Teaching middle school is not for the faint of heart. But if you're called to do it, you know there's nothing else quite like it. Join us in discussing what works - and what doesn't.

If you could wave a magic wand...

Sybrina Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Hi, all,

This is my first post. So, please allow me to take just a second to provide a little background. I was a classroom mathematics teacher for 24 years and then mentored teachers in a math coach capacity. Recently, I have begun work with a team of educators who create instructional materials and provide support services to middle school math classrooms across the country.

This brings me to this post's subject line. If you could wave a magic wand and be granted one wish for your classroom/school/district that would help you teach even more effectively and, consequently, help your students learn even better, for what would you ask?

Would it be some type of resource, access to a new technology, a curriculum change, a type of professional development, or perhaps a logistic/organizational change of some sort?

Or is there a trend that sounds quite promising -- something you would like to implement in your classroom/school/district?

While mathematics education is my passion, I'd love to hear from middle school teachers in all disciplines/capacities.

Here's looking forward to a lively and enlightening conversation.


Comments (24)

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7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Sybrina, Thank you. I

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Sybrina, Thank you. I appreciate your response.
I look forward to ELA teachers responding. It is great to know MATH teachers have as much frustration as we do.
Ann Hyde: PERFECT, You have said it ALL!! And, I believe part of the lack of curiosity is that the arts and sports have been cut and the TV/Internet have killed their curiosity!
Interested in hearing more.

At-Risk Readers Can Read on Grade Level by the End of First Grad

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If I could wave a magic wand for public education, I would wish that among the highest priorities would be to do whatever is necessary to enable at-risk readers to read on grade level by the end of first grade. With current resources such an effort would be extremely costly and difficult to achieve. However, there are very powerful one-on-one supplementary procedures that can be of significant help in accomplishing this goal that have so far remained a “best kept secret.” I am hoping that this introductory information will motivate interest towards the investigation of these ideas, which are simple to use and enable almost anyone to help at-risk readers. By sharing instructions and demonstrations through YouTube and materials from a website, the door would be open to extremely effective community oriented possibilities promoting literacy, lessening the achievement gap, and raising the graduation rate.

As a learning disabilities teacher (now retired), using insights that have evolved from dealing with my own learning problems, for many years I pursued ideas that have developed into an exciting, extremely successful way to help at-risk readers that I call Tailored Reading. The simplicity of the program has generated an easily managed accountability system that enables the tutor (and anyone even a little familiar with the program) to have immediate access to the child’s known words and phonics abilities. This makes it possible for concerned individuals to provide meaningful help and fun activities, making even a few available minutes a valuable learning experience.

The system focuses on the highly personalized process of finding what the child knows about letters and words (which can be done quickly for beginning readers) and relating new information to the known in such a way that the child is and feels successful. Immediately after a quick inventory of letter and word knowledge during the first session, with the help of color-coding and picture clues, even total nonreaders are shown that they can meet with success using a motivational sentence-making card game. By simply placing each word, which is printed on its own card, color-coded to its part of speech, on the same colored space on the mat, a sentence is formed, such as, “A dog is in the car.” At-risk readers usually have poor memories, especially for information that needs to be learned by rote. Using the above mentioned and other learning and memory-aids and meaningful associations, learning becomes much more accessible and fun. What makes it particularly exciting is that since the system is simple enough to enable less-than-literate (but motivated) parents and classmates to participate in much of the instruction and reinforcement activities, the door is opened to a variety of open-ended and large scale community oriented possibilities.

My experience has shown me that concentrating on finding and filling gaps in word knowledge is key to remediating at-risk readers. Despite their problems concerning the written word, most at-risk readers are able to participate in daily conversation just as children do who pick up reading much more quickly. As new words are learned the conversational abilities of all children improve, regardless of their capacity to read. Our brains are wired to understand spoken language, and for the vast majority, listening comprehension develops naturally. It is processing the written language that presents the obstacle for at-risk readers. Such children, for example, have difficulty reading stories themselves that they have no trouble understanding when read to them. When at-risk readers are completely familiar with the words that compose a passage, comprehending what they read is comparable to understanding everyday conversation. The large number of gaps in their knowledge of written words (sightwords and phonics) are collectively the main problem. As they master written words however, regardless of how slowly this happens, their reading comprehension also improves, even without specific instruction. Of course, ideas involving higher level reading requires much more knowledge than merely learning words, but it is reading words that is key to understanding first grade material, since this level consists mainly of simple sentences and straightforward ideas.

In the movie, Akeelah and the Bee, the community helps a middle school student become a spelling champion. While this is a wonderful example of the power of a “village,” since many more people can be tapped to coach reading for first graders than those who have the skills necessary to help prepare a champion speller, the film’s remarkable outcome would be far overshadowed by this real life opportunity. I am sure that by observing the tutoring, those interested in innovative ways to promote literacy would visualize exciting possibilities, want to learn more about Tailored Reading, and perhaps become involved. I am looking forward to sharing these ideas and would be delighted to answer questions and demonstrate the system to those who truly desire to make a difference.

Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Reading Strategies

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As a math teacher, I always had a special place in my heart for struggling learners.

Thank you for sharing strategies for helping struggling readers. They sound incredibly effective. Here's hoping they make a difference for some of our youngest learners.


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