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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teaching and Learning is So Complex I needed to hit Pause.

Teaching and Learning is So Complex I needed to hit Pause.

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Now Playing>> Pause. "I just find it sad that about 40% of kids in third grade can't read at grade level. So-- it must be hard for you guys (generic usage)trying to teach writing (or anything else) when a child has problems using reading as an input mechanism. My research suggests that these kids need to be addressed in kindergarten if remediation is to be successful. I know that this sounds like kind of a downer; but, coffee is where it needs to be discussed." This is a quote from Warren's post on my One Hot Chocolate discussion. I thought this complex issue warranted its own discussion. What do you think teachers? Why, why, why?

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Teri Schlesinger's picture
Teri Schlesinger
Parent and substitute teacher

I wonder if too much emphasis is put on reading at too early an age. As a substitute in various schools, I've seen kindergarten classes completely out of control, whether in the classroom or in the hall, whether or not I have the class that day. I've spoken to teachers who feel that kindergarten children are not given enough time to play, as well as learn to follow rules, control instant gratification, and consider the feelings of others. The push of assessment and academic accountability is so strong, these very basic social lessons are at best, minimally touched upon. I wonder if lack of these very important social graces could be a contributing factor to this?

Peggy Beemer's picture

All kids develop at their own pace; some are ready to read early, others late. We need to stop crushing the psyches of kids whose brains are otherwise oriented and teach them to read when it is neurologically appropropriate for them individually, and using different methods which accommodate those differences...standard schooling works for most, Waldorf for some, Monetssori for some....the difficulty is that if a kid falls out of the average zone, the system fails because it is too cumbersome to figure out what works for them and when...and to then put that into action.

Steve Hornstein's picture

If only 40% are below grade level someone is doing an awesome job! Grade levels are essentially averages. Statistically we should expect that half the kids in any given group will be below grade level! That's what average means.

Someone (perhaps the entire American public and political establishment) needs to take Stat 101!

American schools have never been sufficiently cognizant of the fact that learners learn in many different rates and in many different ways. As long as we continue to assume that all kids need to learn the same things at the same times we will continue to have an unacceptable failure rate.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

YEs, yes, and yes!!!! Thanks steve! You are dead on. Stats are misleading. If we really care about our kids, they should be worth more than a number, right?

Cynthia Westover's picture
Cynthia Westover
Coordinator of Language Arts preK -12 (includes gifted, ELL, special needs)

In order to quantify the percentage of students who cannot read at a given grade level, it is important to define what is meant by "reading", what instruments are being used to determine what percentage of students are not "reading" on grade level, who is doing the measuring and for what purpose. Reading is a complex and social act that is done for a variety of reasons. Since the inception of Competency Based Education (CBE), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and No Child Left Behind, reading has been boiled down to an educational act that is quantified or measured by a myriad of standardized tests. In reality, reading is intricately linked to writing and is a social, as well as an educational act and way too complex to be boiled down to a statistic.

Are we measuring ALL kinds of reading that children/students do? No. We have students read an artificial passage, use simple formulas to determine their mistakes, and judge them against a predetermined standard scoring system that does not account for the differences in teaching, the inequity of materials available, the cultural biases in the text, nor the students interest in what they are reading.

Are we worried about the depth at which children/students comprehend what they read? No. The questions are simple comprehension questions that are answered in writing. Deep comprehension requires discussion and interaction around the text. When the "reading" levels are published, there is little to no attention given to this issue.

Are we still measuring 21st Century students with 20th Century tools? Some will argue we are using 21st Century tools because many assessments can be taken while sitting at a computer keyboard. I would argue we are not because I am talking about the type of reading being done and not the assessment itself. Taking a multiple choice test "online" is no different than taking a multiple-choice test on paper. Portfolio assessment and "real-world" applications of reading are the only true measure of a student's capacity to read and understand complex texts.

Kelly Gallagher, Nanci Atwell, Janet Allen, Cris Tovani and Richard Allington are all experts in the field. We should be listening to them and using their ideas and techniques for instruction instead of constantly pointing to the percentages gathered from questionable and antiquated standardized tests.

Ta Tanisha Handy's picture

As a high school science teacher, I am screaming to the the top of my voice...YES, it is extremely difficult to teach anything else to students who are not reading on grade level. I've only been teaching for 2 years and I keep asking myself, what happened and how did we fail this generation.
I am the first to admit, science is one of those subjects that can have some very challenging vocabulary, but what do you do when you have 10th graders not knowing words like "often" and "region". I completely agree with Peggy when she says that "all kids develop at their own pace" but what I struggle with is that they will start to read when it is "neurologically appropriate for them individually". I struggle with that part of the statement because my students are in high school, 1-4 years away from being expected to be productive citizens in our communities, and it's as if they will never reach a point of neurological appropriateness. I don't know the solution to the problem but I do know that we are graduating students who can't read, write,or even synthesize their own thoughts and it saddens me.

patricia fisher's picture

I am presently teaching autistic children. This question has been around forever. . . a lot of talk and testing to find weaknesses, but as someone mentioned no answers or time as what do I do now for these children. I am a firm believer of early intervention. However, again when, where and how. Some childen just need some tutoring to help (I have done this also and seen successes). Children do need time to be children. Parents need to value literacy. And, unfortunately, some children donot have the ability to ever read on grade level - that doesn't stop us from still trying to let them have success!!!

Darleen Saunders's picture

We are a culture of age discriminatants. Children are not widgets that must remain on the assembly line of school paced learning. Children learn when they are ready and motivated. We do not need to group them by their birth dates to teach them effectively. When a child is interested they most often learn very rapidly.

Jeanie's picture

My husband and I adopted two girls out of foster care in 2003, at ages 12 and 13. They both were failing in the public schools and had multiple constant discipline issues, so I pulled them out and home schooled them.

I had already raised two children who were doing well in college and grad school, so I felt like I would manage. I am a nurse, and my husband a physician.

By working side by side with each child, and analyzing each test, I was able to figure out that while they could read well, they did not understand basic vocabulary words in most subjects. I took them backwards, having them read out loud to me, do work at each grade level until they showed progress, and eventually caught them up in a fully accredited home school program.

They are both in college now, but have struggled. I'm just happy that they are still learning, and have learned to read well and love learning.

The most important thing for any child to learn is that you can't know everything, but knowing where and how to find out is part of your knowledge base.

I think many schools miss these steps, and while standardized tests give a "snapshot" of where a child is at on any given day, it is not a good assessment for truly knowing how far a child needs to come, and what areas they need to work on. Both children did very well on standardized tests, but could not accomplish daily work in most subjects. By teaching them how they each learned best, they were able to learn the subjects that they had previously failed. I have high hopes that they will continue to learn, as learning is a life long skill, not just a K-12 activity!!

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