Tag Archives: reading

18 years of compliance training

I inadvertently stumbled into a Twitter discussion about school activities, such as most homework assignments, that seem to exist for no other reason than, “We’ve always done it that way.”

Here’s an extract:

The conversation suggested that requiring compliance by students is bad.

I don’t think complying with such things as instructions to print one’s name on a document infringe on civil liberties or turn students into automatons: It might be regarded as a simple courtesy.

By the same token, I don’t think complying with school rules has much of an effect on students’ “real lives” outside school.

In fact, as I said, my observations of students in work settings has led me to think the fact that something is required in kindergarten or high school or college is likely to lead students to assume they can safely ignore it elsewhere.

I’ve written several posts over the years about my observations of ex-students’ behaviors outside classrooms when they attempt to enter the workforce. Taken together,  they may suggest it’s not compliance or the lack thereof  that’s a problem.

I’ve pasted the leads of three of them below with links to the entire posts.


Top writing requirement: Read the directions

Teaching students to adapt their writing to the situation never was easy, but is is becoming increasingly difficult. Within a few minutes’ time, we expect students to turn from texting friends to writing research reports to blogging—and to meet the different requirements of each of those situations.

One of the ways we can help students learn to navigate between writing situations is teach them that when directions are provided, they should read and follow those directions, regardless of what they’ve been taught was the appropriate thing to do. Read more of this post.

Work experience as education

Do you want to know how to prepare your students for an entry-level job? The best way to learn what students need to know is to do different entry-level jobs yourself.

Unless you already know somebody at the business, you’ll have to fill out a job application, just as your students will unless they, too, get their jobs through networking or nepotism. Completing a job application requires what the Common Core State Standards refer to as reading informational text. Read more of this post.

Dear applicant: The reason you weren’t hired

Since April,  I’ve been advertising unsuccessfully for two part-time, virtual workers in my educational publishing business. The responses have been mainly from highly schooled individuals who:

  • Don’t know how to write an email,
  • Either don’t read or don’t follow directions, and
  • Don’t have a clue what skills are needed for the 21st century office.

I sent respondents boilerplate “thank you for your interest” replies, but mentally wrote letters I wished I dared send. Read more of this post.

Leave a comment

Filed under Language & literacy

A new way to think about literacy

Literacy = reading and writing, right?

Technically, yes.

But suppose we broadened the skills that we include under the literacy umbrella to include speaking, listening, and thinking.

Then we’d have a suite of skills that people use to learn complex material.

Broadening the definition of literacy is where Mark A. Forget begins teaching any subject, from the humanities to vocational courses.

 Red umbrella labeled LITERAACY over 5 gears labeled reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking

An expanded definition of literacy facilitates teaching in the content areas using both reading and writing.

Skill acquisition during content learning

Forget (pronounced forzháy) stumbled over some good ideas that he later built on, drawing on research into how people learn.

Forget flips the classroom, using the class time for reading text material that typically is assigned for homework and giving as homework activities that encourage higher order thinking about that same content.

Forget uses textbooks the school provides as the reading material. Students acquire reading skills in the process of reading those texts strategically and collaboratively discussing their reading, defending their interpretation of it by reference to specific passages in the text.

Forget teaches strategies that students can use for the rest of their lives.

Forget varies activities to prevent boredom. He  has about two dozen activities that he picks from to accomplish specific objectives, such as learning to preview text, for example. Having those choices lets him insert some variety into the classes without changing his overall procedure.

Forget uses in-class writing every day. Usually the writing is informal (i.e, ungraded), a tool to help students “generate ideas, become engaged through concrete commitment, clarify their own thinking, or otherwise organize ideas in useful and meaningful ways,” Forget says.

MAX teaching strategies

After testing the procedures for years in a variety of school settings and in many different disciplines, Forget wrote Max Teaching with Reading and Writing: Classroom Activities for Helping Students Learn New Subject Matter While Acquiring Literacy Skills¹.  The “MAX” in Max Teaching stands for Motivation, Acquisition (learning that happens without instruction), and eXtension.

Forget does for reading what I attempt to do with writing: Use it as a tool for teaching content and developing the skills Forget includes under the literacy umbrella: reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking.

What makes Forget’s method brilliant is less his originality than his consistency: He figured out how to teach so that students learn subject matter content and acquire literacy skills—reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking—and he stuck to doing that class after class, week after week.

I don’t recall who recommended the book to me, but I wish I did so I could thank him or her.  If my colleagues in other disciplines used Forget’s methods, teaching writing to their students would be a piece of cake.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more about Forget’s ideas as I work through the rest of the book.


¹ I got my copy of Max Teaching with Reading and Writing through an independent bookseller at Alibris.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching methods

Reading, readiness, and unreadiness

I sat down to write a bit about three nonfiction books I’m reading.

That led me to wonder if there is a word that means the state of having started, but not yet finished, reading a book.  Unreadiness gets things wrong end round; nonreadiness is no better.

Probably the Germans or Japanese have a word for it that an alert reader will share.

But I digress.

3 books: Why Rural Schools Matter, The Physics of Business Growth, Max Teaching with Reading and Writing

Books I’m reading

The nonfiction books I’m reading are

  • The Physics of Business Growth: Mindsets, System, and Processes by Edward D. Hess and Jeanne Liedtka,
  • Why Rural Schools Matter by Mara Casey Tieken
  • Max Teaching with Reading and Writing: Classroom Activities for Helping Students Learn New Subject Matter While Acquiring Literacy Skills by Mark A. Forget.

Despite their quite different subject matter, they have a few common elements. Each is

  • written by people who write well
  • written by people who have lived the subjects they write about
  • written with the expectation that readers will do something based on their reading.

That last point is what’s keeping me from finishing them.

Why I’ve not finished

When I get to the end I’ll need to do something with what I’ve learned, something that’s likely to be uncomfortable, possibly difficult.

I’m ready to learn about.

I’m not ready to go try.

This is the central problem of professional development for educators: Moving from readiness to learn to readiness to apply.

Leave a comment

Filed under Teacher PD

Be an amazing writer: Read like one.

When it comes to reading, there are two ditches modern-day web writers may fall into. Both are notorious, unrefined, and dangerous — especially if you want to be more than an ordinary writer.

On one side, you have the ditch of never-ending digital content where you spend all your time reading online.

……….

On the other side, you have the ditch of “made-for-loneliness” wonkism where all you do all day is read about one topic — and one topic only.

……….

There is nothing wrong with these two approaches to reading if you have no ambition to be a great writer. However, if you aspire to be an
exceptional writer, follow these sophisticated reading habits.

Read all this great post from Demian Farnworth at Copyblogger.

Leave a comment

Filed under Language & literacy, Lifelong learning

Reading Pairs Repair Written Grammar

one person reads aloud from a paper written by the listener
You can use native English speakers’ ability to hear errors to help them identify potential grammar problem areas in their writing, such as run-together sentences.

Using students to give feedback about their writing is a powerful way to develop students’ skills while reducing your workload.

Simple two-step process

1. With students working in pairs, the author reads his/her work aloud while the other listens.

Why it helps: Slowing down to read aloud may be enough for the author to spot grammatical errors that the author doesn’t see when reading silently.

2. For a second check, the listener reads the work aloud to its author.

Why it helps: The person who didn’t write the paper is far more likely to read sentences as written instead of the way the author intended.

Why it helps: Hearing the paper read by someone else is more likely to reveal to the writer problems he/she corrected mentally but still needs to correct on paper.

During the second reading, students may want to stop at the end of every paragraph, or more often, to see if either questions something that they read. A penciled question mark in the margin (or highlighting on the computer screen) is all that is necessary to help the author remember to check that sentence later.

Tips for trying the technique

Although most strategies I recommend are geared toward teaching teens and adults, this activity can be done with students as young as fourth or fifth grade.

For the activity to work, students need to be fairly well matched in respect to their reading and writing skills.

Also, the reading order is important. The author gets the chance to identify needed changes before the partner can note them. If the listener has reading difficulties, reading second lets him anticipate words s/he will see in the reading.

Read aloud pairs is not a peer editing activity per se. The point is to get the author to focus on the words s/he put on the page.


Comments? Questions? Let’s hear from you.

This post appeared in Writing Points for May, 2011, ©2011 Linda G. Aragoni

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching methods

Let’s take English out of the classroom

Scarcely a week goes by that I don’t see an article such as this about teachers taking STEM teaching out of the classroom into alternative settings.

11-20-14_Lab_series_2Science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers seem to have no difficulty finding topics their students are already interested in that apply science, technology, engineering and math concepts.

I rarely see English teachers getting students out of the classroom to see how reading, writing, and speaking are done in alternative settings.

Visiting a TV station or interviewing seniors about how life was different before cell phones may be more interesting than doing grammar exercises, but I doubt those activities do much to show students how something they are already interested in applies reading, writing, and speaking on a regular basis.

Working on ” if you can’t fight ’em, join ’em” premise, you could try working with STEM teachers who are taking their classes into alternative settings.

At some point all that knowledge about the physical world needs to be documented so it can be readily transmitted. Figuring out how to craft the documentation for a particular audience is applied English.

Your school may offer opportunities for students to use English class skills in nontraditional settings.

For example, the college application process is tough on students.

How could your students use their English skills to make the application process easier for next year’s crop of applicants? Video interviews with people with particular expertise? Infographics? A series of weekly podcasts to help applicants break the application process into manageable bits?

logo from Federal Student Aid website

Getting their kids into college isn’t easy for parents either. How could your students use their English skills to make sending their kids off to college easier on parents?

Are there specific groups of parents who need specialized help with the transition, such as parents whose son or daughter will be the first person in the family to attend college or parents for whom English is a second language? What kinds of communications would be most useful to those small groups of parents?

Article consisting of sample college recommendation letter from a teacher

Sample recommendation letter is a teacher resource

School staff may also appreciate a little help as students go through the college application process.

How could students use their ELA skills to make staff’s lives easier? Would curating a list of online resources help? Perhaps a private (school-only) resource in which college-bound students summarize their goals and accomplishments with appropriate pictures to remind those who may be asked to give recommendations of what the student wants to be remembered for.

In working on projects within their school, students are likely to run into problems in which their view of their audience’s needs and the school’s view clash. Such problems are routine occurrences for people whose jobs entail communicating on behalf of an employer.  And learning the soft skills of navigating over such rough spots is an important part of English language arts.

What do you do to show students how ELA skills are used beyond the classroom?

Photo credits:  Lab series 2 by sadsac

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching methods

Boys need help to see patterns

Boys generally are less verbal than girls. Tests find—and educators confirm—that boys lag far behind girls in writing skills.

Veteran teachers (like me) say boys are less able to spot patterns in written material. That means their teachers need to be diligent about teaching pattern recognition in reading and teaching patterns for writing.

Boys also have less patience with verbal work than girls. They need quick feedback. That’s why they can spend hours on a video game but only 5 minutes on a writing assignment.

To teach all students successfully, employ teaching practices that don’t unduly favor verbal students, most of whom are female:

  • Simplify verbal directions.
  • Reduce complicated processes to a few  steps; if you can find or invent a mnemonic for the steps, use it.
  • Teach strategies, which are flexible patterns of behaviors for accomplishing various tasks.
  • Seize opportunities to have boys think about how patterns are useful in out-of-class activities; for example, why is third base always on the batter’s left and never on the batter’s right?  If you run out of ideas, do an online search for pattern recognition training and notice the different fields in which the term is important.
  • Have students describe or predict how writing/reading patterns can help them.
  • Get boys into writing quickly by giving writing prompts that include a thesis statement; spending too much time on any element obscures the overall pattern.

By consciously taking into consideration the differences in the ways boys and girls process verbal material, writing teachers can make keeping up with the girls a lot easier for boys.


[Portions of this post appeared in the August 2008 issue of Writing Points, ©2008 Linda G. Aragoni. Broken link removed 2014-11-29.]]

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching writing