something is not working or a student is not learning, a new plan is always generated. Try after try to ensure all students are learning is only achieved when you believe all students CAN and WILL learn. Thank you for this attitude because sometimes YOU are the only one telling the student–they CAN.

 

K is for the KINDNESS you show. Giving up your lunch on a field trip for those who forgot to pack one. Sharing your coat with a student on the playground because their coat is too thin. Whether it is providing lunch money, a snack, an extra hug–kindness is always found when you are around.

 

F is for FIGHTING and Advocating for children.  Standing up and speaking for students is what you do. When no one else seems to hear or see the need–you are there to make sure the voice is heard. Passion for children and what is best helps motivate you.

 

U is for remembering the UNDERDOG!  Educators see potential where others do not. Taking time to nurture and build up students both academically and in character.

 

L is for LIFE LONG LEARNING.  The public has no idea the life long learning you do. The time you spend researching new ways and ideas for that student who does not seem to understand. The time you invest in planning and seeking the perfect lesson for math.  The PLC time you spend ensuring each student is learning and problem solving new ideas when they are not making growth.

 

So, educator friends, I am so THANKFUL for you and so are your students. You may not receive a daily fanfare and parade BUT know that each and every day you are impacting lives. You are making a difference. You may be weary and not see the difference BUT it is there and I see it. I am thankful.  My wish for you this holiday season is to remember that YOU ARE A GIFT.  Treat yourself kindly because you take on SO much each day and when you feel like faltering–remember YOU ARE AMAZING and make a difference every day!

 

Thank you!

 

 

T- housands of things you juggle

H-uge heart

A-cademic Plans

N-ever giving up

K-indness

F-ighting and advocating for children

U-nderdog

L-ife long learner

 

 

Remove the Scaffolding!

Scaffold by definition is a temporary structure put in place to repair a “building or other construction.” Applying this definition to education we know that scaffolding is when we put instructional strategies in place to temporarily repair or support learning.

We, as educators, put scaffolds automatically in place to ensure our students are successful. It is important to support our learners while they are shaky and beginning to learn, practice and apply new tasks or strategies.   All students can benefit from this support. We provide to them in various ways. We use guided instruction where a teacher levels instruction to a child’s level and gradually increases the level of complexity over time. This simplified lesson helps students see and understand the concept in a smaller group and allows the teacher to check and monitor progress. Teachers employ strategies such as “I do, we do, you do” to help transfer responsibility gradually to the student. Other popular ways to offer scaffolding to students are:

  • Frontloading vocabulary
  • Visuals and graphics
  • Modeling and think aloud
  • Sentence starters or word boxes
  • Partner work or collaborative teams
  • Graphic Organizers together as a class to organize ideas

But what happens when we do not remove this “temporary” support?

LEARNING STOPS!!

Teaching is an art and knowing when to apply and remove instructional support is crucial.  We must constantly think:  

  • Who is the reader or student?
  • What is their ability?
  • What can they do?  
  • Are we applying tasks that are stretching this student?  
  • Am I providing activities and materials to help them grow and think a bit more than yesterday?  
  • Is the text or material we are providing continuing to challenge?
  • Is the proper scaffold in place?

Constantly evaluating “Task–Text—Student” is the key to ensuring a balanced and rigorous classroom. There must be a balance between these variables to ensure continued learning. If you are providing rigorous material and tasks that stretch thinking but give too much support–you are keeping the student from learning. Rigor and learning is obtained by instilling conceptual understanding through the domains of literacy, having students matched to text and task appropriately to ensure they are stretching. Each element must work together in accordance with the instructional strategies and scaffolding the teacher is providing.

How can we lessen “learning scaffolding” AND continue with rigor?

2 IDEAS TO TRY TODAY!

Give the Graphic Organizer for students to do while the lesson is in progress and independent work.

Do not do graphic organizers with students without having them generate their own ideas and complete them first. Graphic organizers should be strategically used within a lesson to chunk the lesson and have students show understanding along the way.  For example, when reading a story, stop periodically and have students fill in a story map. Do not tell them what or how to do it but let them share their ideas with a partner and make changes. Only after this time of independent work and partner discussion should a teacher model or intervene. By providing the time for students to work–you are allowing them to generate ideas and show their own learning. Teachers can then intervene and deepen understanding through modeling and questioning.

 

Plan time for students to learn in whole group move to partners and then to  independent work while learning a new concept. Let them do the work!

After teaching a concept, it is important for students to talk through their ideas and concepts with a partner to begin to make sense of the information. Student talk is crucial to help students work through the domains of literacy (listening, speaking, reading and writing) to have conceptual understanding.  More importantly, students must take time to work independently on the skill AND MAKE MISTAKES. It is not until you bring students back together to clarify and question students do they begin to make connections and to make sense of errors.  The best way to take scaffolding from a student is to make them think through and do the work themselves. Give time for students to think on their own and write their own ideas into their journal or notebook. After they have generated ideas, then let them share and work together. All students should bring ideas to the table when doing group work or it is not an equal learning experience. Instead of think-pair-share, try write-pair-share-write!  By changing this strategy students are writing or drawing their ideas, getting support from a partner when discussing (deepening understanding).  The sharing helps to clarify and deepen understanding further with the teacher modeling.  The final write allows the student to conceptualize their ideas into written drawings or thoughts. (labels on drawings is a great next step for younger students)

Removing instructional scaffolding is not easy because we want our students to be successful. However, we must remember that until they make mistakes–learning truly has no purpose or meaning. Let students have time to make errors and then help students fix them–that is truly TEACHING AND LEARNING WITH RIGOR.

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