Day 2: 6/2/15 Online Class: What is effective literacy instruction?

Hi everyone,

Here you will find everything you need to complete the Tuesday, June 2nd, online class for EDLIT755. In order to receive credit you will need to:

  • Add your name to a Professional Learning Community (PLC) group on this Google Doc. We can discuss this more in class on Wednesday, June 3, but it is helpful to get this information ahead of time.
  • Create a Twitter account (if you don’t already have one). Explore Twitter: Type the following hashtags into the search box to find Twitter chats: #HipHopEd   #WhatsNewAERA
  • Please print and bring the following document with you to class tomorrow as we will work with it in class (no need to read ahead of time). Hunter_Scholes_excerpts
  • Complete the following reading & writing assignments.

#1 Thoughts on Effective Reading Instruction

TO DO: Use the comment space below to post questions these articles/video raised for you about reading instruction. Feel free to respond directly to the comments of other students.

#2 Who are you as a reader?

On my first day of teaching, I walked into my classroom and immediately identified with my students. It had been at least a decade since I was in their shoes, but I remembered what it felt like to sit in a desk, to eye-down my peers, and wait for the teacher to begin the class. As I stood in the front of the room with those memories, I also quickly realized that my students were all different – they were not like me, and they were not all like each other. We all have such varied experiences with school, and whether they are good or bad, those experiences have a powerful influence on our conception of learning.

Just as our school experiences make us who we are as teachers and learners, our experiences as readers and writers influence us as well. At the start of every school year I ask my students to write short biographies of themselves as students, as readers, and as writers, and I find that they share everything from heartwarming stories of times when their writing was put on display in a hallway bulletin board, to one-sentence explanations (“I hate books”). Whatever they decide to share – the good, the bad, the ugly – this writing gives me the opportunity to hear about those experiences and understand both the joy and the pain that reading and writing has brought into their lives. This way, I get to know them as individuals, and not just a a collective group of students.

I’m sure many of you have asked your own students to perform similar writing tasks and have gotten to know your students well over the course of your first year. In order to get to know you all a little bit better, and to prepare for a month of discussions about how we can best support readers and writers in the classroom, I would like you to use the following questions as prompts for your thinking and write me an email in which you introduce yourself – as a student, a teacher, a reader, and a writer.

  • Who are you as a student? How does your student experience as a an adult compare to your student experience as a child?
  • Who are you as a teacher? Why are you a teacher? How do you relate to the students you teach? What are your goals in the classroom?
  • Who are you as a reader? What do you like to read? How have you grown as a reader throughout your life?
  • Who are you as a writer? What role does writing play in your life? How would you describe your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
  • How does (or how will) your identity & experiences shape who you are as a teacher?

28 thoughts on “Day 2: 6/2/15 Online Class: What is effective literacy instruction?

  1. I found Allington’s “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” to be a refreshing read. My students lack the stamina to read for sustained periods of time on their own, at least partially because we rarely if ever ask them to read without follow-up questions or a partner. When I was interviewing for jobs, I interviewed for one of the Uncommon Schools in Brooklyn. Middle School students had 45 minutes every single day during which time they were to read independently. I think this is a practice from which students at my (public) high school could greatly benefit. Some students, particularly those receiving special education services, are not ready to be left to read grade-level texts independently for extended periods of time. These students could benefit from strategies such as reading in unison and multiple readings. Regardless of current reading ability, no students at my school spend enough time reading for sustained periods of time to become truly “strong” readers.
    I had mixed feelings about Beers’ “The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor.” While I share some of her frustration with the practices used by schools like the one she describes, I feel she discounts the benefits of highly disciplined settings, and failed to leave room for a healthy balance. As a special education teacher, I have seen the benefits of providing intense structure for struggling students. Structure and routine are comforting to children (and adults), and I have often felt that my colleagues underestimate the potential benefit of higher disciplinary expectations. Now, this is not to say that disadvantaged students don’t need or can’t handle discussion and higher-order thinking questions. Quite to the contrary, I believe that structure is the means through which we can ultimately provide “those students” access to discussion, debate, and higher-order thinking. I know all too well that an unstructured classroom is unable to support a discussion or debate. Furthermore, without routine, classrooms lack the efficiency required to get students to higher-order thinking on a regular basis. Thus, we need BOTH structure and creative, thoughtful activities in order to provide disadvantaged students a truly equitable education – one that meets students’ needs as well as their rights.

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  2. I found the first article about teaching America’s poor very interesting. Often times in my own teaching position I find that many teachers I work with feel this about the students that I teach. However, in my own classroom, I have noticed that with proper structure, organization and rules, my students feel free to express themselves. Especially in a social studies classroom with so many unknown ideas and different cultures, it is amazing to see what students are able to say and what they can do. Although I do agree that most students, no matter where they are fun and no matter what background they have, need some sort of structure, sometimes, especially with writing and reading, need to be able to express their ideas freely. When given appropriate work, many children are able to fluently explain themselves and learn from each other, especially when the classroom is designed to influence and promote respect towards each other. When a classroom has community agreements, and the students are aware of this idea of “accountable talk” they are able to really indulge in the content and thus take it into the real world.

    I enjoyed reading the end of the article especially when she discusses how students in the public school are accepted no matter who they are, and to me that is what makes the education system so wonderful. When teachers realize this and work with their children and their needs, they tend to have a more successful and organize classroom. Using your students’ differences to your advantage is key for a positive, enlightened and exciting classroom. When teenagers are interested in the topic, engaged in discussion and become passionate about it, they tend to remember the material, and they can also critically think about the content.

    The second article makes complete sense. Having students read independently is crucial for improvement. Students who read consistently not only become better readers, but their vocabulary grows, their fluency increases, and their overall knowledge and understanding improves as well. Skills are very important to teach, but students also need other strategies that will increase their overall reading abilities, and the only way to ensure that is to promote reading as much as possible.

    As teachers, we often find ourselves having students stop and sound out words, maybe having them describe the definition or meaning, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, this may actually hurt the reader, and sometimes it is best to let them use their idea of context clues to figure out wonderings. Generally, readers are better left alone. Another strategy that promotes reading fluency is paired reading, in which the student and a fluent reader read along together. This way, the student can learn from the fluent reader while reading the passage. Reading along is a great way to promote fluency. Even taping the reader could be a great way to improve their reading. When a student can compare and actually hear their progress, which alone can improve their confidence level, which is something that is extremely important for fluent readers. And of course, having students read and reread texts, although seems silly to the student, allows them to really grasp the deeper meaning of the text. All in all, having students read more and more, whether they are practicing reading the same text or reading new texts is important for development.


  3. Like Madeline above, I was a bit surprised to read how confidently Beers discredits highly disciplined settings in “The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor.” I also teach special education and have witnessed the gains students can make in a firmly structured environment. In fact, after reflecting on my experience this year, implementing stronger routines and a curriculum structure that helps students understand the “typical” process of a math investigation is one of my main priorities going into my second year as a math teacher.
    I think that the self-contained class I teach math is much more productive in my ELA counterpart’s more disciplined class. I think that to an extent, students need to be taught how to enjoy conversation, discuss, debate ideas, sit in groups and figure things out, make connections to their own lives, speculate and wonder, and think through multiple solutions. I don’t think this comes naturally. I think that it begins with structure.
    In fact, I think a lot of the weak points in my less successful lessons were emphasized by my expectation that students could already do this and the fact that I didn’t teach them to do it in a highly structured way. They were unsure and uncomfortable with the struggle that I let them simmer in. I specifically remember one lesson during which students introduced and discussed amazing ideas on their own and came up with a geometry formula. At the end, my mentor and I were so impressed with the way they developed the rule through their own investigation. But they didn’t feel that satisfaction. They were too focused on the struggle it took to get them there. They finally understood the math, but they were unsure why I let them take some much time to get it. I think students need to practice the “lack of structure” in a structured time, and that the benefits are built overtime.


    • Agreed on the need for structure, especially with some of the special education students. I teach three SETSS classes of 11th graders and, although by nature the class needs to be flexible to accommodate the individual needs of the students, have found that it is necessary to have a plan and structure every day. However, my goal is to help the students become more independent and responsible learners….and human beings.


  4. My co-teacher and I have have found it quite difficult to “leave the reader alone” as suggested in If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?”. Perhaps this is because they have never been left alone to read for any extended period of time, but they seem to lack the stamina for long period of independent reading and quickly become disengaged. When asked to respond to questions after reading passages, there are many “I need help” requests (although reading through guided practice seems to help). Perhaps it’s what they are reading – which is rarely, if ever, self-selected material as the author describes in the sustained silent reading approach. I teach 11th grade ICT US History and we seem to be in a continual debate on what and how our students should be reading. Many of the students, not just those receiving special education services, find the primary source documents they are assigned for reading extremely difficult (and yes sometimes boring) to understand, especially given the brief content background during a mini-lesson. Finding the balance between the expected rigor and the necessary level of accessibility for all students is a challenge. I proctored the 11th grade ELA Regents today for a small group of students who receive extended time and witnessed their exhaustion at having to complete this exam – one of the readings which was a famous speech given by Patrick Henry (a few took at nap during that part).

    I feel like I’ve read quite a few articles similar to The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor, that describes how some schools employe “segregation by intellectual rigor” in their attempts to give students the education they need (although I found it hard to believe that teachers actually referred to them as “those students”). We are guilty of photocopying packets that end up reducing complex historical topics into bite-size, memorizable, pieces of information that students will need to know for the Regents. However, engaging students in discussion and improving our practice as facilitators of discussion is an integral focus of our school. I have seen students who struggle with writing thematic and argumentative essays excel when they participate in socratic seminars or participate in mock trials.


  5. I found Beers’ video “Teaching Tip” to be helpful and also such a simple strategy to help struggling readers. I know many of my students have that initial, almost instinctive reaction to reading where once they’ve deemed something difficult/challenging, they think they can’t possibly understand it and they give up, rather than trying to reread for meaning. While I’ve know about the reread strategy for a while, the way Beers explains it is simple and straightforward and I think would be very easy to incorporate it into the classroom. I like her rating scale of 1-5 that a student uses to reevaluate comprehension each time they reread a passage.

    I agree with Madeline regarding the article “If They Don’t Read Much” as one of my biggest gripes as an ELA teacher of struggling readers is that they have very little time to apply the skill we teach them independently to texts on their reading levels/interest levels. I, too, believe there is so much value to independent reading in order for students to truly develop as readers and learn to apply correction strategies (either learned or self-taught). Allington also makes the remark that, “It seems [poor readers] are never placed in material which they can read fluently. Instead, more difficult material always awaits each progress.” I have encountered this throughout the past year in my 7th grade ELA curriculum, as many of my students are reading at early elementary levels and yet are expected to work with grade level texts. It wasn’t until I began leveling texts and giving them the opportunity to read at or closer to their instructional levels that I truly began to see growth and progress. Therefore, I would agree that “greater opportunity to engage in whatever is being learned” (in this case, reading) is critical for students to develop their reading abilities.

    The article “The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor” brought about similar feelings to what Alex noted above. I, too, often encounter colleagues who believe that our population of students are not capable of doing more creative things or accessing/applying higher order thinking skills. However, my administration is the complete opposite of the one described in this article — my principal is a big proponent of collaborative learning, questioning and discussion. Therefore, many of the “skill and drill” style teaching techniques mentioned in this article are severely frowned upon at my school. While I definitely see the benefit of order and structure and agree that it plays a necessary role in the classroom, I don’t think that structure means rigid instruction. Instead, I agree that students need to be able to think critically, discuss, question, and otherwise express themselves in order to truly learn. This doesn’t mean all order and organization has to be thrown to the wind, but rather clear procedures and expectations need to be established beforehand. It was really refreshing to read Beers diatribe at the end of the article, as I believe it really got to the heart of what we do as teachers and how important it is that we demand the same rigorous standards for for all students, regardless of zip code.


    • Just to add, since I teach at the same school as Rachel, I want to agree with her when she says my administration is the complete opposite. It is obvious that our administration has the practical experience and research base that the school mentioned in the reading doen not have. With that being said, more students at my school have the access to learning new things in cooperative learning environments, through questioning and discussion, etc. Similar to most schools, there are always those few students who are not interested in learning with their peers and want to be rebellious. These are the student who, in my opinion, need to experience a school that just focuses on structure in order for them to realize how rich their learning environment actually was at their home school. Maybe when they come back, they will have a different perspective on what it feels like to attend a good school where learning actually happens.


  6. When reading the opening paragraphs of Allington’s article “If They Don’t Read Much, How Are They Ever Gonna Get Good,” I was reminded of a concept we learned during the Fall semester in the Reading Methods class – the concept of the “Matthew Effect,” which states that one’s language skills, and specifically vocabulary knowledge, at a young age has dramatic consequences for future vocabulary aqusition. In particular, I remember learning that students with robust vocabulary banks in the third grade are likely to continue to grow in their vocabulary knowledge exponentially, while students with weak vocabulary banks at that same point in their education are likely to plateau and remain limited in their vocabulary knowledge. Allington echoes this point with his statement that, despite the use of many intervention strategies, we often see that “poor readers remain poor readers”. To this point, I appreciate that Allington has differentiated between teaching the skills necessary to be a fluent reader with the actual ability and push to read as much as possible. Simply teaching students decoding & comprehension skills is potentially not enough to help them beat the Matthew Effect of vocabulary and reading skills. In order to truly make massive gains, students need to grapple independently and frequently with language.

    Kylene Beers seems to agree with Allington’s argument in her article “The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor,” in which she argues that writing has become, in many schools, more about the rote memorization and copying of skills and methods than about creative expression and independent communication. Especially in low-income, urban schools, Beers notices that writing and reading – essentially literacy – has become focused on structure, discipline, and “the basics” at the expense of creativity, discussion, and important, big, messy ideas (page 3).

    I appreciate and agree with the points made by both authors, and I look forward to learning strategies in this class that enable me as an educator to make the promise of truly overcoming the Matthew Effect and evolving from literacy skills to discussion and creative ideas come true. I wonder – how can we achieve this vision? I also wonder – how do we maneuver in a bureaucratic and administrative environment that prioritizes testing and “mastery” of “standards” over the type of discussion-based, creative literacy instruction envisioned by Beers?


  7. I’m going to go against the previous commentators who criticize Beers’ push for teachers to allow students to engage in debate, discussion and inquiry on the grounds that their skill levels are not up to snuff and that structure is very important in building up said skills. Structure is important, but often students can become dependent on the structure and supports of the class. As teachers, it sometimes feels like the eye of Sauron is burning a hole in our brains -watching our every move – but it’s important to keep perspective. Push back from students for struggling is hard, and it will often seem as if our students are focusing more on the failure than the rewards of inquiry. They are, but we have to keep in mind that failure is a part of life that our students need to come to grips with (further reading on this Ultimately, I’m wary of the structuralist argument because it represents (to me) the very human tendency to mistake stability and safety for actual growth. To paraphrase a famous exile, freedom entails a certain degree of risk. As teachers it is worth it for us to give our students the chance to fail on their own and receive their immediate complaints (and scorn) so that they can learn that they are capable of learning on their own.

    While this may not be a satisfactory follow-up, Beers’ video on “Advice for Teachers” gives us an important insight: students learn from repetition. If given the opportunity to read the same passage over and over again increases comprehension, who’s to say that giving students more opportunities to debate, discuss and inquiry wouldn’t lead to the same degree of comfort? A more frightening thought is the lesson learned from the repetition of rigid structure.



  8. Response to “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” by Richard L. Allington; “The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor”; and “Teaching Tip” from Kylene Beers

    Realizing that very little reading is happening during the case study of remedial reading instruction reminds me of the difference between rigorous activities and engaging activities. While students and teachers may ave very well been engaged in their tasks, the activity may have not been rigorous. When teachers and students expel effort, it should be with a purpose.

    My students greatly lack opportunities to read. Many of them have become fearful of reading or complain when they have sustained reading. My co-teacher has struggled to build a future of reading in the classroom. We rarely do read- alouds or pop-corn readings because it has become unpopular to have students read out loud for fear of embarrassing them.

    I very much agree with Kylene Beers perspective that intellectual segregation is in the school system and immoral and “appallingly unjust.” That perspective is also in my school, and sometimes in my classroom. I constantly have problems with my students and co-teachers regarding my students abilities, our expectations, and being undermined by negative student behaviors. Laziness in the teaching perfusion is the kiss of death, and those who don’t evolve die, but unfortunately often keep teaching. Not having enough planning time to adequately prepare thematic and rigorous units prevents real progress. While a lesson here and there will provide real thinking, challenge, and rigor, they have been the anomaly rather than the norm. Teachers who lack structure, including myself, are poison to students who, yes need structure, but also need structures room to breath, in the academic sense. My students are afraid to try because trying might mean failing. The teachers on my grade team are also afraid to try because they don’t plan enough, are afraid to fail themselves, and don’t trust the students either intellectually or behaviorally. The behavior element is where I greatly struggle. I do my absolute best to be respectful, thoughtful, and model the behavior that I want to see. I foster relationships with my students. And yet, the management of the classrooms I go in to with them is generally awful. The awful, disruptive, and disrespectful behavior often gets in to way of the more rigorous learning tasks. I do not know what to do in these situations. My students are definitely getting a subpar education and I know that I am culpable.


  9. My biggest take away from Allington’s article “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” is to allow students the time to read. We teachers are so focused on what we can do to “help” our students become better readers, we never give them enough time to just read on their own uninterrupted. Most of my students who struggle with reading the most do not find the time to read at home or during their free time. That lack of practice and exposure to different readings is what hinders them the most. I also think Allington’s suggestion about allowing students to reread the same reading multiple times until they master it is a great way to become a better reader. Once you start mastering familiar pieces of reading, you can transcend those skills into new readings until it becomes easier to do.

    The reading “the Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor” left me wondering what I would do if I was in a situation where I had to teach “those kids”. For starters, the teachers are an obvious reflection of instruction that comes from the administration. Based on my experience, I understand why the administration may feel that some of these students just need structure. On the other hand, I do not agree that all students should be educationally punished based on the actions of a few. I have seen my share of students who if you give them just a little bit of freedom, they take complete advantage and act inappropriately in many ways. In the case of this urban school, I am assuming this is the best way to minimize disruptive behavior in that atmosphere. Unfortunately, these students are just being compliant, and they are not actually learning. The reading also mentioned that the administration admitted that they do not have the research base and practical experience to implement new strategies for learning that may be beneficial in these tough environments. If the teachers and administrators do not have the tools and knowledge to teach these kids, then the kids ultimately will not be learning. I think this type of structure will work for students who have gotten suspended temporarily from their home schools, that way they can appreciate real instruction and learning when the suspension is up and they go back to their school.

    In the video “Teaching Tips” by Kylene Beers, the first suggestion is having students reread something they did not understand. Since many struggling readers do not know how to reread for understanding, we as teachers need to ask them questions and have students self evaluate themselves on how well they understood a particular passage. They will start to realize that maybe they rushed through the reading, or that they were not focused when reading the passage the first time. After reading multiple times, they are able to focus on what they did not understand the first time, and visualize what the point of the passage is.


  10. Allington’s article raised a number of different interesting and inquisitive thoughts while reading. To begin, his wondering about whether or not “teachers have confused the means of reading instruction with the end of fluent reading” is innovative and, as far as I know, original. I too have overlooked the possibility of the fact that maybe too much reading instruction has actually inadvertently limited the amount of reading that students are actually doing in the classroom. I find his following suggestions to be quite insightful. For example, leaving the reader alone seems, to many of us, counter-intuitive. Yet I totally understand the reasoning behind it. Sometimes it is best to just let students keep working through it. Stop actually trying to teach them something for a moment (even though we are all educators and can hardly think about doing that for a second), and let them work with it, let them struggle with it, let them figure it out. By doing this, we allow our students to continue practicing, without inhibiting them with something else they should try and remember to do, or something to correct, while they’re doing it.

    As is in Allington’s article and also in the Beers video clip, I really like the idea of reading something multiple times. I’ve discussed this in other classes before this one and have continued to think that it is something that sounds useful in so many different ways, yet I haven’t had the time to implement it. In my classroom, I get so wrapped up in the pacing of our content, and the place I know I need to get to by the end of the class period and I haven’t built in time to read a single passage multiple times. (Something I hope to do better at next year…)

    As for the article by Beers, I feel as though I have read that journal entry a million times before. While I agree with most of the points she is making in the article (most importantly that a group of students should never be labeled with as simple of a word as “those” simply because of their race or socio-economic status), I don’t feel as though she is saying anything new. I value the importance of discipline because I think that many students need it and that all students need structure. I believe in guidelines and expectations and rules for engagement and know that different situations call for different disciplinary structures. But the creation of that also depends on the goals of the school and the direction in which the educators at that school want to push their students. I don’t think “we have forgotten that the best teachers are thoughtful, creative, independent thinkers.” But I wonder if maybe some of us have forgotten that the system has jaded many into thinking the way these teachers did. The question should be, what are we going to do about it?


    • I agree with your point about the importance of structure in the classroom. I think students and teachers alike both need structure, however, within that structure, there should be room for both creativity, engagement and high expectations for all students. Students need to be challenged with rigorous instruction, for if they are not, they are only going to perform at the level that we are asking of them.


  11. In “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” Allington (1977) discusses the idea of remediation and intervention for poor and struggling readers and how instructors neglect to realize that with all these programs, students need time to actually read independently. Programs often target individual skills, but if we keep interrupting students from practice, then they will never have the opportunity to synthesize these skills as a product of improved literacy. Allington (1977) recommends that we as instructors give students time to read independently, but offers other strategies as well, such as “read[ing] orally and in unison in an identical passage,” read a text multiple times, and giving students a regular, fixed-period of time to read texts that the students choose themselves.
    In “Teaching Tips,” Beers also discusses emphasizes Allington’s ideas of reading a text multiple times to improve comprehension. She also improves this strategy by having the teacher to ask students to self-evaluate as the reread on a scale of 1 to 5. Not only do students learn meta-cognitive skills to evaluate their own comprehension, but it allows students to realize that with each reading, they are improving in comprehension and that they are developing a skill that “good” readers have.
    Finally, in “The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor,” Beers (2009) identifies a factor for the the low literacy rates of students today: socioeconomic levels that predetermine where a student goes to school. Often times, students attend the schools that Beers describe, which is not that different than my current setting. The students often come from low-income families, and it is unfortunate that they are locked into an educational system that insists they know who they are and what they need in order to succeed. Beers understands that that mentality is one that needs to be corrected, as all students learn differently from one another and that their teachers do not need a script in order to attain learning goals. As teachers, we need to follow evolving paths that best suit our students rather than follow predetermined ideas that may actually be detrimental to our students’ learning experiences.


  12. After watching the video from Kylene Beers, I found myself agreeing that students absolutely benefit from multiple readings of a text. My question is the best process for getting them to do so…many of the students I work with find reading a text multiple times redundant and frustrating, and I am wondering if anyone has strategies for making multiple readings of a text engaging and meaningful? I have used strategies like having them first circle “clunks” words they don’t know, then underlining “clicks” (concepts that makes sense for them), but would love to hear of some alternative approaches.


  13. The video clip of Kylene Beers connected the dots for me with the Allington article. My biggest take away is this is how I teach naturally. I don’t think our job is to create the best “students”. Our students will not be students forever and it is our job to create citizens and active community members. Part of that is learning to read for real. Allington talks about the importance of really reading, not just doing short activities to learn reading strategies. Those strategies are important, and I certainly teach them in my literature class, but the focus is on literature. We read real books. Students are given time to read independently. We read and re-read.

    I think what Allington is saying connects to what I often hear around math instruction: connect instruction to the world, tell the students why this is important. Reading in the real world is not about sounding out words and identifying vowel sounds, as Allington says. It is about applying those strategies fluently and with meaning. Reading is ultimately about gaining true meaning that can be applied in any context. We are preparing our students for whatever lives they will lead when they are finished with school, and that means preparing them with real life skills, not isolated strategies that students don’t understand how to apply.

    This is what Beers was talking about in her article, I think. She talks about it specifically in at-risk schools where students are not treated as people, whether it is pressures on principles to get test-scores up, or teachers thinking their job is to only provide rules and structure to students who have challenging home lives. My students come primarily from affluent homes, but they all have learning disabilities and have come from schools and families that don’t know how to help them learn. My students certainly need structure and rules, I think most do, but again, the point is for students to be learning to be people, not students. Beers doesn’t make this point so explicitly, though it is certainly underlying in her article, but teachers and schools often forget the point of school. It is not to have master students. There is not the same intense structure and rules for every moment of the day once students are out in the real world. Our job is to provide structure but to make it transparent so that they understand what they must do for themselves one day.


  14. The Article If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” by Allington gave great insight as to improving reading and why it is important to do so. One of the strategies mentioned in the article was sustained silent reading. This is actually something that I have gotten my 6th grade students to enjoy doing for 20 minutes at a time. Some of the students that truly enjoy it are the most troublesome of the bunch. In order for it to successfully work, the student must choose a text that they are interested in. Most of my students enjoy picture books. They pick a corner of the room to sit down at they love and they will get comfortable and read for 20 minutes. During that time I also read and at the end we journal about our reading. They love this time.
    The article by Beers was very powerful in the sense that there are many places that regard kids as “those” kids. It is easy for anyone to get lost in their own frustrations with students. I definitely have had my share of those moments where I wish I could just get students to be quiet so that they may learn the basics to later move up the Bloom Taxonomy ladder. I also have a principal who believes that our kids should have access things such as food. I have also seen students get these privileges and abuse them which in turn makes teachers frustrated. I understand this article on a deep level. That being said, regardless of how limited a child is they should have access to an enriching education.


  15. My biggest take away from Allington’s article “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” was the simple importance of good practice. The first week of school we did F&P leveling to level our new 8th graders so that they could begin to check out books from the school library. Some of the lowest readers were signed up for “Reading Mastery” which is a tutoring program three days a week that focuses on baseline reading skills. Since I run a similar program for some of our lowest math students I have never seen the program in action. After reading the article I begin to wonder just how much actual “reading” the students in “Reading Mastery” do? And if they are not doing enough individualized reading, how much more beneficial would it be for them to do more independent reading?

    I found it extremely interesting that the first strategy suggested to help poor readers improve is to basically do nothing. It was eye opening to see the importance of developing individual reading habits that ultimately may lead students to read more in non-school situations.

    I was particularly fond of the re-reading strategy. We are constantly pushing progress and the next challenge. Helping our lowest readers develop confidence and fluency is a giant step towards helping them become stronger readers. Students need to get accustomed to reading fluently, and swiftly. There is no better way to do this then allow them to reread certain passages to help build reading self-belief.


  16. I found both the article from Allington and Beers to be quite interesting. While I don’t teach reading instruction, I have always perceived reading interventions to be targeted at very specific aspects of reading that are in need of remediation. It was interesting to read that as a result of this, students typically do very little reading during intervention. This is contrary to what one would expect from reading intervention! Given my understanding of the Matthew Effect, I believe that as Allington suggests, one of the best things educators can do to support reading, is simply to let students read. The more students read, and thus the more exposure that they get, the more fluent that they can become. One important thing to note however, is that it is important to allow students to read text that they are comfortable with and that is at their level. So often students demonstrate an ability to work through one text, and then they are given a harder text, thus never being able to read fluently for an extended period of time. Rather than push the more challenging texts, it is more important that students begin to develop an ease and comfort with reading. This can be achieved through a variety of strategies as suggested by Allington, including but not limited to multiple readings of a material and reading in unison with a fluent reader.

    In the second article, I was struck by the school that Beers described in, ‘The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor.’ While I know schools such as this are not uncommon, it is nonetheless still shocking each time I hear about schools that are doing students a disservice, rather than educating students with their best interests at heart. One thing that I have been taught that I firmly believe in is that students need to be given high expectations. This is somewhat related to the idea of learned helplessness. If students are told that they cannot, or come to internalize this belief, then it will come to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Students will achieve based on where the bar is set for them. As such, it is essential that we set high expectations for our students and hold them, and ourselves, accountable to these expectations. One question that I have had related to this is how best to increase rigor and have high expectations while also ensuring students have the foundational skills necessary to succeed? One thing I have noticed over the course of this year is that many of my students are lacking in the foundational skills necessary to succeed in higher-level math, such as number sense, an understanding of negative numbers and fractions, etc. While it is important that we continue with the curriculum, the more challenging the material gets, the more the low students struggle and fall farther and farther behind. Looking ahead to next year, I know I need to perform better baselines at the beginning of the year and develop individual action plans for my students to meet them where they are at and help guide them on the path through the rigorous material, thus still holding them accountable to high expectations.


  17. When reading the article, “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” by Allington I was constantly oscillating between his suggestions on independent reading for remediation and the ideas I had previously learned regarding focusing on particular skills needed by the student. Although he argues remedial and corrective reading focus too much on a particular skill, I find that fluency is key in order for students to comprehend the text they are reading. There is research showing that by improving a student’s decoding skills, the student is then able to use more of his/her energy to comprehend the text, rather than being exhausted after finally decoding a word to then move to the next and experience the same problem. I agree with some of the strategies Allington presents, while remaining doubtful of others. I can understand how aggravating it must be for students who after making strides and increasing their reading level, are then met with more difficult material without giving them time to assimilate in the level they have just reached. This can be both overwhelm and deter students from reading. Additionally, giving students time to read independently, or taking turns reading out loud has shown improvements in my own classroom where students are required to read for forty-five minutes of the ELA block. From my own experience, other strategies such as rereading of the same passage and note or video improvements would not prove as beneficial since my students would simply memorize the passage instead of reading it.

    In the video, “Teaching Tip: Kylene Beers on Struggling Readers” I was very surprise at the simplicity of such a recommendation. Although I do not teach ELA, it never fails to surprise me how often students will not reread word problems in order to understand it on their own. Instead, as she mentioned, they often rush through the problem and if they do not understand, they either wait for me to explain it, or rely on their group to offer a possible solution. By making students read it three times and self-evaluate their level of comprehension each time, they are able to not only understand the text, but also realize that by rereading they can independently figure out what they are struggling with and move on. I would like to apply this strategy as soon as possible before the grade period is over so that my students can have some practice before next year.

    Kylene Beers article, “The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor” was a sad reminder of what many educators think in regards of low-income students. While I believe structure is absolutely necessary for students to be able to succeed in their academic and social settings, it is not, nor should it be, the sole focus of their education. Although my school struggles in giving students structure and order to facilitate learning; they do push for students to interact and learn from each other. In my classroom, students know that while we are giving our mini lesson, they are to be paying attention and engaged; now, I believe that it is just as much my job as it is theirs to keep that engagement. Simply having students follow orders prepares them to living a life in which they are constantly being told what to do rather than thought to create their own thoughts and positively question what they are told and what they learn. This is what we focus in my classroom. I do not want my students to simply take in what I’m saying because, I, in the position of a teacher, said it. I want them to question why it is that way, I want them to have discussions and never take the so common “it is what it is”. This article provides a story that is sadly still present in many schools, including my own. Teachers teaching to the test, believing students cannot achieve more simply because of where they live or where they come from, a curriculum that it is far too dry for students to want to engage in. Even requests to make small changes to make it more dynamic, are constantly met with rebuttals and opposition. Sadly my best answer has been to never go into the teachers lounge, and make small changes to the curriculum without permission and hope it is not an observation day, since “it’s better to bet for forgiveness than to ask for permission”.


  18. The article by Allington, “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?”, brings up several situations I have professionally experienced in my classroom. The majority of my students do not want to read and even refuse to do so in their native language! Today specifically, I was teaching regents prep in my English class and one student refused to read a very short poem, literally 8 lines, she stated that she did not like to read. This is just one example of many that I have to work with on a daily basis. I do not really know what factors contribute to the lack of motivation for reading but I think that their low literacy skills must be one of them. Allington suggests that students should be left alone to read to improve their reading skills. I would argue this particular suggestion. I think it is essential to implement strategies based on the type of population of students at your particular school. Maybe leaving students to try to read on their own can help them develop reading fluency but I am sure that it would not work for ELL students who have recently arrived in the United States. I know this for a fact. All of my kids are ELLs and their literacy skills are extremely low due to a variety of reasons, some did not have the opportunity to attend school because of turmoil in their native countries, some did go to school but their teachers did not prepare them, and some just could not afford to attend school for whatever reason. Now, I cannot leave my students to read on their own because they need to learn the foundation of reading and language acquisition. Also, I do not intend to “other” my students but I do believe that right now, at my school specifically, my students need to be dependent on their teachers before they can try to read on their own, and that is totally ok. For this reason, having specific routines and firm rules are necessary. I have to admit that I was not expecting an educator like Beers to not advocate for a strong/firm set of rules and routines in the classroom. During training as a teacher, we were constantly told to have clear and firm class routines/rules for a successful classroom experience. Sometimes it is difficult to be a first-year teacher when very reliable and professional people tell you two different things. I personally like to be firm without coming off as mean, being approachable is also essential to build rapport with students. Routines are fundamental for my professional success and the success of my students, therefore, I intend on implementing my classroom routines next year again.


  19. After reading Kylene Beers’ “The Genteel Unteaching of America’s Poor,” I am ashamed to admit that I, too, have once identified my students as “those kids.” Not even a year after I joined TFA, I have forgotten the vision of the organization which is that “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” As a special education teacher at an inner city middle school, I was at first shocked, and then defeated, by how big the gap is. Most of my students are not on grade level and many are years behind. It is disheartening to see how many of them still struggle with basic addition and subtraction as a “7th grader.” On the one hand, it is my responsibility to help them bridge that gap so that they may catch up with their peers of same age; on the other hand, I often find myself planning for the most basic things yet running out of ideas to introduce those concepts in creative/interesting ways. It is conflicted feeling in my heart, one voice telling me, “This is s easy. It’s the most basic skill. We’ll breeze through this, probably.” and another voice then echoing that last “probably.”

    I feel constantly at war in my heart, always trying to decide whether this is the day when I challenge and push my students’ thinking. “Will they be able to handle it?” “Probably not.” “Okay, let’s go with the packet.” That is often the conversation between me and my co-teacher. It’s not that we have given up trying or that we are lazy, but the past experience with students’ troubling behavior has intimidated us into people that’d like to play it safe. So many times I tried to put in some materials that required higher order thinking, attempting to inspire curiosity from my students, but the result was either apathy or it was obvious that the concept was way over their heads. When I’d debrief with my co-teacher about how the lesson went, we both found it sad that our students didn’t seem too excited or engaged by the challenging materials. I guess we get used to blaming our students instead of reflecting back on the materials given to them: Why was it too difficult? Why were they not interested? Is there another way to scaffold this? How can I make this lesson better and more engaging? Those are the questions that are hard to ask oneself at the end of a long, exhausting teaching day, yet so crucial for one’s development and improvement as a teacher. I think my main takeaway from this particular article is that I need to remember to evaluate not only my students but also myself after each lesson, so that I might have a better next day and next year.


  20. While I was able to grasp some major take-aways from both articles along with the Kylene Beers video, it is Allington’s piece that resonates with me the most. In the article “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” by Allington, provides readers with concepts that very often get overlooked in the classroom. I found it intriguing that while Allington acknowledged the importance of teaching strategies within the area of reading, he informs readers that doing this can be counter productive when it comes to struggling readers. He goes on to point out that in placing the focus of the lesson on teaching reading strategies, instructors are unintentionally harming students as this instructional practice takes away the opportunity for students actually read. The concept that resonates with me the most is that our struggling readers will continue to struggle if we, as teachers, are not willing to change the way in which we teach. I appreciate this article because it challenges my original perspective on what reading looks and sounds like in the classroom. He tells us that ultimately regardless of the strategies we’re providing our students with, if we are not providing them with actual reading time, then we are doing them a disservice.
    Moving forward, I question how to effectively implement this practice in the setting of a middle school Math classroom.


  21. Allington’s article, “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” had me immediately questioning what he considers “good readers.” He later defines readers by words per minute, but is that what we as teachers consider good readers, or fast readers? And although we do have a set limit of time in the classroom, it doesn’t make a person a bad reader if they read more slowly.
    He continues to discuss the methods/strategies/interventions used by poor readers and notices it was not reading they were doing, but using skills. This is important to note because once a student has the strategies in their back pocket, they can be used again, however, reading practice is not to be overlooked. Often times reading can be a turn off to students as Allington mentioned because these methods/strategies/interventions and practice have been drilled into poor readers, yet, as he continues, reading repeatedly is needed for the solidification of these skills. By teaching the methods/skills/strategies and leaving the student alone to read we find a balance between the two.
    Giving students to practice reading in a variety of ways is great in helping them with reading (as shown through repeated reading, class read alouds, etc).
    When reading Kylene Beer’s article, “The Gentile Unteaching of America’s Poor” I thought of NY charter schools. The experiences, classrooms, and teachers all seemed reminiscent. It is difficult what “side” to be on, the staffs or the authors, and both would benefit from seeing each other’s point of view. An urban school like that may benefit from the structure that was mentioned, but could also benefit from open discussions and relation to real life experiences in order to engage students better. Where structure and open ideas can flow is where students will motivate themselves to read and participate, not just by answering repetitive worksheets, but first, students must be given the chance to prove their maturity and ability to participate in work that is not a cut and dry worksheet.
    Kylene Beer’s video that addresses student metacognition is powerful. At times I think students are so used to being given a direction that they follow it, but don’t give it much thought. By asking a student why they have made progress involves them in their own accomplishments and helps them to recognize what they did in order to achieve success. Witnessing this success can serve as a motivator and helping students to recognize what they did in order to be successful will help them to repeat those actions in the future.


  22. As this year closes to an end, my school and I continue to reflect on the various shifts that are occurring inside our school, inside the communities our school serves, and inside the educational NYC DOE system. We are grappling with common core shifts that emphasize different skills then ones my peers and I had to use in order to pass regents 15, 10, and even 5 years ago. Readers are now expected to not only comprehend material, but also manipulate that material in a way where they are synthesizing and refuting arguments across all content areas. In math in particular students are spending more time focusing on written explanation as to how they arrived at their answers rather than the algebraic formulas or mathematics skills.


    • Response continued, got cut off.

      This brings me to Richard Allington’s Article “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good.” Allington addresses the point that sometimes teachers have the reflex to interject and interrupt a reader while they are practicing and struggling. We want to see our students succeed, and try to offer as much assistance as possible in order to ensure this success. However, we also need to let our students struggle in a moderate amount and have them confront their struggles and weaknesses with practice and determination. In my school, we are overhauling our curriculum in order to more closely align ourselves with the NYS standards as well as the Common Core standards. In my Social Studies classroom we will be expected a lot more for students to grapple with the grade level textbook both in school and at home. Students will have a lot of time to independently read and process information, which as a teacher scares me when I feel that many of my students are not ready for a high-school level textbook. However, with the right supplemental and support texts, the textbook complexity that frustrates many students becomes clearer. When students take the effort to engage in these supportive texts and tools, they are able to independently bridge the gaps in their learning and reading level in order to understand a text.


  23. I enjoyed reading Allington’s article, “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” Although I hadn’t thought about it before, I agree with Allington that we do not focus enough on the act of reading when teachings struggling readers. Allington attributes this to teachers getting caught up in teaching specific strategies; although I find this explanation compelling, I think there might also be other explanations for this trend.
    First, I think many teachers shy away from giving students independent reading time because doing so poses a management challenge. I have found that many students, especially struggling readers, are more likely to act out during independent reading time than during other classroom activities. I imagine that many teachers revert to teaching and drilling specific reading strategies because it is easier to hold student focus and control student behavior during such activities. In other words, I disagree with Allington’s view that teachers do not give students enough time to practice reading because they undervalue the act of reading as a learning tool. Rather, I think teachers focus more on specific strategies than reading practice because, in their experience, many students are reluctant or unwilling to engage in reading practice. To remedy the problem that Allington addresses, therefore, it is not enough to introduce teachers to effective reading practice strategies. Teachers must also be taught how to effectively motivate students to engage in the act of reading.
    Second, I think many teachers shy away from giving students independent reading time because of concerns about how administrators and other evaluators may view this approach. I worry that if my principal walked into my classroom and saw students independently reading while I deliberately refrained from intervening in the process, I would likely be reprimanded for not incorporating rigorous instruction, especially if I was expected to be teaching a remedial reading course. Therefore, solving Allington’s problem also necessitates communicating to all stakeholders the value of giving students time to practice reading.
    Based on these thoughts, I have two questions for the group: First, what strategies have you found to be effective when trying to motivate students to engage in independent reading practice? Second, how do your administrators view extended independent reading and other forms of reading practice in the classroom?


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