Getting struggling students to read requires both data and compassion

When I became an administrator back in 2008, I realized there were too many students flying under the radar and not reading at their grade level. If there’s one thing I know as an educator, now a superintendent, it’s that reading level defines success—period. Research shows that if a student reads on grade level, his or her likelihood of being successful dramatically increases.

Early in my educational career, I learned first-hand the impact of using student achievement data to guide my instruction, but assessment results don’t tell the whole story of a student. As part of my mission to see that no student falls through the cracks, all are greater than average, and everyone graduates knowing how to read, I developed an idea called “Truthful Kindness and Necessary Action” to help me balance objective reporting and empathy for students.

The ‘compassionate rescue’ is not enough

In my district, we talk a lot about being kind to students. While my teachers are extremely kind, there are situations where students are what I call “compassionately rescued” from their struggles. In other words, teachers may be allowing struggling students to slide through, or rescue them from the necessary struggle of having to master key skills, when they haven’t shown mastery.…Read More

This city’s blended learning program has led to a big culture shift

Key takeaways:

  • A blended learning program in D.C. began in 2012 is freeing up time for more project-based learning by pairing ELA and math software with individualized lessons.
  • Both national and local grants are providing much of the funding.
  • A training program is helping teachers rethink lessons for blended learning.
  • One school has seen an 11-point increase in its math proficiency rate and a 4.5-point increase in reading.
  • “We’ve seen a real culture shift here and I suspect that we’ll see continued changes and a lot of success,” said one district ed-tech leader.

For the past two years, the Washington, D.C. Public School District (DCPS) has earned a sort of celebrity status with lawmakers, superintendents, and think tank heads filing in to see what, and especially how, students are learning. They have a good reason to visit. In a district that has been plagued with low test scores and student performance, several D.C. schools have seen student proficiency levels jump in math and reading in recent years.

Part of their success has hinged on the way teachers are using blended learning in the classroom.

“Blended learning definitely has been an important factor in the changes we’ve seen in our students, our teachers, and in our schools,” says David Rose, deputy chief in the district’s Dept. of Educational Technology and Library Programs.…Read More

5 ways to gamify writing in the classroom

Believe it or not, writing is a natural fit for gamification techniques

You’ve surely noticed how your class gets engaged as soon as you introduce a game into the teaching process. The students get competitive, but that’s a healthy competition you want to nurture.

Have you ever thought about teaching writing through games? It’s a great strategy that helps students overcome the lack of motivation they have regarding writing assignments. Robert Monroe, a writer for EduGeeksClub and a father of a 10-year-old, explains how he made writing attractive for his son: “I realized he was bored whenever he had to write something for school. I know how fun writing can be, so I found a way to turn it into a game. I set up a private online diary and gave him brief prompts every day. He received points for each ‘level’ he passed and a prize for every big achievement. I noticed great improvements in his grammar and style in a really short period of time.”

Needless to say, you’ll need an effective strategy that will help you introduce writing games in the classroom. Read on; we have the tips you need.…Read More

App of the Week: The total package for middle school ELA

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from the editors of Graphite.org, a free service from Common Sense Education. Click here to read the full app review.

iTooch 6th Grade Language Arts

What’s It Like? iTooch 6th Grade Language Arts is a resource for middle school language arts classrooms. Its five sections offer lessons, practice questions, and quizzes on a wide range of topics, including reading comprehension, grammar, composition skills, vocabulary, and communication. The quiz questions are notable for their depth: There are tough questions about tone and thoughtful questions about writing mechanics and grammar. Passages include fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and offer a range of topics, from a speech to children about staying in school from President George H.W. Bush to a speech about American values from President Barack Obama.

Price: Free/paid

Rating: 4/5…Read More

Common Core is changing how schools teach ELA and math

New report finds Common Core is affecting reading and math — but not test scores

States considered strong adopters of Common Core are more likely to see a de-emphasis of fiction and a decline in advanced math enrollment among middle school students, according to a new report that also found a trivial difference in test scores between states that have and have not adopted the standards.

The report, from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, pulls data from surveys conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to see how far Common Core recommendations have seeped into states’ instruction, comparing data from 2011 to 2015. The question of whether students should focus on analyzing fiction, which has been traditionally favored by schools, or nonfiction, which is favored by the CCSS, was considered a major implementation hurdle just a few years ago.

On that point, it appears Common Core’s suggestions are winning out over entrenched practice. In 2011, according to the data, 63 percent of students had teachers who said they emphasized fiction, compared with 38 percent of students with teachers who said they were emphasizing nonfiction — a 25 percent gap. By 2015, however, that gap had shrunk to just eight percent, with 45 percent of students who have teachers emphasizing nonfiction. The gap shrunk for eighth grade students from 34 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015.…Read More

Good online teaching is often just plain good teaching

One teacher learns that the secret to good online teaching is all in the approach

I have heard a lot of people say that they don’t think that online schooling works well because there isn’t in-person interaction between a student and their teacher. This belief is a myth. When both teachers and students participate the same way they would in a face-to-face setting, amazing things happen in the online world—just as often as they do in the traditional classroom.

A couple of years ago, I taught a student in an online creative writing class. At 19, John was behind in school and still trying to graduate. Classes were arduous for him, and he often didn’t pass them. These failures discouraged him, so he stopped trying completely—which caused his already low skill set to deteriorate even further.

Since traditional brick-and-mortar classes clearly weren’t working for him, John attempted online courses through his local high school. Online classes offered John a new method of learning that was previously unavailable to him and a more flexible way to get back on the path to graduation.…Read More

App of the week: Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Classroom Edition

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from Graphite by Common Sense Media. Click here to read the full app review.

 

hooked-phonics-appWhat it’s like: Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Classroom Edition includes 12 steps; each teaches rimes and letter sounds to help kids build words. Within each step, videos with catchy songs introduce letter sounds and sight words, and games help kids build words using onsets and rimes. Kids practice reading immediately, starting with step one, using the three ebooks that correspond with each step.
Price: $49.99
Grades: Pre-K-1
Pros: Rich resource includes a full phonics curriculum for an entire class of students.
Cons: Hefty price tag could put it out of reach of some teachers.
Bottom line: Thorough, high-quality phonics program offers impressive benefits for emerging readers.
…Read More

Report: ELA teachers not implementing Common Core

ELA teachers aren’t making the instructional shifts necessary for the Common Core

ELA-teachers-common-core According to a stunning report released today, “a huge percentage of ELA teachers” aren’t making the instructional shifts necessary for the Common Core, instead relying on old teaching materials and classroom practices. The report suggests that this lack of proper implementation could be setting students back in reading skills.

The report, released today by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments,” makes the argument that since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), though national math scores have improved, reading (ELA) scores have barely budged. [Click here for the publication homepage.]

“How can it be that a nationwide push to improve reading has had only a negligible impact on overall reading achievement, even among out nation’s highest-performing districts and schools?” asks Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education; and Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior advisor for Policy and Instruction at The College Board and a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.…Read More