How I Read as a Literacy Leader

cesar-viteri-426877-unsplashSchoool leaders cannot know literacy without being a reader. Therefore we have to read. Here, I share five suggestions for becoming a more intentional reader.

  • Read widely.

This means reading across a variety of genres and modes. Both online and offline. The main benefit is that we don’t get pinned within one type of prose. Otherwise, we might get into a reading rut. Like well-worn tire tracks in the woods, we can get stuck within these constraints and not realize the variety that literature has so much to offer. We should also read newspapers, magazines, blog posts, tweets…anything worth our attention.

Consider: When’s the last time you read fiction? As a school leader, I can relate to our busy lives. Reading fiction may seem superfluous. But at what cost? Research shows many benefits to reading fiction, including building a broader perspective and developing empathy. Nonfiction is also enjoyable; however, the best nonfiction has a narrative arc. This is not a post about reading fiction as much as it is to stress the importance of reading widely and becoming a well-rounded individual.

  • Read regularly.

Habits take time and intention. We repeat what we enjoy. So it is important that we construct our environments for optimal times for reading and accessing text. For example, I always have a to-read pile on my bedside table. I’ll even organize this stack based on which book I plan to read next… #nerdalert

During the school day, I sometimes carry a book or article with me on the off-chance of downtime, what Donalyn Miller refers to as a “reading emergency”. My two children have emulated my practice. Imagine what your students might do if you tried the same thing. If life is too busy for even that, consider audiobooks. Audible offers a monthly membership where you can download any book to listen to in the car to and from school. Whatever life throws at you, just read.

  • Read publicly.

Reading in public view is one of the best ways to encourage everyone to be a reader. We make it visibly acceptable to be a reader wherever we may be. I think there is this cultural aspect that has formed, where it is now okay to check in with our smartphones constantly, while reading a book becomes less of a norm. And to write in public…aghast! You will get weird looks at worst, apathy at best.

Digitally speaking, I post my book covers in my email signature from Goodreads. When I update my book I am reading, the cover changes. I am a part of a community of readers through Goodreads, which gives me access to others’ reviews of books I have read plus ideas for future reading. This is something you as a leader can share with students, who can emulate this practice through Biblionaisum. If online is not to your taste, maybe have a book board where you print off covers of titles you are reading by your door, like our school librarian.

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  • Read critically.

It’s good to remember that every text is the author’s take on the truth. That means I read with a critical lens. I’ll have a pen in hand and write in the margins. It’s a transactional process, where I am interpreting what I am reading through my current and limited thinking (why I need a reading community, see prior). As an example, I will sometimes highlight a few words in the text and accompany this annotation with a question or a comment. The author and I are (almost) having a conversation in this sense.

Sometimes, I will even select a text that runs counter to my current beliefs. At the very least, I will understand multiple sides of an issue. It’s also possible that my thinking will change on a topic. For example, I have picked up The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. This text, critical of reading online, will pair well with Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan. I can read both with a critical stance, knowing the two authors are coming at this similar topic from different perspectives, which could expand my own point of view regarding new literacies.

  • Read selectively.

For some professional resources, I have moved away from feeling I have to read the whole book. Some of the content is more relevant than other parts. My time is limited. Furthermore, I don’t have time for bad writing. The official reviews on Amazon, from legitimate sites and sources, are often reliable. We have to remember that we have permission to say “no” with regard to our precious time.

Same goes for recreational reading. For example, if someone recommends a book to me, and upon preview it is not of interest, I feel okay about declining. That said, I have been more careful about my own book recommendations to others. With others, I might say “You might find this book interesting. If you want, check it out. If you are not interested, feel free to throw it my mailbox.”

How do you read as a leader? What strategies or books have helped you know literacy? Please share in the comments.

 

Summer Book Club 2018: Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman @StenhousePub #LitEssentials

Literacy EssentialsI am pleased and honored to share that we will be reading Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018) for our summer book club. I’ve already read it and can attest to its excellence as a literacy resource for all educators. From May through July, contributors will post their thinking and takeaways on this collaborative blog while reading the book.

This is the 2nd professional resource we have explored together; last summer we read and responded to Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change, 2nd edition by Jennifer Allen (Stenhouse, 2016). To read some of the posts related to Jen’s excellent resource, enter “Becoming a Literacy Leader” in the search bar of this blog.

So who is this “we”? Last year, I opened up Reading by Example to other thought leaders in the field of literacy and leadership. Their posts made this site such a stronger resource. Featured writers for last year’s book study can be found on the “Contributors” page. The following educators are able & excited to participate in this year’s study group:

  • Paige Bergin, Instructional Coach
  • Carrie Krieder, Middle School Reading Specialist
  • Jen McDonough, Literacy Specialist
  • Heather McKay, Literacy Specialist
  • Annie Palmer, Literacy Coach
  • Lee Shupe, Middle School Math Teacher

The rest of this post attempts to answer questions related to the book study.

How will I know when a contributor publishes a response to Literacy Essentials?

There are a couple of ways to follow along with this book club. You can sign up with your email to receive a message every time someone posts a response here. If you have a free WordPress account, you can follow this blog, which means that any new posts will show up in your WordPress Reader. In addition, all posts will be shared out on Twitter with the hashtag #LitEssentials and include the @StenhousePub handle. (FYI – Regie is active on Twitter too!) If you prefer Facebook, new posts will be published on this blog’s page.

How can I participate?

One of the best parts of blogging is the participatory nature of the medium. Readers can leave a comment on a post and potentially initiate a discussion with the writer. They can also share out a post on social media for colleagues and followers to read and join in on the conversation. The possibilities for learning online increases the likelihood of unexpected and impactful experiences.

If you think you would like to be a contributor to this site, possibly now and in the future, please submit your request using the form on the Contributors page.

How can I get a copy of Literacy Essentials?

Stenhouse Publishers offers copies of Regie’s book to purchase. You can get a print copy, the eBook version or both. Go to their website: https://www.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials

Didn’t get your questions answered here? Anything else worth mentioning regarding this book club? Please post in the comments!

Fits and Starts

A personal goal of mine is to learn how to use Adobe InDesign. It is a digital publishing program that allows you to draft visual documents such as flyers and eBooks.

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Photo by Mikaela Shannon on Unsplash

I’ve opened it up several times, played with the tools, will often end up frustrated, and eventually shut it down. Yet every time I open up InDesign, I learn something new. This learning might be small, such as how to find a preferred template online or how to zoom in on a document. Eventually, I will get the hang of this software, as long as I keep trying.

These types of fits and starts are the necessary beginnings for learning anything. If we introduce something new into our lives and it doesn’t change how we think or work, then we likely didn’t grow. The journey toward a worthy goal is paved with trials and mistakes and restarts.

Suggested Reading:

Writing for an Audience by Andi Sanchez (The Reading Teacher, $)

Affinity Spaces: How young people live and learn online and out of school by James Paul Gee (Phi Delta Kappan, free)

We are on spring break, which means a tech sabbatical for me for about a week. No Twitter, no problem! See you in April. -Matt

Writing is Innovation

As an idea, innovation is getting tossed around a lot in education lately.

Anytime I see something accepted en masse, I get suspicious. I find it helpful to go back to the meaning and origin of these concepts. Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “something new or…a change made to an existing product, idea, or field”. The Latin root of innovate is innovatus, meaning “to renew, restore; to change”.

Given this understanding, I believe innovation is used too loosely in the context of teaching and learning. Will Richardson aptly points this out in his article for The Huffington PostStop Innovating in Schools. Please.:

Our efforts at innovating, regardless of method, idea, or product, have been focused far too much on incrementally improving the centuries old structures and practices we employ in schools, not on fundamentally rethinking them.

I would continue this argument by stating that innovation should not be limited to science, technology, and mathematics. We go there, mentally, when we hear the term “innovate”. It’s a misconception that needs clarification.

Consider writing. It is a process as well as an output of information and experiences we have gathered to create a new product. This product – an article, a book, a blog post, a tweet – is almost always an iteration of a person’s prior knowledge. Not a lot new here; mostly remixed. Sound like innovation to you?

Dana Murphy, an instructional coach and a writer for Choice Literacy, offers a visual of the writing process that speaks more authentically to me (also a writer) than anything offered during my many years of formal education.

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Important: Murphy notes that one person’s process for writing (innovation) is likely different than another writer’s process.

Here is what I want kids to know about writing: writers have a unique writing process. All writers approach writing differently. There is not a right way and a wrong way to write. There are many ways—endless ways—to approach the task of writing. The process that works best for you is the right process.

Maybe this is why effective instruction, literacy or otherwise, has taken so long to become embedded in all schools. Teachers have to be prepared for a variety of ways students experience success in the classroom. This approach requires a long-term commitment from leaders to guide a school or district to make instructional changes based on sound beliefs and values. Or, administrators can buy a commercial program, wash their hands of any process or necessary conversations, and call it a day. Innovation stays within the purview of STEM.

Changing curriculum is easy. Changing teacher practices is hard.

It is not just us holding ourselves back. Too many standards, nonacademic demands, and not enough time are a part of our struggle to truly innovate in the classroom. Yet we have to start somewhere. As you think about next week’s lesson plans, where could you include opportunities for student choice and voice? How might you coordinate STEM and literacy activities, and demonstrate for your students that one discipline is dependent on the others? When do you celebrate process in your classroom, instead of only products? I’ll be exploring these questions next week in a classroom. Maybe you will join me. Check out the hashtag #PointerNation for updates on our work.

The visual by Dana Murphy, along with the ideas discussed in this post, are adapted from my new, free eBook titled Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom

Start with Your Strengths

I wrote this short piece for my weekly staff newsletter. Thought it might work here too. Have a great weekend, -Matt

I thought I was a pretty good basketball player in my middle school days. That is, until I attended my first summer basketball camp. It became apparent that I had been a big fish in a little pond. Several players were taller, faster, or simply better than me.

So I had to rely on one of the few things I could do well: hustle. I raced up and down the court, trying to beat whoever was guarding me, and getting into positions that would allow for easy buckets. Maybe I could not dribble past or outshoot many of my opponents, but I wasn’t going to be out-hustled. Focusing on a strength gave me the  confidence to eventually improve in other areas.

As we continue to explore new ways of teaching literacy, maybe you are feeling the same way at times. My humble advice: do what you do well that is also effective for students while trying one thing at a time. Time, commitment, and an open mind are our strengths.

Guest Post: Why Literacy is Important for Math Success

Literacy is the foundation for all disciplines. Without the ability to read, write and think, other subject areas become a bigger challenge for students. Similarly, math, science, social studies, and all other disciplines are more accessible for kids who have experienced literacy-rich classrooms. In this post, Joy Lin shares how language skills are critical for success in mathematics.

I have taught math in elementary school, middle school, and high school settings.  Regardless of age or education level, one of the most challenging parts of math class is finding the solution to the word problems.  Most of the students I encounter are able to perform mathematic functions with enough practice as long as they are willing to try.  However, when it comes time to solve a problem based on a real-life scenario, these students often struggle with not knowing how to apply the skills that they have learned.

Sometimes it is due to previous teachers not realizing that these students do not fully comprehend the reasoning behind each operation because the class can produce correct answers from “naked problems” (math questions without words) by memorizing the steps or using tricks.  Another part of the problem is the language comprehension of these word problems.  By using “key words” to identify what operation to use, the students are performing a “search and execute” function without knowing the reason why.

The “search and execute” method only works on single-step questions.  When a sentence gives more than one piece of information, the students start getting confused.  As they age, and the word problems become even more complex, key words no longer apply since language is fluid and there are many ways to interpret a word based on context.  The students would not be able to solve the problems if they do not know both what information is given and what information they are being asked to retrieve.

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Photo by Dawid Małecki on Unsplash

Teaching multiple choice question-answering techniques may be good for raising test scores, but creating open-ended math questions for assessing student knowledge is absolutely essential.  If we ask the students to report their answers by writing full sentences with the right unit in order to get the credit, it would keep them from rushing to the numeral answer by randomly jamming numbers together to find the easiest fit (like assuming the answer is 2 just because the question has 13 and 26 in it, which happens very frequently in the elementary level with students with good math sense but who cannot read English well).

I’ve observed students who can answer most one-step questions by using keywords and performing the math, but when I ask them what the numeral answer stands for, they cannot answer whether it’s 5 apples or 5 people.  These students’ math abilities allow them to skate by with a passing grade unnoticed until high school when they can no longer use tricks to get the right answer.  That is when we discover the lack of fundamental mathematics understanding and the learning gap is very difficult to bridge.

If we start at the base level and make sure all students understand why they are applying each math operation to each word problem by making sure they truly comprehend the situation they are presented with, and that they know what each operation means, we can avoid these learning gaps in upper level math.  With the pressure of testing and reviews, teachers find it difficult to stay away from using tricks to raise scores.  However, the best way to help these students in all aspects is to improve their language ability because they must first understand a problem before they can solve it.

Joy Lin attended the University of Texas in Austin at 15 and graduated with 3 degrees by the age of 21. She has been teaching in the Austin Independent School District ever since. In 2012, she was named one of the 18 most inspiring educators by TED.com, and TED funded a six-part animated series “If Superpowers Were Real.” The animated series premiered in 2013 on TED.Ed and received international media attention from BBC, FOX, KUT, Time Warner Cable News, and over 100 websites. The following year, Joy was named “Innovator of the Year” By Texas Classroom Teachers Association. Joy’s new book series “Superpower Science” is slated to release in 2018 from Hatchette Book Group. In addition to her role as a classroom teacher, she is currently an academic advisor to Sentence Analytics.

Favorite Books I Read in 2017

This is a repost from my school blog. I share my reading life with families and the community to help develop a new norm, in which everyone is a reader and writer.

Take care,

Matt

“What do you do when you don’t know what to write?” A student asked me this during a classroom visit. My response: I read, and I find easy ways to write!

One way I accomplish both is by writing reviews for books on Goodreads. This social media site for bibliophiles allows people to connect with other readers, recommend titles to friends, and discover new books to read. Since I could not think of something to write for this month’s newsletter, I thought I would share some of the titles I most enjoyed from 2017.

For kids

  • Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce (A boy and his older brother discover over a million dollars along the railroad tracks behind their house. Funny and wise.)
  • We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (From the back cover of this picture book: “Two turtles have found a hat. The hat looks good on both of them. But there are two turtles. And there is only one hat. . . . “)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (I read this book aloud to my son. The books are better than the movies, and the movies are good.)
  • The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt (This was a fun picture book to read aloud. The images and text call back to martial arts movies.)

For adults

  • Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry (This memoirist shares life stories, such as tending his unproductive garden and fixing up an old pick up. Full of life.)
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (A mix of stories and experiences from a Vietnam Veteran. This book altered my view on the costs of war.)
  • Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (What a fun book to read and respond to! Unlike any other literary experience. Also bittersweet as Rosenthal died from cancer in 2016.)
  • Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter (For young adults, this supernatural mystery is part of a series that takes place in nineteenth-century New England. “Sherlock Holmes meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer” says one reviewer.)